When Linda Filley is creating her one-of-a-kind shoes, practicality is of no concern.
After all, the fanciful creations will never be worn.
“You’re not doing it so they’re comfortable,” she says with a smile.
No, these works crafted by hand and wholly out of paper are destined, rather, simply to set a shoe lover’s heart racing — and a collector’s mind plotting the next acquisition.
The excitement inspired by her work is palpable, sweeping WAG right in.
It was late November when Paper Trail, a boutique in Rhinebeck noted for its sophisticated and eclectic offerings, sent out an email with a near-breathless subject line: “Breaking News: Linda Filley Paper Shoes Are Back!”
It went on to share that “a new collection of exquisite paper shoes by Linda Filley has arrived!” and gave “a taste of her dazzling new creations” with a handful of images.
From first glance, WAG had to know more, which in time has brought us to Filley’s Millbrook home/studio on a recent morning.
After a cup of tea and chat in her sun-filled dining area, the artist takes us up into the studio.
Walking to the top-floor space, Filley offers a little disclaimer.
“The house is really neat and tidy and then we come up here and it all falls apart,” she says with a laugh.
But the equally bright space is a delight, where the eye darts from wallpaper scraps to sheet music, shopping bags to boxes. All — along with an array of scissors, paint, brushes and her trusty glue gun — are her tools.
That shopping bag on the floor, the one featuring a scroll-like pattern, is not for storage.
“Anything gets used. That bag will get used,” Filley says, pointing to the bag.
“I have to shop so I get cardboard boxes,” she says with a sly look.
Here, often for five hours a day, Filley creates her one-of-a-kind work, one at a time. Each shoe, which averages 8 inches in length, takes anywhere from one to four days.
Gathering materials is a constant, and she loves going to estate sales “finding old wallpaper, old maps, old letters.”
Not everything, though, is fair game, such as some maps recently discovered at a local antiques shop.
“Sometimes you don’t want to tear apart things that are beautiful.”
She prefers to take old scraps — such as crumbling stretches of wallpaper that she strengthens with new backing — and give them new life.
Inspiration can come from everything, from her walking — “and I’ll see a color” — to a captivating print or design. Vintage sheet music has been the focal point of a slender, pointy-toed slipper, while a stretch of old wallpaper formed the heart of a high-heeled design that calls to mind a bouquet of flowers.
There’s never a predetermined plan, though Filley does have a template from which she cuts out the sole — and decides the heel height.
“I always go ‘Flat, medium or high?,’ and it all depends, what kind of mood I’m in… You explore the different heights, the relationships.”
She is constantly surprised in her work.
“It just grows from here. You start somewhere and by mistake you do something — and then you’re off and running.”
Filley, an avowed shoe lover who happens to be in stocking feet during our visit, says she’ll sometimes add a bit of “splatter painting” but on the whole, will not add embellishment to her paper finds.
Even though she brought back buttons from a European jaunt, for example, she eventually decided not to incorporate them into her work.
“Once you start doing that, it takes away… the unity of it. It mixes the material too much.”
For Filley, the work is quite natural.
“I cannot spell. I can’t remember anything. But I don’t need a ruler,” she says of her ability to be precise in her work — and at one with her surroundings.
Though she and her husband, who’s in film and television production, have a place in New York City, Filley prefers to work out of this studio. She may refer to it as a place of “chaos,” but it clearly works for her.
“It’s amazing. I don’t remember what I had for lunch but I can be here and think of that piece of paper and know exactly where to find it.”
Filley says she does craft each shoe with a character in mind, the woman who will “wear” it. Her love of dance, she says, is also an enduring thread through the delicate creations that she says, in their intricacy and balance, are “ballet-based.”
And while Filley knows some collect her work, she does not.
“I have one,” she says. “There’s something about it. Whenever I feel ‘I don’t have it’ or ‘I don’t feel good about it,’ I look at it and say ‘I love it,’” and the crisis passes.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
It’s not like Filley always wanted to make paper shoes, but it seems her life was building up to this endeavor.
“I have sort of done a little bit of everything.”
Born in Scotland and raised in Montreal, where her family relocated when she was just a baby, Filley grew up appreciative of the city’s cosmopolitan feel, which fueled her love of fashion, her imagination — and her taste for travel.
