Shoe designer Walter Steiger has collaborated with many artists over the years (including director Michaelangelo Antonioni on the shoes for “Blow Up”) but by far his longest and most fruitful collaboration was with the photographer Helmut Newton. The two first met in London in the 1960s when Newton shot the designer’s shoes for a spread in British Vogue, and they developed a lifelong friendship.
Many years later, in 1983, Newton snapped a photograph of a woman’s stockinged foot in a Steiger heel, called Walter Steiger, Monte Carlo (shown above). The work is instantly recognizable as one of Newton’s more iconic images—last year, it was included in the Helmut Newton retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris.
Steiger then decided to recreate his iconic “Monte Carlo” shoe for today, figuring correctly that its “effortless elegance” would never go out of style. The result, available now at Barneys New York, features his famous “claw heel,” whose fans have included style icons as different as Princess Diana and Tina Turner.
Below, we chat with the designer about his relationship with Helmut Newton and, of course, that famous shoe.
Barneys New York: What is your greatest memory of working with Helmut Newton?
Walter Steiger: The greatest memory that I have about Helmut is how we met. We both had just landed in London in the early 60s and were fairly unknown. We were introduced by a mutual friend, the editor in chief of British Vogue. They shot my shoes for a six-page spread in the magazine, and it was the beginning of our collaboration. The spread was magnificent, as everything was shot purely in black and white, with the models riding bicycles in gleaming sandals from my 1964 collection. The photos were crisp, clean and completely linear. We do appreciate each other’s work very much because we had a very similar appreciation of aesthetic simplicity.
I also remember a time before Photoshop. It was amazing to me that Helmut was able to create one image in particular. He photographed, in a two-page spread, a huge cloud with two legs coming out of it, wearing my shoes. I was so impressed by how perfect and realistic the photo looked.
How and why did you first develop the curved “claw” heel?
Steiger: I have always been focused on innovation within minimalism—it has always been for me about the lines and the cut of the heel. With this curved heel, it was my attempt to create synergy within the leg and throughout the entire shoe.
The goal is to only have one beautiful, harmonious line that contours the shape of the woman’s leg. I wanted to bring a more clean, defined cut to the shoe shape.
What has been the best moment of your career?
Steiger: The best moment for me is always the moment that I first look upon my last completed collection. It gives me immense fulfillment and satisfaction to see that even after so many years, I can still create something new. My last baby is my last collection, always my greatest achievement.
How should a woman feel in a pair of your shoes?
Steiger: Beautiful and confident.
What makes the Monte Carlo shoe both modern and timeless?
Steiger: The effortless elegance of it, which will never go out of style; minimalism will always be relevant.