Profile: Julie Benasra

PEOPLE IN THE COMMUNITY YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Julie Benasra – Filmmaker

Shoes can make or break an outfit but for many women they have an even greater significance in their closets and their lives. Shoes can change your mood, your posture, your confidence – and they can easily break your budget. Director Julie Benasra delved into the world of footwear, gaining access to the closets of the shoe-obsessed (Dita Von Teese, Kelly Rowland, and more) and the studios of some of the most famous shoe designers (like Louboutin) for her must-see  film God Save My Shoes, which takes a look at the history and significance of our closet’s most prized possessions.

Where did the idea for “God Save My Shoes” originate?

Unfortunately, I cannot take credit for that. Ironically, the original idea comes from a man, the producer of God Save my Shoes, Thierry Daher. While he was producing his first documentary, Just for Kicks, about the history of sneakers through hip-hop, he thought to himself that those hip-hop moguls’ and sneaker lovers’ closets might be nothing compared to that of their wives… His gut feeling was right.

You interviewed Dita Von Teese, Fergie, Kelly Rowland, Baroness von Neumann and many others. How did you choose your interviewees? How did you know some of these women had such large shoe collections?

Because I wanted the film to be dynamic, entertaining all the while informative, but without taking itself seriously, I went for interviewees that not only had a true passion for shoes, but that could also add a twist of sparkling wit as they expressed their passion, whether it came from a shoe-lover, a fashion editor, a designer, an industry analyst or even a therapist. In the end, God Save my Shoes is a character-driven film.

Did any of the stars in the film have reservations about showing you their closets? If so, why?

You know, a closet is a very intimate space, so I’m really grateful to the women in the film that opened up their closet and collection so I could truly grasp the extent of their loving obsession. The film doesn’t feature the celebs’ closets per se, because they were traveling when I interviewed them. But, their passion is so true and their enthusiasm when talking shoes was so genuine that I’m sure anyone can visually imagine what their closet looks like.

I was however given access to America’s most exclusive shoe closet: Vogue’s! Which is not something Vogue has granted very often. I can thank Filipa Fino (former chief accessories editor at Vogue for 12 years) for that. Because Filipa clearly understood where we wanted to go with this film, she knew it was essential to the film, and I guess she felt she could trust me enough to allow us to film that shoe sanctuary.

Who had the most spectacular closet?

Beth Shak’s closet is by far the most spectacular, between 900 and 1200 pairs. Her flats are hidden though, on the floor somewhere. Janet Berardi’s closet was pretty striking too. Her husband built it for her. And he was perceptive (or sensitive) enough to understand his wife’s love for shoes and place the 6-door shoe cabinets on the main wall facing the entrance, with French glass doors so they don’t get dusty.

How did the women with extensive collections store their shoes?

Many different ways… Beth has them clearly and neatly displayed in her walking-closet and 2 other closets with digital locks. Her shoes sit 2 or 3 rows deep on pull-out drawers. Anne Hugo, a French screenwriter I interviewed in Paris, keeps them in their original boxes. Marie-Agnes Gillot, the Paris opera ballerina, keeps them in boxes with pictures, so she can find what she wants very fast. New York artist Nikki Schiro’s shoes are stored in see-through plastic boxes. Kelly Rowland organizes them head-to-tail so she can see the front and the back of the shoe at once. Janet Berardi organizes them by color and style depending on the season.

Dita Von Teese noted that some of the sexiest shoes are made by male shoe designers because perhaps a woman designer “wouldn’t go there.” Why do you think so many of the major shoe designers are men? 

I think that comes from the fact that before being considered true designers in their own right, shoemaking was traditionally a male-dominated craft, passed on from father to son. Now I cannot disagree with Dita… female designers might design shoes that are little more sensible because they know what it’s like to wear heels, they know their own limits.

What do you think is special about shoes – as opposed to other fashion items such as dresses or tops – that leads people to build huge collections of them?

There are so many various reasons. But as I mentioned earlier, shoes are the only item in a woman’s wardrobe that have both a physical and psychological impact on women. A hat, a handbag, a pair of gloves, a belt will not change your body posture in any way. You don’t really wear a handbag, you carry it, because you can remove it from your shoulder and set it aside. Shoes, you usually don’t take them off anywhere else than home. And the sensual and erotic connotation of that seemingly utilitarian object makes it all the more desirable.

I had no idea shoes had such cultural relevance! How do you think these influences play out when women shop for shoes?

They’re always been a very strong bond between women and their shoes, in many different cultures, at very different times. Clearly the Sex & The City phenomenon and the subsequent craze for high-end designer shoes have woken up a sleeping “beast”. The shoe phenomenon has never been as strong as it is today. Women are no longer embarrassed to admit they have a weakness for shoes. They’re proud of it. Plus, in times of economic hardship, shoes are definitely a quick fix.

While filming, did you spot any shoes that you wanted? 

So many times, so many pairs of shoes… I remember when I was shooting at the DSW store in New York, while I was giving out instructions to my director of photography, I would often times catch myself not finishing my sentences because I had sighted a pair and was mesmerized… thinking to myself I had to come back the next day to get them.

God Save my Shoes will open the first annual Miami Fashion Film Festival September 12. The festival (MIAfff), will showcase and celebrate films and filmmakers that creatively examine the art, culture, and business of fashion, both locally and internationally. Offering a close and colorful look at the creative and fast-paced world of the fashion industry, screenings include documentaries, narratives, fashion film shorts, fashion in film classics, and style-filled movies that inspire our love of fashion. Through screenings and added programming, MIAfff will engage the community in conversation to explore the opportunities and challenges, within fashion, that youth, women, and industry professionals face. 9pm, $10.50. O Cinema Wynwood, 90 NW 29th St; Miami. For info: 305-571-9970

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