FUKUSHIMA - Designer Jimmy Choo unveiled a one-off range of shoes in Japan last Friday, made using materials and techniques native to the disaster-hit Fukushima area, in a bid to boost the profile of artisans there.
He was inspired to come up with the creations after visiting workshops in the area, which is struggling to overcome the tsunami-sparked nuclear catastrophe that hit in 2011.
There, he found traditional materials that have been made in the area for hundreds of years, such as Aizu cotton, super- fine Kawamata silk and Aizu lacquerware, which he thought could perfectly complement six pairs of high heels.
"When I looked at the fabric, I felt it was very, very unusual, especially when I saw the workshop, the tradition 250 years old," the London-based designer said.
"They use their own material to create this beautiful fabric. These people... they know how to weave the fabric but they don't know how important it is to let the whole world enjoy the craftsmanship and fabric."
The Penang-born Choo, whose haute couture shoes are worn by everyone from British royals to singer Madonna and United States First Lady Michelle Obama, said a pair of shoes is more than just something to wear on your feet.
"You know the shoe is a shoe, but a shoe to me is an art piece... Some people can buy shoes and not necessarily wear them."
He said he believed the kind of true craftsmanship he had seen in Fukushima had the power to help turn around the fortunes of a place where tens of thousands of people remain displaced because of radiation released from the crippled nuclear plant.
The six pairs of shoes he made will be donated to local organisations in the area after they have been exhibited and Choo says he hopes they will help to bolster the profile of talented craftsmen nearby, so that they have something to build on for the future.
"If you give money to them, money will run out, but passing on the skill, the skill will remain. They can start their own businesses, acquire people and start a factory, bringing the economy back to the city."
Choo has focused on a couture line catering to deep-pocketed clients after selling his share of an eponymous ready-to-wear brand in 2001.
He opened his own London workshop in the late 1980s, gaining recognition and international exposure after being featured in Vogue magazine, but his star power soared to new heights after Princess Diana was photographed wearing his creations.