Shoe fanatics may not realize that the luxury shoe brand Delman has been in existence for over 90 years. Founded in 1918 by Herman Delman, the New York company quickly grew into a sought after status brand. By 1931, The New Yorker reported that Delman sold 2,000 pairs of shoes each week.1 Customers included Adele Astaire (sister to Fred), Mary Pickford, Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn and Irene Castle. Delman's Madison Avenue shoe salon was styled like a "Louis XVI-style gallery, where shoes were displayed like works of art."2 Stamped Delman labels inside each shoe reinforced the idea that Delman produced unique and valuable art objects. This unmistakable logo, of a seated woman being fitted for a pair of shoes, was unique in an era when shoes were typically labeled with the name of the retailer, not the designer.
Though Herman Delman designed shoes in the early years, he also hired many individuals who went on to become noted designers in their own right. Herbert and Beth Levine designed shoes for Delman, along with Kenneth Jay Lane and Roger Vivier. For several years in the early 1950s, Roger Vivier designed for both Delman and Christian Dior, resulting in shoes labeled Delman-Christian Dior.
Though Delman produced practical and elegant day shoes of leather, Delman shoes intended for evening feature striking color combinations and eye-catching surface embellishment. In the early 1930s, Delman created "aluminum-painted shoes for dark nights, shoes ornamented with ground glass, or...rhinestones and sapphires."3 A pair of Delman evening shoes from 1958 were crafted from tangerine, royal blue and emerald green satin with a purple suede heel. This pair of Delman evening heels and matching clutch are entirely covered with iridescent rhinestones, tiny seed pearls and dots of velvet flocking.
Dating from 1960, these shoes and matching clutch are from Delman's Firebird collection. Described by The New York Times as guaranteed to "set the dance floor ashimmer," the Firebird collection could be personalized by each customer. Though the basic pattern of rhinestones, seed pearls and velvet flocking was set, customers were invited to individualize their Firebird shoes by choosing favorite color combinations. Customers could also customize other Delman purchases. A Delman employeee named Miss Mary Kaltenbruner worked with customers to select personalized trimmings, including bows, shoe clips, rhinestones and even fresh flowers for weddings. Miss Kaltenbruner's storage system was described as an enormous cabinet 17 drawers across and a "file cabinet big enough to hold a small horse."4
Extravagantly embellished evening shoes were not unique to Delman. During the mid-to-late 1950s, variety in color, texture and material became an important facet of shoe design, particularly for evening shoes. These changes in shoes mirrored similar changes in formal and evening dress. Popular fabrics for glamorous "after six" dressing included textured matelesse and lustrous silk-satins in bright pinks, red or green. Rhinestones or beads were used for embellishment and accent, often appearing in stylized floral patterns on bodices. Jewelry reflected these same trends, with glittering artificial gemstones or rhinestones used in matched sets of bracelet, earrings and necklace. In the early 1960s, these trends would be amplified as colors become even brighter and jewelry and embellishment grew larger and more exaggerated.
1 “Shoe Makers.” New Yorker April 18, 1931, 14-15.
2 "Scandal Sandals and Lady Slippers: A History of Delman Shoes." Museum at FIT Aug. 2010 <www3.fitnyc.edu/museum/delman/delman_history.htm>
3 “Shoe Makers.” New Yorker April 18, 1931, 14-15.
4 Cook, Joan. "Bows, Buckles and Buttons Spark Simple Shoes Into New Creations." New York Times 5 Dec. 1959. 19.