Style

Men's Footwear in Singapore Gets A Reinvention With Nita Chauhan And Vincitore Shoes

Getting men to slip on well-made kicks.

BY Lestari Hairul | Mar 14, 2017 | Fashion

Photograph by Ronald Leong

The shoemaker in my mind does not look like Nita Chauhan. This imaginary stereotype is a quiet gentleman with thick glasses to correct presbyopia who is distinguished by his snazzy, beautifully polished shoes. Chauhan, on the other hand, is in a pair of gold and black sneakers of her own design; stylish glasses hang from a chain around her neck, which is accented by a red scarf. Something about her reminds me of a school librarian, one who accedes to your multiple requests for books off the standard reading list by pointing you in their direction with a sly wink.

“Why do we like angmo men? Because they are so well-dressed.” 

I gawp, the cheeky leftfield remark comes smack in the middle of an explanation about technicalities as taught to her by Italian instructors. She is describing the virtues of a leather sole, attributing the admirable gait of angmo men to a well-selected pair of shoes. Compared to the rubber variant favoured by Singaporean men, a leather sole affords its owner a smoother walk unmarred by rubber’s propensity to adhere to the floor. Style over practicality? The latter would likely weather tropical showers better, but even that is no guarantee that one won’t slip on a wet floor. 

 

Image by Vincitore Shoes

 

Her curriculum at The Academy of Fashion Professions (TaF.tc) under the tutelage of master shoemakers affirmed the knowledge that she had gleaned from decades in the shoe business. Techniques that seemed esoteric finally made sense, and an attempt at crafting her own shoe by hand proved the difficulty of the work. She shows me the first shoe that she ever made—two-toned with a red lining and zig-zag stitching on an otherwise standard lace-up. It hints at the beginnings of her propensity for mixing colours and traditional men’s shoe qualities.

But that first shoe also set her on the right course. No meddling about with the craft, leave that to the artisans. Chauhan designs instead, regularly flying to Italy to meet shoemakers for Vincitore’s new collections and to test out wacky prototypes. A mount of shoes, destined to remain samples because they’re possibly too daring for the market here, is testament to her creativity and willingness to make her ideas tangible. But her talent lies in figuring out what her customers want, whilst gently encouraging them to be more daring in their choices.

Vincitore’s flagship store in Millenia Walk is modestly-sized. It is in a quiet corner, and lured by Harvey Norman’s promises of well-equipped domesticity, you might just miss it. Neat displays of shoes, ties and other menswear accessories line the walls. It is here that Chauhan is found on most days. She works the floor, doing the kind of qualitative research that is more telling than statistics of the type and number of shoes bought. 

“It’s the only thing that I know how to do: sell shoes!”

At the age of 18, Chauhan entered the family business. Her father sold brands like Bally, A Testoni and Antonio Maurizi and she took over. She did this for a decade before venturing into other areas of the retail industry for the next 20 years, even earning an MBA in retail along the way. Then came the inevitable desire to move beyond the mere selling of product, and so she enrolled in TaF.tc. It was her husband who encouraged her to plunge head-on into setting up her own line.

Chauhan is on a mission to change the Singaporean man’s preference for frumpy, black shoes. Burgundy, in her opinion, is a better universal colour. One section in the store is devoted to the “funky” bit in the label’s tagline and sales have been encouraging for these eccentric pieces. But can the Singaporean man finally ditch the footwear habits so engrained in his psyche? With more designers like Chauhan emerging, and a little bit of chutzpah, we can all dream of a sartorial Singapore.

This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, March 2017.


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