“Oh, I’ve been all over the place,” she says, and indeed our conversation touches on everything from classes at The Art Students League of New York to the flea markets of Paris to shoe shopping in Hong Kong.
“I love shoes. Oh my God,” she says.
For years Filley was based on Martha’s Vineyard where she and her sister-in-law had a studio and Filley painted not only on canvas but on goods including rugs and pocketbooks.
She loved the work, along with the inspiration provided by her surroundings.
“It was wonderful in a way because you have your fish and sea shells and birds — everything I love.”
During the dead of winter, Filley would hit the road.
“You would do anything that you could,” she says. “That’s what you did back then. You roamed.”
Filley and her family would land in Alpine, New Jersey, with their Dutchess County country house eventually becoming home base. It was a move, she says, that especially pleased her equestrian-minded daughter (who would grow up to become a horse trainer).
THE PERFECT FIT
Creating shoes actually came about in a most serendipitous manner.
Filley says she was long a person who gave elaborately wrapped gifts that had people asking, “Wow, how did you do that?”
“I’ve always loved wrapping and visuals, and I didn’t know where it all fit,” she says of the effort she realized was creative but couldn’t see it progressing.
“That was the frustrating part, because I was looking for ‘a product.’ How do you find a way to include something like that into something you can work with?”
In time, she would turn that talent for gift wrapping into making paper dresses, which became signature displays for Paper Trail in Rhinebeck.
Maureen Missner, an owner of the shop, is a longtime friend and fan.
“Linda has a remarkable eye, a highly distinctive personal style that is reflected in whatever she touches,” she says. “Her sophisticated visual sense, whether it’s store display and merchandising, interior design, color, garden design, her photography, her fashion sense are all amazing.”
And it all comes together, Missner continues, in the shoes — first crafted out of a collection of old book-binding papers from Filley’s mother-in-law:
“The first shoes were mounted as toppers on Christmas gifts, one to me and one to my business partner, Serine (Hastings). I don’t even remember what the gift was that year, because the shoe sitting on top of the package was the most amazing thing of all. This led to conversations about the development of doing shoes for Paper Trail.”
And develop it did, Missner says.
“The first collection was shown as part of a Linda Filley Retrospective (think Met Costume Institute-style). The paper mannequins she created for our shop had become a signature, people waiting in great anticipation for her amazing next ‘lady in the window.’ So we cleared the front of the shop and mounted a show of the mannequins that she’d done over a period of two or three years, on pedestals, and presented the new shoe collection on a table in the center. That evening, every shoe sold. They resonated with our customers, as they had with us. And so the anticipation of each year’s ‘collection’ builds. They’re artful and fanciful and we love them.”
A BIGGER CLOSET
Of late, Filley says she has felt the need to expand her business — and broaden her reach.
“I sort of do enough to keep me busy,” she says. “But it’s time to move on, be a big girl.”
She is not precious about her creations. They are meant to be sold.
“I’ve always worked in stores,” she says, before adding with a laugh: “I’m Scottish, so you can’t just do something. You’ve got to sell it.”
Filley will indeed be reaching a wider audience soon, exhibiting next month at The Norfolk Library in Connecticut’s Litchfield County.
Kristin Mudge, the art committee chair at the library, tells us she met Filley at a dinner party in Millbrook about a year ago.
“When she told me about her paper creations, I was intrigued. When the art committee and I sat down to plan our 2017 schedule, we began looking at Linda’s work, and we all agreed that a show of her colorful, whimsical and finely crafted paper shoes would be a fun and unique way to ‘march’ us into springtime….”
The committee, no doubt, saw the same things that Missner has long appreciated.
“Linda finds inspiration in so many things, and the shoes are this incredible coming together of all these bits and pieces of moments, fragments in her personal world,” she says.
For Filley, it’s turned out to be a world as sweet as she hoped.
“When I first started doing them, I wanted to do something beautiful,” she says. “It would be like a cake.”
And fans can’t wait to dig in.
“Well Heeled” will run from March 5 though 29 at The Norfolk Library in Litchfield County, with an opening reception set from 4 to 6 p.m. March 5. For more on the exhibition, visit norfolklibrary.org. For more on Filley’s work, follow her on Instagram or visit lindafilleypapershoes.com or papertrailrhinebeck.com.