In 1956, John Fluevog was eight years old, listening to a car radio at the Luxury Freeze, his father’s drive-in ice cream joint on Kingsway in Vancouver, singing along to “Blue Suede Shoes” by Elvis Presley. It would become a formative moment — and an ironic one, too, for the now-shoe designer celebrating a career that spans half a century. But, back then, it was just exciting.
It was the early rumble of rock and roll and Fluevog was surrounded by low-rider cars, music, and teenagers cooling down on sundaes. His family was religious, so rock music was forbidden at home, which made it that much more appealing. He took in how kids wore their belts and blue jeans, and the colours of their socks and shoes. He had an eye for that kind of stuff.
“I’ve always been edgy,” Fluevog tells BeatRoute. Of course, Fluevog’s natural knack for style led him towards crafting some of the most beautifully made shoes in the world. The journey began in 1970 when he and Peter Fox, then manager of Sheppard Shoes, opened Fox & Fluevog on Gastown’s main drag. After a decade, Fluevog broke out on his own.
In 1986, he designed his first women’s shoe, the Pilgrim, which, with a pointed toe, buckle, and angular heel, evoked a Victorian cowboy boot. Over the next five decades, his shoes became a symbol of spirited originality. Bright and whimsical, coming in surreal shapes with artful detailing, they’re coveted by Madonna, Jack White, and your next-door neighbour alike.
Fluevog is as colourful as his footwear. When it comes to the stories, fact and fiction are hard to gauge. Did he really work as a psychic in the 90s? Some reports confirm, others deny. The same goes for a hitchhiking adventure down the west coast during his formative years — though he does verify a trip to Palo Alto, California. “It was kind of like a hippie commune,” Fluevog describes. “I got myself a job washing dishes somewhere on the strip down there at a 24-hour restaurant.”
And did the iconic Angels come to him in a vision, as legend states? “Yes. No. Maybe so,” Fluevog chuckles. But enigma is part of the fun — and the universe he has created for his brand to live in. The Angels were Fluevog’s response to Dr. Martens, the popular combat boot Fluevog was selling in his stores in the 80s. They brought in good business, especially from the music scene — it was the dawn of grunge with Green River on Seattle’s horizon and Vancouver’s D.O.A. was helping pioneer hardcore punk. But Fluevog needed to carve his own path. Plus, he didn’t like that Docs were also in with alt-right skinheads. So, he dreamed up, as it were, his Angels. The chunky boots are one of his most enduring styles.
“I did them for survival,” Fluevog explains. “And I suppose part of me is a rugged individualist. I like doing my own thing. If everyone else is doing something, I don’t want to do it.”
The soles, moulded in Italy out of natural latex instead of the poly vinyl chloride used on other boots, read the inscription: “Angels resist alkali, water, acid, fatigue and Satan.” Dave Webber, the artist and writer behind Fluevog’s zine-like catalogues, came up with the line. And it has less to do with spirituality than it does being an extension of Fluevog’s wonderful world.
“I don’t want to live my life as having a religious side or even a non-religious side,” he says. “I want my life to be whole and compete. I’m aware that I’m here for a short time; I’m going to come and I’m going to go. And I would like to think that, during that time, I can maybe make the world a slightly better place in terms of having integrity in what I do and listening to what I should be doing. I think we all have, well, something we should be doing. And it’s individual for all of us. We all fit into a mosaic of things around us.”
For Fluevog, individuality is everything. And his shoes are a representation of that ethos, of the fact that we are all perfectly unique in our own way.
“I’m not really a big man of fashion, exactly,” Fluevog says. “Fashion, to me — high fashion — has got this aura of exclusivity to it. Like, you’re in or you’re out. I don’t like that. I like the idea of us being part of community. I would like to think it can be a family of like-minded people and people who will respect each other and the differences that we are. I’ve never been a big fan of singling out what somebody does or doesn’t do. I feel it’s a bigger picture than that. It’s us loving each other and being kind to each other.”
Fluevog: 50 Years of Unique Soles for Unique Souls is available for purchase on November 5