I’ve been walking around New York City in wood clogs I designed myself, with the semi-abusive help of a Los Angeles-based Swedish woman who calls herself the “Clog Master of Sweden.” My first encounter with the Master occurs one sunny November afternoon, in a small glass-fronted store that feels like a cross between a doctor’s office and a key copier. A half dozen chairs line two walls of the linoleum-tiled store. The fifty-something Clog Master cavorts in the back with her fellow employees (all two of them) in a way that wouldn’t look out of place in an Old World saloon. She conforms neither to Swedish nor L.A. stereotype: her hair is dark brown, her skin pale, her brusque manner borderline insulting.
On one wall is a rainbow array of display clogs suggesting the mix-and-match possibilities. Swatches of leather and suede hang from a peg next to shelves of Dr. Scholl’s foot products and various professional chachkas: a Culinary Award of Excellence, bestowed in 1996 by the American Tasting Institute for her Plus Slingback Strap No. 0914 (restaurant workers, who stand on their feet all day, comprise her core clientele); a magazine review; a medical poster of the bones and muscles in the feet; a numbered treatise on why you should wear clogs (item number 2: properly cut and fitted, a wood base is still the best shock absorber); and finally, a poster of Brian May from Queen playing guitar in… clogs.
As soon as the Master clocks me she is beside me on the floor, scrutinizing my beat-up loafers.
To say she doesn’t like my loafers would be to miss the point. “Wearing those is like doing aerobics without a bra on. I bet you wear flip-flops in the summer.” I open my mouth to protest but she shoots me a knowing look. I am a person who scrapes the bottom of the shoe barrel. “My mother would never have allowed me out in those,” she says.
My mother, who lives in St. Louis, went as far as to buy me flip-flops.
The Clog Master sizes my feet up and disappears into the back. In the meantime, I’ve spotted a high-heeled clog on the wall. “Can I get a high-heeled clog?” I ask when she returns, thinking, of course, she’s sanctioned my choice already by putting it on display.
“I said I’d sell high-heeled clogs when Americans wore high-heeled sneakers. Now I have to sell this crap because I’m a woman of my word,” she says. “I won’t guarantee them. If you don’t like them you’ll have to use them for potted plants.” Being a woman of her word also means that the Master won’t guarantee clogs sold to customers with migrating foot sizes—namely pregnant women. I’ve heard that she refuses to sell expectant mothers a pair unless they’re willing to parrot back her warnings.
The Clog Master is a one-woman crusade against pedestrian ignorance. Some salient foot facts: One third of the bones in our body are in our feet. They emit half a cup of sweat a day. Clogs need to be broken in, like baseball gloves; you should wear them for an hour every day for a week. She tells me of the podiatrists who try to prevent her from proselytizing to her customers (she’s confident her advice obviates the need for podiatrists). She has an equal number of stories about the people’s lives she’s changed, people who seek her out at convention booths and sing her praises.
She has me do a comparison test between the black clogs (the only kind she stocks in all sizes) and the highheeled clogs. I’m an easy convert. All of a sudden I want to spoil my feet rotten. It’s during the design process that I get to cut loose. After a fair amount of hemming and hawing I build my shoe: A blond wood base topped with cherry red leather. Running along the smallest three toes of each foot, a cutout of what appears to be a branch of teardrops. They break up the monotony of the club shape, even if they allow the winter wind in.