Darren Bischoff sits on a chair, hat slightly skewed, gently tweaking a line of leather with his finger. “No, see how it pulls here,” he says pinching it flatter. “Try that.” Off goes the student in the cat’s eye glasses to correct the straps of her Roman holiday sandals. Informed by word-of-mouth, a constant flow of students has for the last five years cobbled together their own bespoke shoes in this modest Parramatta Road shopfront under Bischoff’s expert guidance. Bischoff, whose work has appeared in exhibitions at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and Sydney’s Powerhouse, in theatre productions and the collections of high street fashion labels, set up the School of Footwear in Leichhardt following the closure of the shoemaking school in Ultimo, at which he trained, in 2010. At the end of the long table, surrounded by tiers of wooden shoe blocks and clunky machinery, with bucolic boots, sophisticated heels, and kittenish slippers scattered about, a woman is painstakingly stitching pattern pieces together on a sewing machine, while another is deftly tracing a pattern onto coloured sheets of leather. Each shoe takes weeks to perfect, progressing from illustration to cardboard pattern, then on to a scrap leather sample―the tweaking phase. Next, the pattern is traced onto the real leather or fabric, carefullly cut out, pulled over a wooden shoe last, and finally stitched into place. Beginners start off by making a sandal (chosen from one of three examples they bring in to discuss with Bischoff), moving onto a shoe, then advancing to a boot. While the idea of moseying off to Florence and studying under an Italian shoe maestro is not without appeal, it’s a tad cheaper to indulge your footwear fetish in Leichhardt, which still flys the tricolore proudly. A shoe session plus espresso at Bar Sport, zabaglione gelato at Bar Italia, pizza (so good!) at Moretti, linguine gamberi at Castel Mola, and a stroll around the fading Italian Forum. The Forum really does have the feel and colour of the trad Italian piazza, just, umm, without the people! Shame about the empty shops and struggling restaurants. Oh wait, that’s not such an unfamiliar scene in Italy either thesedays.
The School of Footwear, 367 Parramatta Road, Leichhardt. Tel: 0401 385 957. 6-week beginner course costs $600; 8-week intermediate course (shoe) costs $800; 10-week advanced course (boot) costs $1000.
© School of Footwear