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From Vivier to Warhol: Mark Schwartz

An obsession with beautiful high-heeled shoes inspired designer Mark Schwartz to pursue a career in painting.

Since they were presented during Paris Haute Couture week, Bruno Frisoni’s luxurious heels for Roger Vivier have been on the mind of many shoe-obsessed fashionistas. But while Vivier’s iconic designs inspired Frisoni to make a charming new collection, the French iconic shoe designer, pop art and a healthy obsession with high heels inspired Mark Schwartz to forge an entirely new career. Entering Schwartz’s world is a bit like visiting the most fantastical shoe laboratory: there are sandals, stilettos, court and platform shoes, wedges and boots in every colour, shape and silhouette available. Yet you can’t try them on as they are painted on canvas or drawn on paper. After working as shoe designer for Roger Vivier, Schwartz was indeed encouraged by Andy Warhol to cultivate his passion for art and continue painting shoes. Schwartz uses his paintings to explore fashion semiology but also the themes of movement and dynamism.  

Dazed Digital: You spent 5 years working for Roger Vivier: what was the most exciting aspect of collaborating with him?
Mark Schwartz: Watching him designing shoes and creating his art, this is where it all kicked in for me personally. There were many times where we would work late into the night and he would fall asleep head on the desk while he was in the middle of a sketch or an idea.

DD: According to you, what’s the most difficult thing about designing shoes?
MS: Coming up with new and fresh patterns or ideas. It seems that today people are happy to use old ideas again and again and call it their own. Creativity levels have slowed down and I hate to say it but it has a bit to do with technology.

DD: Who did you design shoes for?
MS: In the past I designed for Cleo Bottier, a well-known factory in Italy, Christian Lacroix, Gucci and many factories doing their private label shoes. I never stopped designing shoes and I still work with some of my American and Italian clients. I love the excitement of it and it fuels my paintings as well.
DD: When did you meet Andy Warhol and how did he manage to persuade you to focus on your shoe paintings?
MS: I met Warhol through Vivier, they were friends and Warhol was very encouraging. He had seen a number of my paintings and he encouraged me to go in the direction that it has taken me today. A lot of people thought I was crazy to paint shoes, but he didn’t and I was very impressed by that. It was not until years after his passing that I realised what he was saying to me, I am very fortunate to have met him and spent the time that I did with him.

DD: Is there one shoe painting you’ve done that you particularly like?
There are many shoe paintings I like, one in particular is called “Cherub with Red Pump” it is a large piece and it was influenced by Warhol. I did a small painting of it way back in the late 1980s but just recently finished the large and final version a year or so ago.

DD: The Spring/Summer 09 collections are full of extremely beautiful high-heeled shoes with amazing carved or sculptural heels: will you use any of them as inspiration for your paintings?   
I don’t know if I will use any of the sculpted heels in my paintings, it is funny because I tend to keep the shoes in my paintings rather simple and not too complicated, I just love the flow of a simple shoe in a painting.

DD: Would you ever collaborate with a fashion designer and use your paintings, sketches or drawings as prints for dresses, skirts or other garments?
MS: I would love to do it. I have already created many patterns and done a number of test prints of my artwork of shoes on fabrics and they look really strong and exciting.

DD: Who has been the greatest influence on your career as a shoe designer and as an artist?
MS: The greatest influence will always be Vivier, but I admire Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik and Walter Steiger very much, they are important designers and keep up the true tradition of shoe design. As an artist I love Jackson Pollock, I love his story and his turmoil, but I love Warhol and Basquiat as well.

DD: Were you ever commissioned a shoe painting by a shoe/fashion designer?
MS: Not yet. I get asked this question a lot, but I usually do a lot of commissions for interior designers and their clients.