Shoemaking is increasingly a rare Australian craft, but Melbourne shoemakers Preston Zly are keeping the practice very much alive. Alice Blackwood visited their newly refurbished studio in Collingwood, Melbourne
“Shoemaking is an extremely complicated area of expertise and the knowledge is being lost among the flood of cheap imported product and our general detachment from the process behind all things that we consume,” says Johanna Preston of Preston Zly Design.
A visit to their studio, just off Smith Street in Collingwood, will change the way you think about shoes forever. Each Preston Zly piece is a unique, special-edition creation. Once on-foot, the shoe is transformed by the body, becoming an extension of the leg and the outfit, visually enlivened by colour and made tactile by a combination of high quality materials.
Johanna, who works alongside partner Petr Zly, studied orthopaedics and bespoke shoemaking at Collingwood TAFE (now RMIT). From here she studied with Bulgarian master shoemaker, George Koleff. “From George I learnt how to make a pair of shoes completely by hand – using the most basic hand tools which included pieces of glass specially cut to smooth the sole leather,” says Johanna.
Petr trained at the Phillip Institute of Technology as a sculptor (and he still practices). Shoe-wise, his knowledge and skill set allows the PZ studio to develop and produce unique last and heel shapes.
Their studio space, “just behind the ANZ bank on Smith Street”, has long been a rabbit warren of artist studios. During that time, it was a treasure hunt of tools, half-finished pieces, punctuated by the golden discovery of finished products.
With the artist spaces now removed, the studio has been opened up to allow its inhabitants the room to breathe, move, think and make. “We now have the space to work on various projects at once in dedicated areas,” says Johanna. “There is a peace and quietness which allows for a creative and focussed concentration of energies.”
Beautiful, intricately patterned ceilings form a canopy over the studio at large. A scaffold of yellow rods frames each workspace, creating productivity points across a sea of wooden floorboards. A series of windows running across the back wall are like light boxes, injecting the space with natural light, as well as the everyday action of Smith Street.
Lined along one work table is Preston Zly’s winter collection, which takes inspiration from the Edwardian era. “Our collection explores the fetishistic elements of corsetry and Edwardian shapes, combining soft padding and quilting with militaristic elements of belting and gaiters,” says Johanna. “We have taken features of the peasant clogs worn during the period and morphed them with traditional derby shoes.”
Also glimpsed in-studio is the Spring/Summer range, entitled Oceania, with carvings, patterns and tattooing all involved in the conception of this collection. And with this intriguing collection to look forward to, its all the more reason to start following the fascinating developments of these master shoemakers of Melbourne.
Preston Zly and habitusliving.com are giving one lucky reader the chance to win a $550 voucher for shoes. Simply fill in the form below and tell us a story about your shoes. The most creative response will win!
The Signet Bureau
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