When the young Cos Kyriacou began working in his father’s shoe business, The City Cobbler, in London in 1983, he knew nothing of the fetish scene that had started in the same city in the same year.
Despite growing up in a shoemaking environment — his father had started the family business in 1945 — Cos had, by his own admission, lived quite a sheltered life thus far.
But his horizons were about to be expanded by a new collaboration with a pair of pervy shoe designers — a collaboration that would lead to Cos pioneering the real six-inch heel and The City Cobbler becoming one of the world’s leading fetish footwear manufacturers.
The shoes that designers Roger and Sarah Adams wanted to create were a substantial refinement of the standard fetish styles available from the likes of Little Shoe Box.
“Roger had a very precise idea of how these shoes had to look,” recalls Cos from the North London headquarters of his new venture, Fabulously Fetish. The “flagship” Adams design called for a toe that was as long and stiletto-like as the heels were slim and high.
“We worked endless days getting the toe shape exactly the way Roger visualised it. This was something I did myself, as last-shaping was one of my responsibilities in the business.
“The heels, however, had to be produced by specialist heel manufacturers. This was much more difficult as, at the time, five-and-a-half-inch heels were unheard of.
“Three- and four-inch heels were the highest anybody was prepared to make for us, and to make it even more complicated, Roger wanted them much thinner than anybody had ever made before.
“Little Shoe Box were making five-and-a-half-inch heel shoes at the time but they were much thicker than those Roger was looking for. Besides, Gino wasn't about to let us know where he was getting them from as he now considered us a threat.
“We did eventually persuade a manufacturer to produce them the way we wanted. There were also many challenges in the construction of the shoes at that time which involved a lot of improvisation and engineering. We did manage to produce a damn good shoe though, despite all the problems.”
Even after he started producing the new styles for Roger and Sarah’s company in 1988, Cos still had no idea what the fetish scene was really about, he admits.
“I just thought it was for the Goth market — that's how naive I was at the time. We weren't even making them in large sizes for transvestites at that time.
“It wasn't until Roger and Sarah pulled out, leaving me with the whole set-up and responsibility to market them, that I started meeting people involved with the fetish scene, such as Tim and yourself at Skin Two and Rod at She An' Me. That was a real eye opener!”
Cos realised he’d found “a very colourful market full of interesting characters” where it seemed all previous barriers were removed. “My imagination was given the freedom to go wherever it desired. It was very liberating,” he recalls. “It's what all designers wish for.”
I decide to ask him for his expert view on something that intrigues all lovers of high-heels: the characteristics that define the perfect pervy shoe. Take, for example, the classic plain, stiletto-heeled court shoe, aka “pump”.
“The most important thing is the instep arch. This needs to be a perfect arch. It then shapes the foot beautifully… makes the foot more dainty. It’s much harder to walk in, and takes a lot of practice, but is well worth the effort.”
However, the range of sizes over which this perfect shape has to be maintained does demand some compromises.
“In order to keep this arch throughout the whole size range, which with us is from 3UK to 12UK, the height of the heel has to be adjusted; it’s shorter for the small sizes and higher for the larger sizes.
“You have to compromise otherwise the size 12 will have a seven-inch heel which is too high for most transvestites, and the size 3 will be unwearable.”
What this means is that the current Fabulously Fetish six-inch heel range actually starts at five-and-a-quarter inches on the size 3 and reaches six-and-a quarter inches on the size 12 (all for shoes without platforms).
If you weren’t aware that The City Cobbler had played such an important part in the history of the modern fetish shoe, it’s probably because it never retailed shoes under its own name. It was a manufacturer and wholesaler whose products always appeared under other brands.
‘You have to compromise otherwise the size 12 will have a 7in heel, too high for most transvestites, and the size 3 will be unwearable’
Many of TCC’s wholesale clients were well-known fashion labels — including Betty Jackson, Elizabeth Emmanuel, Clements Ribeiro, Katharine Hamnett, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and MAC Cosmetics — who all used the company to supply catwalk shoes.
Hamnett, the first fashion designer to source from The City Cobbler, apparently just picked out some styles from the Roger and Sarah collection. So who, out of that impressive client list, had ordered the kinkiest looks?
“Actually, the most fetishy designs were with our collaboration with MAC Cosmetics,” Cos replies. “They always loved what we were doing and they liked the way it made the models’ legs look in the shoes.
“We once made some ankle boots in the shape of a foot with the shaped toes at the front and a heel-less heel at the back. These were probably the most fetish-looking shoes we have made for other designers.”
Thankfully, although Vivienne Westwood was one of his catwalk clients, Cos did not make the 10-inch platforms that Naomi Campbell famously fell off during Westwood’s 1993 Paris catwalk show. “I know who did but I ain't saying!” he laughs.
Among private clients, by far the most famous — and probably also the most private — was Prince. During the UK leg of the 1988-89 Lovesexy tour, Cos was approached to repair of one the artist’s high-heeled boots.
“I pointed out how badly made they were and how we could do a much better job,” Cos recalls. “They agreed to give it a go. We obviously did quite well as we continued to make them for him for the next eight or nine years.”
But sadly Cos never got to meet his client in person. “Everything was done via his wardrobe department, who I have to say were the nicest people in show business.
