Israeli Shoe Designer Walks an Untrodden Path

Hilla Ohayon
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
From Rotem Gur's collection.Credit: Merav Ben-Loulou
Hilla Ohayon

When Rotem Gur, the designer of VAS shoes, opens the door of her studio, she is wearing a large black button-down shirt and black pants. Her demure appearance is belied by terrifying black high-heeled shoes. In response to my question, she replies: “They’re only seven centimeters.” That is the secret of Gur’s charm – she manages to get the shoes she designs to meet her demands in terms of style, choosing them anew each time. She says she designs her shoes in a Cubist, almost bombastic style, but they are actually delicate, feminine shoes that make their own statement.

Gur completed her studies at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem four years ago. Then she went to Italy to study with an elderly shoe manufacturer she had admired while she was still studying at Bezalel, and whom she convinced to teach her everything he knew. Every day she knocked on his door and asked him to teach her more, she says, and at the same time she developed her own brand.

Gur doesn’t create collections; once every three weeks, all year round, she produces a new model. She does it, she says, so that she won’t be bored for even a moment, so that her work in research and development won’t end, and so that she won’t get tired of her love for the field.

This love is evident in every one of her creations. Gur works on the development of every detail of her shoes, from the soles, which are composed of three separate layers to ensure beauty and comfort, to the leather she chooses even for the inner part of the shoe. “I’ll never choose a lower quality leather for the inside of the shoe, such as pigskin. I’ll always choose sheepskin, which is softer and of better quality, and looks much better too,” she says.

From Rotem Gur's collection.Credit: Merav Ben-Loulou

Gur has been present in the local market for the past four years, and at the same time absent from it. She regularly designs the shoes for the Israeli fashion brand Sample, and in the past year for the shows of Israeli designer Alon Livneh during New York Fashion Week. In addition to her own studio she sells in only two stores in Israel, which she chose based on her personal style.

VAS styles can be divided into relatively flat shoes (only four centimeters high) and high heels, which can reach seven centimeters. As opposed to the soles, which are designed in a relatively coarse style, with motifs borrowed from men’s shoes, the front of the shoe is feminine and delicate, which is unusual in Israel. Gur’s designs expose parts of the foot in a flattering way, making sure that the exposed areas are in the right places.

The Tamar model, for example, is a relatively closed shoe, from the flat-heeled line, using combinations of ordinary black leather and black crocodile leather, or white leather. Although this is presumably a simple style, on the foot it clearly attracts a lot of attention.

For Gur the beauty of a shoe is determined by the way it looks in motion, when the wearer is walking. The division of the sole into three measured parts, and the way in which the leather envelops the sole of the foot and is cut only in the right places, create a total artistic effect.

Her high-heeled shoes are fashioned from a single piece of leather rather than separate pieces; this changes the way in which they hold the sole of the foot and the way in which one walks in them, whether they are smooth, with an open toe, or laced shoes with a coarse front platform combined with molded stiletto heels.

The least expensive of the new styles is Zabat, a modern take on traditional Moroccan shoes, which can be worn closed or open in back. They come in three colors: black, camel and powder, and their sole differs from those of all the other styles: It is soft, very thin and completely flat. Whether on purpose or not, these are unisex shoes.

Gur is definitely an exception among local shoe designers. She chose her design language even before she began to work; her sources of inspiration are to be found in illustrated books from 14th- and 15th-century Italy, and her connection to contemporary and international fashion is ahead of its time. From her private bubble emerge shoes that haven’t been seen here before.

Prices: 900-2,300 shekels ($245-$626). Available at Rotem Gur, by advance appointment, 052-298-6456.