BWW Interview: Shoe Designer Phil LaDuca Lets His Heels Do the Dancing on Broadway and Beyond.
If there were a Tony Award category for "Best Dance Shoes", the most likely nominee (and winner) would be Broadway shoe designer Phil LaDuca. This season alone his custom-made shoes are trotting the boards in a batch of new shows including Shuffle Along, Tuck Everlasting, She Loves Me, and the upcoming New York Spring Spectacular starring the Rockettes. His trendy dance shoes were also worn in the hit movie musical, Chicago, and in Katy Perry's acclaimed performance in last year's Super Bowl XLIX halftime show.
LaDuca shoes have also become a fashion staple, and celebrities like Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, and Bette Midler each own at least one pair of his customized steppers. The pop music world has also taken note and his shoes are out touring the world with Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Shania Twain, and Ariana Grande, among others.
It's all pretty impressive for LaDuca, a former Broadway dancer, who carved out a niche for himself when in 1999 he discovered the need for a more flexible dance shoe. It was important to LaDuca that the shoe structure allowed dancers to be able to point their toes, yet still retain support and be comfortable. He initially worked with a factory in Italy that created a prototype of the shoe he envisioned, and developed it into what has become his signature brand; a stylish character shoe that has the supple flexibility of a ballet slipper.
I recently spoke with Phil about his one-of-a kind dance shoe and the impact they have on dancers and celebrities alike.
Congratulations on all the new shows that you're currently working on! That's a lot of shoes to cobble. How do you collaborate with your team?
Thank you, Bob. First let me say how wonderful it is to be interviewed by you. We go all the way back to our dancing days. Great memories.
Initially I am contacted by a costume designer or stylist about a stage show or concert show they are costuming and we will go over the looks needed; period, heel heights, requirements and functions - whether it be a star, a singer who moves well, a full out dancer; tap, jazz, character and so on. Then we will move onto the design of the shoes; overall look, boots or pumps, stilettos, straps, heel shapes, toe shoes et cetera. Once that is finalized, I will add suggestions as to whether I feel this particular performer needs more flexibility or more support, multi strap, or sturdier heel and how that will affect function and design.
Your signature look is instantly recognizable, setting the standard for character shoes. No wonder so many female dancers are eager to have their own pair as it's almost like a rite of passage. What is it about wearing a pair of LaDuca's that makes a girl feel so special?
The two work in unison, Bob. When you look great, you feel great. And you can't look your best (as a dancer), if you can't perform at your best. So, yes, function - the flexing and pointing ability of the shoes is very important obviously, but how I designed the look of the shoe goes hand in hand, (or foot in foot) with that aspect. Honestly, no matter how great a dancer feels in a shoe, it also has to appeal to the costume designer in terms of its beauty in symmetry and silhouette.
I believe the popularity of my designs are because it covers all facets of what a dancer should be. More to the point (pun intended), think of the curves of a woman. That's what I had in mind when I designed my shoes; curvy, sensual and sassy. Both of us unique in our own ways! LaDuca makes a woman secure in her sensuality, elegant in her movements and gorgeous in her line.
How do you go about selecting the name for each of your shoes?
Ah, yes. Many are named after some of the amazing performers I've been blessed and honored to have met (never mind) work with; Catherine, Katy, Rachelle, Elizabeth, Liza, Chita. And then there are others that are named after the other special women and loves of my life, besides my mother, Rita; Cherie, Camille, Teresa. I have to stop there before I really get in trouble!
You're also known for your popular men's character and tap shoes, but what's it like for a guy to don a pair of heels for a show like La Cage Aux Folles or Kinky Boots. How do they manage?
Not kidding, some of the men I've fitted have some of the best legs I've ever seen. The characters they are portraying are sexy, vivacious, naughty, seductive, and their shoes/boots need to reflect this. Of course the structure and support have to be reinforced to accommodate the strength and power of a man in heels, which is why 'Kinky Boots' is so close to my heart. It truly was art-imitating life. I was moved to tears when the signature red boots had an entire song built around them. Very moving.
It must be pretty gratifying to have a who's who of celebrities wearing your shoes. Who gave you the biggest thrill when they walked into your store?
Please indulge me with a few. Bette Midler is an absolute rave. I adore flirting back and forth with her. (She sang happy birthday to me one fitting). And I relish the time I took my shoes off and stretched out on the floor with Catherine Zeta Jones à la one 'gypsy' to another. And Meryl Streep! OMG! She's so genuine and down to earth. I loved the time she walked into my store, unannounced. Alone. No entourage and asked for me. My staff went speechless, falling and fumbling all over each other to find me! Then there is the Goddess. The one and only, Sophia Loren. As a good Italian boy yourself, Bob, you can understand what it is like to be in the presence of the most beautiful woman ever created. And I actually spoke Italian with her! I can die a happy man!
What's the craziest event or show that your shoes did the walking in?
I about had a heart attack when I went to Katy Perry's opening night (on her latest tour) and saw her jump roping in 3-inch booties studded with Swarovski crystals that I had designed for her because NO ONE TOLD ME she would be jump roping in them! I was freaking out because the heels were clear acrylic and had to be attached differently so the screws wouldn't show through!
Speaking of Katy Perry, how much coverage did you get out of her "most watched" Super Bowl XLIX halftime show? Her ankle bootie was certainly a highlight of the show!
It was surreal. I had articles and blogs written about me from all over the world! I did an interview for the London Times. I became a celebrity from it, more then I ever did as a performer!
Is there anyone that you'd still like to have slip into your custom footwear?
Salma Hayek. The heir to Sophia's throne!
Now that you're firmly established as Film and Broadway's go-to dance shoe guy, what still makes the job fun for you?
Always, always, always and forever my loves; the dancers. From those who are just getting off the bus at Port Authority and their first stop being LaDuca Shoes, to my amazing gypsy family who are still "hoofing on the boards" of Broadway. I love the stars and am flattered to be associated with their brilliance, but the gypsy dancers knows that I will always be there for them because they have always been there for me.
If you were to go back to performing again what show would you like it to be? But more importantly, which LaDuca shoe would you be wearing?
Funny you ask! Two. The first being Zach in 'A Chorus Line' (second only to "West Side Story') as the greatest musical ever (I did play Tony)! And I would love to play Frank Sinatra in a stage production about him during his Hollywood/Rat Pack hey day era. As far as a shoe goes, I guess I'd have to create "The Frankie."
Thank you, Phil. It was great to catch up with you!
To check out Phil LaDuca's shoes visit: www.LaDucaShoes.com