2019-11-30 02:47:00 UTC
Terry de Havilland, the 'rock’n’roll cobbler', dies aged 81
East London shoemaker designed iconic Rocky Horror Picture Show heeled boots
Fri 29 Nov 2019 07.18 EST
Last modified on Fri 29 Nov 2019 14.21 EST
Terry de Havilland, the shoe designer behind The Rocky Horror Picture Show, has died aged 81.
Nicknamed “the rock’n’roll cobbler” for his spirited, outré designs and down-to-earth charm, it is also a reference to his long list of celebrity clientele, which included David Bowie, Cher and Kate Moss.
They loved his trademark, boundary-pushing designs: elevated wedges, lace-up boots and platform heels, all rendered in rock and roll textures such as snakeskin, metallic leathers and clear plastics. His most famous shoe, 1973 Margaux wedge, became a famous artefact of free love, cool Britannia and glam rock electricity.
Born in Barking, east London, he began his fashion career at the age of five in the workshop of his parents’ shoe company, Waverly Shoes. The first pair of shoes he designed for the company in 1960 – an experimental, five-tiered wedge shoe – became something of a style mission statement for him. “I was taking a lot of acid at the time,” he told the fashion magazine Drapers. They were a local success: “I made a few pairs and put them on the market. It totally exploded. We were selling them for five guineas,” he said. Around the same time his father died in his son’s arms after being electrocuted in the workshop.
The popularity of his shoes grew: high-profile magazine editorials led to his three-tiered snakeskin wedges being worn by a growing celebrity fanbase, which included Bianca Jagger and Bette Midler. His shop, Cobblers To The World, opened on the Kings Road in 1972 and he described it as “party central” as it was frequented by London scenesters such as Angie Bowie, Rudolph Nureyev and members of Led Zeppelin. “One day this woman came in to buy a pair of leather thigh boots lined in red satin with saucy drawstrings for her sister … it turned out to be Lee Radziwill,” he recalled to the Independent, “her sister was Jackie Onassis.” His shoes had become a by-word for sleazy 1970s glamour, and so it was befitting that his next project, in 1975, was designing Frank N Furter (Tim Curry)’s outrageously heeled boots in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
At the height of his success, his workshop was producing 700-800 shoes a week. He set up another label, Kamikaze Shoes, in 1980, which focused more on punk and goth styles, spike-covered shoes and skull designs. But the end of the 1980s was not kind to him, with both Kamikaze and Cobblers closing before the decade was out.
He took his name off his next venture, The Magic Shoe Company, of which Cher was a customer. Famously, she was surprised that the designer was alive. “She thought you were gay, French and dead,” his partner, Liz de Havilland, said to the Independent. He opened a goth emporium in London’s Camden in the 1990s and after Marilyn Manson came in and bought some metal spiked Transmuters boots, “we cashed up the till that night and found we had taken a rather satanic £666.50. We were hysterical,” said Liz.
Despite going off the radar, his styles continued to be worn by the likes of Amy Winehouse, Cara Delevingne and Kate Moss. He told the Guardian that “when Geri Halliwell met Nelson Mandela she was wearing our red platforms”.
In 2001, he designed Angelina Jolie’s boots for the Tomb Raider film and in 2010 he was awarded Drapers’ lifetime achievement award. “I guess you can say that shoes are in my psyche,” he told Vogue that same year.