23.05.20Author James Pham - Oi Vietnam - July 2014.
Clinton Kelly, American fashion consultant and media personality, once said, “Sometimes comfort doesn’t matter. When the shoes are freakin’ fabulous, it may be worth a day of misery. Soak in Epsom salts and take comfort in the fact that you are better than everyone else.”
“Comfort is basically a euphemism for ugly”, says UK banker tuned shoes maker Dominic Price; the creative force behind Dominique Saint Paul. “I do not believe in enduring pain in pursuit of having beautiful shoes. Shoes should be comfortable, even if they look uncomfortable.”
Surrounded by exquisitely crafted brogues, loafers and monk shoes, today Dominic is clad in simple tan suede driving shoes, in sharp contrast to some of the colourful luxury shoes in his district one Saigon shop.
An amalgam of the unisex, Francophone version of his first name and the Saigon clinic where he was born in 1960 (now Eve Hospital), Dominique Saint Paul is what he describes as his own mid-life crisis.
Born in Saigon and raised in India in his early years, Dominic has been obsessed with custom made shoes for as long as he can remember. “My mother was an invalid with polio, so she always had to have shoes made for her. Even as a child growing up in India in the 60’s, you didn’t go to a shop to buy shoes or a shirt; you tended to have them made for you. That’s just how it was. It was quite normal to choose the fabric to make a shirt or choose the leather to make your shoes. Later, when I started to work in London, I remember walking past the best shoes houses and looking enviously at these phenomenal shoes which were too expensive for most people to afford, and certainly for me. It became my passion to design
shoes and even make shoes for myself.”
As a 25-year-old, Dominic took his shoes designs to a fair in London in search of a
manufacturer. “I found one which took an initial order of 48 pairs, which was all I could afford to fund,” recalls Dominic, with dreams of creating a winning shoe that would move him up the ladder. ‘I spent weekends at the factory in Northampton, learning everything I could about the manufacturing of shoes, much to the curiosity of the workers there.”
But the budding shoe designer’s dream had to wait. The manufacturer bumped his order to the next year. “As a consequence, I was disenchanted by how tough it was for a young designer to get a leg up. There was nothing I could do, so I took a job trading bonds in an investment bank,” following in his father’s footsteps. “I thought I would go and work and save up enough money to be able to make shoes in the future. I then got married, had children and made a career in banking.”
Indeed, an internet search for Dominic Price leads not to articles on tassel loafer shoes, but to a successful financial career as Managing Director for India at JP Morgan Chase and as CEO of JP Morgan in Vietnam.
When in Vietnam, Dominic had read many years ago about an elderly cobbler in Saigon and after subsequent visits, his shoe designs in hand, revived his passion for shoe design which in turn rekindled his passion for shoe making, a dream dormant for some 30 years. Whilst celebrating his 50th birthday, he had an epiphany. “I said to my wife that I was not going to get to 60 without making shoes.
So, I suppose the shoe designer is my alter ego,” he laughs. “Or you could say bank is my alter ego. Many people go through life not knowing what they
want to do. The travesty is in knowing but not being able to do it.”
At Dominique Saint Paul, customers first try on fitting pairs of shoes, to make sure of the size and width. “Then the fun begins,” says Dominic, speaking of the myriad possibilities for customisation available. Whilst the shop does not make bespoke shoes, they can customise any of their house styles with special colouring and choice of leathers and suede, in essence creating one of a kind shoes.
“This allows for a great deal of latitude. Like buying a Rolls Royce, you can choose the extras that you want but you can’t redesign the car. I’m a great believer in style being one’s own expression of personality, but on purpose. A lot of people would love to wear something a little bit different, but they don’t have the courage, or it is astronomically expensive. This is an opportunity to express themselves through what they wear, and to have a pair of high quality, comfortable shoes.”
Whilst the lasts, around which the shoes are made, originally came from London, and the crust (un-coloured) leather is from Italy, the construction and finishing of their shoes, although made in Vietnam, is very European using traditional UK methods. Some even feature a Vietnamese twist, like a Dong Son star motif, or a pearl lantern tassel decoration.
“We try not to overdo it, but we wanted something to distinguish the shoes.
There are a lot of creative people here, and it is a pity that a lot of high quality creativity gets exported rather than sold in Asia.
Sometimes foreigners believe more in Vietnam than many Vietnamese do.” Share