“In the early days of working with Paisley Park, I did try to convince them that I needed to measure his feet myself to make sure we got them perfect, but he wasn't having any of it. I guess a lowly tradesman like me wasn't worthy of an audience with his highness!”
In 2000, Cos stopped producing shoes. “I had by this time lost all my good shoemakers. Some had passed away, others retired. They were impossible to replace and it had become increasingly difficult to produce the shoes on my own, so I decided I’d had enough for a while at least.”
Seven years passed before he decided to start up again. “The internet had created a new opportunity to reach customers directly on a worldwide scale. It meant I could now sell directly to the public without the crippling costs of running a high street shop.
“I set up a little workshop at home and started selling small-scale on eBay and on my own BurlesqueBlue.com website. I then got involved with a partner in Scotland, which didn't work out, so I gave up Burlesque Blue to the partner and started Fabulously Fetish, which is now going from strength to strength.”
Fabulously Fetish now operates out of a new workshop complete with cosy front office/showroom a couple of minutes’ walk from Southgate Tube Station.
Whether you’re lucky enough to be able to visit the showroom in person — as I did before Christmas with Emily Marilyn — or whether you encounter the shoes on the Fabulously Fetish website as most customers will, the quality of the product on offer quickly becomes obvious.
These are not plastic shoes from China, and they don’t sell at plastic shoe prices. So if your maximum budget for fetish shoes is £65, €75 or $100, look away now. However, for anyone with a little more to spend, Fabulously Fetish shoes represent remarkably good value.
Plain court shoes such as the Fallon style worn by Emily Marilyn at the top of this page and the Havens worn by Mosh on our January cover cost just £140 (approx €165/$210), with more decorative versions priced at £180 (€210/$270).
Add platforms — as seen for example on the Aurora peep-toe court, Liyana peep-toe slingback or the brand new Keana slingback (shown on the site in a delicious tangerine) — and the price rises to £230 (€255/$390).
This puts FF prices in the otherwise surprisingly empty ground between the lowest priced “designer” offerings from the likes of Kurt Keiger and the heady heights of £500-plus creations from Louboutin and co.
But what does Cos say to the woman who can’t see the point of paying over £200 for a stylish pair of fetish shoes?
“It's like everything else in life,” he says. “You get what you pay for. We don't just make shoes, we create collectors’ items. We make our shoes to last.
‘It's like everything else in life. You get what you pay for. We don't just make shoes, we create collectors’ items. We make our shoes to last’
“Most of our customers will cherish these shoes and will add to their collection over many years. I have customers showing me shoes I made for them over 20 years ago and they look as good as when we first made them.
“There is a market for the cheap imports and I have no problem with that. Our market is entirely different. Our shoes are made for those who appreciate and understand the real fetish look and what a proper fetish shoe should look like.
“They understand the excitement of opening one of our shoe boxes with the initial smell of leather and then seeing the beautiful shoes in reality for the first time.
“Feeling the quality of the leather against their flesh… the comfortable way they fit their foot… the way they make their legs look in the mirror. You get none of these things with the cheap plastic imports.”
Nor do you get much choice of colours. So it’s good to see that with styles like the Keana slingback, Fabulously Fetish is embracing the extended colour palette that latex designers have been working with in recent years.
“I think it's great to be able to use different colours,” says Cos. “In fact, if you look at many of the old brochures and collections I was involved in, you will see that I quite often used lots of colour and textures.
“It was the [trade] customers we worked for that mostly chose to use black and red as these were safer from a retailer’s point of view.”
Another interesting point about colour is the red sole option which Cos offers on all his styles. Some shoe enthusiasts think of red soles as a trademark of Christian Louboutin, but since Yves St Laurent obtained a court judgement against Louboutin’s trademark claim after YSL also started using red, it is not currently a protected feature.
Cos reveals that he thinks a red sole actually only looks great on black patent shoes — such as the courts worn by Emily and Mosh.
“It would not be my choice on any other shoe,” he admits. “This idea that red on the sole makes the shoe look sexy is nonsense. The shoe design itself should make the feet and the legs look sexy; the colour of the sole should be chosen to complement the shoe.”
Cos trusts customers to see that there’s much more appeal in his shoes than just the cosmetic option of a red sole.
“The Fabulously Fetish range has been very carefully thought out,” he says, “from the shape of the lasts to the topline cut of the vamps.
“Our Fallon court shoes have a daringly low v-cut vamp which shows plenty of toe cleavage. Our boots, such as the Vivian and the Ebony, are cut to emphasise the instep curve of the foot, mimicking the drawings of John Willie.
“I like everything that's currently in the range,” he adds. “I think there is something there for everyone.
“We just need to get the message out that we do manufacture all our shoes in our London workshop and that we do have unrivalled experience in this market.”
Asked for a hint about new styles in the pipeline, Cos reveals that one of many new developments currently being worked on is a range of pony play boots.
“But, as with all our products,” he says, “we will not add them to the collection until we have created something unique and authentic.”
I’ve seen one of the early sketches, and trust me, pony play fans, if this makes it to the production stage, you won’t have seen — or worn — anything like it before!
‘We need to get the message out that we manufacture all our shoes in our London workshop and have unrivalled experience in this market’