The Designer Making Victorian Shoes for Doja Cat

The Designer Making Victorian Shoes for Doja Cat

Story by Lars LaLa
Feb 06, 2024

You know what was missing from the recent haute couture shows in Paris this season? A shoe so fabulous it could be deemed an object for sexual deviancy — a fashion item so amazing it has the power to lure people to sodomy and homosexuality. It sounds like a magical shoe, doesn’t it? Almost straight from a gay fairytale? However, such a shoe actually existed. It’s a called a poulaine, and it was the shoe to wear all over Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries.

My poulaine (also called cracows) rabbit hole started when I saw Doja Cat's look on Instagram: a fur hat, baseball shirt, soiled and ripped jeans with athletic socks and these incredibly long-nosed shoes. I loved them, not only because they look good, but because they are supposedly really difficult to navigate in. They actually used to be made so long that people would attach a silver chain from the tip of the toe to their socks to prevent them from flopping around everywhere. Perhaps the flopping and the phallic shape was why a Benedictine English monk might have equated wearers, which were mainly men, to homosexual filth.

However, considering that Doja is one of my favorite dressers of the moment, I wonder if she has the power to bring back this eccentric style and spread it amongst the masses — something King Edward IV tried to prevent? In 1463, he passed a law restricting anyone who was not nobility from wearing poulaines longer than two inches. The nerve!

I, of course, had to reach out to the designer who made the Grammy Award-winning singer’s fabulous shoes to ask her some questions about this, apparently, very controversial design. The brand is Theodosia’s Inferno, the designer is Zoe Francis, and I had the best time talking to her and geeking out about shoes and materials.

Read our conversation, below.

Where are you based?

I'm based out of Mississippi. I've been here for quite a few years. I'm actually from the South. But I grew up and spent some of my adult life in California, in the Bay Area.

And why did you move?

I moved back here a while ago. I was traveling around a lot in that period of my life. I was coming back here just for a little while, decided to stay and ended up having a kid. I have a little 4-year old boy and a little, sweet cabin out in the woods. It's real peaceful out here.

How did you get into making clothes and shoes?

Well, I have always collected antique clothes, and I definitely owe that to my mother too. She passed down a lot of antique clothes to me, so I've always studied and been interested in making clothes. I started an antique clothing business a few years ago and was always kind of hoping that I could transform it into designing my own pieces. About a year ago, I started making shoes, and I just really liked it so I've just continued doing that. It's really important to me to keep craftsmanship with clothing and fashion. There's a lot of traditional or old ways of making things that are kind of getting lost these days, so I really want to continue putting a lot of care and hand sewing and work into making a very unique piece. When someone buys it, they'll really treasure it and take care of it, versus something that has been just poured into a plastic mold, you know?

Do you make all the shoes at home? And did you teach yourself all these things?

I have a big sunroom that's like my wood shop room. I work on the wooden heels out there. My living room is also a sewing room — fabric everywhere! I love that. It's crazy. I've always just studied. I have a lot of books on antique clothes, and I've watched videos on historical shoemaker. Then I tweaked things and found my own way of doing it and tested the shoes out. I wear them all the time. The woodworking has definitely been a big learning curve because I didn't do any woodworking before. I've just done lots of testing things out and made lots of mistakes.

So the soles of your shoes are completely made of wood?

No, just the heel. The heel is carved out of wood and then I sand them down to get that curve which is very prevalent in Victorian shoes.

Do you do all that by yourself at home?

Yeah, it takes a long time.

That's amazing. Where do you get all the materials from? I saw on your Instagram that you were listing vintage Victorian fabrics and stuff.

I spent a lot of time last year collecting fabrics. I've gone to private collectors, and I went to Europe for a couple weeks and went shopping for as much antique fabrics I could find. I found some really, really beautiful stuff in Italy. When I'm lucky, I'll find sometimes 200-year old fabrics that are in good enough condition to use, and that's really exciting.

Just imagine the history behind it and who made it.

Yeah, and that's why I try to use really old fabrics when I can, because there are colors that are not around anymore, like color is fading from our world. And a lot of antique fabrics are so unique, like the sheen and the feel and the shade is something that I've never seen created today.

I saw the heels you posted the other day. Do you know how to walk in those?

Well, they're not the best for long distance walking!

You don't go trekking in the woods in those?

No trekking, but because the base is somewhat wide, they're not the hardest to balance in. They're made securely enough that you can step around in them, so they are not that hard to walk in, but they're kind of like poulaine, too. They're good for special events or parties or photo shoots.

I want to go back to your mom a little bit because you told me that she collected vintage clothes. How did she start collecting?

She was in Memphis in her early 20s before she had me. My whole family's like all artists, so she was in art school there, and all of her friends collected lots of antique clothes. There's actually a woman who lived here in Tupelo, who was very close with my family, and she had an insane collection of the most gorgeous antique clothes I've ever seen. She sold them all to me a while ago, but she actually gave them to my mom when my mom was younger, so she's had a big influence on her antique collection.

I would have loved to visit that!

Photos courtesy of Zoe Francis