Bespoke Shoes for “The coolest people ever”
Less than a decade ago, Leanne Corcoran turned her lifelong obsession with shoes into what is now Seattle’s premier atelier for bespoke shoes, Leolo. The seeds were planted when she was a teen in Minnesota: “My high school was up the street from a Goodwill and I would buy shoes and paint on them, my dad would polish them and I’d sell them to my friends. I’ve always had an affinity for men’s wingtips but it’s very hard to find them for women, so I talked my mom into buying a pair of black wingtips. They were so ill-fitting, but so cool and so punk rock.”
That budding creative drive led to a MFA in painting, exhibits in New York and Chicago and a small interior design studio in Seattle. As time went on, the shoe obsession grew:
“I decided, ‘It’s time to make shoes.’ I googled “shoemaking class Seattle” and found a weekend course at Pratt Fine Arts Center. The teacher was fabulous and the process felt like my second nature. I asked her if she needed an apprentice and the deal was made on the spot.”
A 50/50 mix of men and women
Leanne went to Santa Fe and worked every day from 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. for 14 days. “I was ready and it was time,” she says of learning the centuries-old craft of creating bespoke shoes. Completely custom, handmade shoes require 220 separate steps, a 40-hour process for each individual pair of shoes.
Today, her clients are a 50/50 mix of men and women who range in age from the late 20s to the 70s and 80s, and she says they are “really, the coolest people ever. I’ve always felt that shoes are a reflection of one's character, so it’s important to me that the design exhibits my client’s sensibilities. I love it when my client’s creations push my aesthetic boundary because inevitably the shoe reflects their nature.”
For one client, “I did a bright green pair of derbies, fully brogued for the holidays. She wore a silver sequined dress, a big white furry coat, fishnet stockings and these derbies. It was fabulous.”
A demand for high quality, long-lasting, well-fitting shoes
Since opening Leolo, Leanne has found, “There is a lot of demand for high quality, long-lasting, sustainably sourced/made, well-fitting shoes.” Leolo offers derby and oxford styles, and customizable features include color for the upper, welt, liner and sole; as well as toe shape, toe cap and broguing, or type of perforation on the lace area and toe cap.
Derbies have a lacing system that opens outward, giving a bit more freedom of movement, and are the menswear shoe style of choice for women, elegant with most any fashion except wide-leg or flared pants. Derbies in dark colors work well as business casual shoes, and have a laid back vibe that pairs beautifully with jeans and t-shirts if the shoes are light in color.
Oxfords are the traditional menswear shoe favored for formal events and business and have a closed lacing system. “My favorite is a classic, pointy toe, full brogue, wingtip in a modern color, “Leanne says. “I do love an oxford, and adding broguing will make it a bit more casual.”
A pair of Leolo shoes can last a lifetime
Ensuring that a pair of Leolo shoes can last a lifetime, Leanne uses responsibly sourced, full-grain cowhide that has been tanned with tree bark to yield a very natural color; then hand-dyes and hand brogues the shoes to each client’s specification. Each shoe has steel shanks and Vibram soles.
Ever expanding her creative vision, Leanne says the world of heels “is still to come, and it’s a whole different skill set, but I think it’s going to be much easier. Shoemaking is rigorous work. With heels the leather is a much softer calfskin than the sturdy cowhide for derbies and oxfords. I’m excited for this new adventure.”
Leanne does all of her shoemaking at her design shop and studio in the Pike Place Market, where the public can also choose from a curated selection of leather goods, jewelry and accessories. “I love going to work every day,” she says, “ and I’m surrounded by makers and woman-owned businesses. We all share a lot of clients, including a bespoke suit business — Sew Generously — up the street in Pioneer Square.” Leolo’s design studio is located at 1516 Western Ave., on the west side of Pike Place Market. @leoloshoes, LeoloShoes.com