For the past 50 years, Canadian footwear designer John Fluevog has been marching to his own drummer, turning out avant-garde, often offbeat footwear looks for men and women. While his quirky designs, known for their architectural silhouettes and bold color palette, may not be for everyone, he’s developed a loyal fan following he refers to as Fluevogers who are drawn to his signature styles.
To celebrate the milestone, Fluevog has come out with a book, “50 Years of John Fluevog,” chronicling his footwear journey.
Here, the footwear legend talks about navigating fashion changes, remaining independent and what lies ahead.
How have you adjusted to a half century of industry changes?
JF: “The biggest challenge has been finding reliable resources that understand you and work with you. It’s about having [them] ship product on time. However, factories don’t like my kind of company because they want to do the same thing all day long. It gets down to having somebody that’s on board with what your vision is since I’m always changing styles.”
Your designs are often considered quirky. Has that helped or hindered your business along the way?
“People say I’m not mass market and ask, ‘Who are these shoes for? You have this one over here, that one over there.’ Maybe they’re not expensive enough. What I do is difficult to categorize. [However], if you look at my styles, you’ll recognize for better or worse, that somebody put energy into them. You can feel the human touch. You can’t characterize my customer and go, ‘Oh, he or she is in this age group or this demographic.’ There are people like Alice Cooper who have been buying my shoes since the ’80s.”
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Where do you get your inspiration from?
“I don’t follow trends. I’ve just gone with what I saw. I will see a look or get a feeling. Or I will be impressed by somebody wearing something and go down that avenue. I’m not saying I don’t copy anyone because I think we all do. But it is our [individual] interpretation of a [trend] and staying true to it. We all get influenced by things. Maybe it’s a club scene, music, art, poetry. You start to feel these [forces] if you’re a sensitive person. You pick up on them and go with it. Maybe that’s why I’m still here.”
Why has it remained a signature of your brand to name your shoes after people?
“There are families of styles with a personality around them. Then, within that family, I start naming the patterns. Sometimes, I name them after customers. People write in and say, ‘My friend so and so, or my sister, or wife is really into your shoes and she’s sick and I don’t know if she’s going to make it.’ I’ve named shoes after people like that. Some of them have passed on and we have shoes in their honor. The shoes have meaning.”
To what do you attribute your staying power in the shoe business?
“I get out of bed every day and keep on going. Early on, I had a wife, two kids and a mortgage, so I didn’t have much choice. And I don’t know how to do much else. I’ve gone in and out of solvency, and probably close to bankruptcy a few times. My biggest triumph is that I’m still in business in New York with stores in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I’ve never had anyone put money in the company. You just keep one foot in front of the other and keep on going. I have great staff and employees. I don’t take any of it for granted. I think it’s keeping a little bit loose and not having [any] preconceived ideas. It’s an interplay between my customers and me as a buyer and designer. I speak to them and they speak to me. I watch what they get into and what turns them on.”
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