The Shoe Game / by Walt Cassidy


Waltpaper, 1992.

Greek Maxx Magazine

The Shoe Game

My favorite club when I moved to New York City was a spot called BUILDING.  It was there that I got my first job, and Waltpaper emerged.  I was hired to make decor for the VIP lounge, promote and go-go dance.  To do the oversized painted illustrations for the VIP, they offered me an attic space in the club to use as a studio.  My artwork, at that time, was still vastly underdeveloped.  I was only in my second year of college, but in my 19 year old mind, I had been discovered and "made it" in the big city.  

I was a great fan of Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Robert Mapplethorpe,.  When I got to New York, I began to discover the work of local (and living) artists such as Tabboo!, Martine, and Michael Economy, all of whom had a presence and connection to the Downtown nightclub scene through their work.  Using their example, I started to imagine that I too could live a life where nightclubs and my artwork would be intertwined.

When I met Tabboo!, he invited me and my friend Ricky Zia over to his home studio.  It was there that he told me one of the kindest and most insightful things that I've ever heard.  He was talking about the fiercely competitive queens and artists in the city, and how everyone was always jockeying for the spotlight.  He then stated, very simply, "There is enough room for everyone."  That bit of insight is something that I have carried with me though my whole professional life. I still recite it to this day, often passing it on to younger artists.

Every day and night was filled with meeting new amazing people, one after the other.  It was so exciting and invigorating to have discovered this oasis of amazing talent and energy,

One night, while go-go dancing, I was invited to do my first magazine editorial for Greek MAXX, which is pictured above.  Once that happened, my Club Kid game was in full play.

BUILDING nightclub was housed in a de-commissioned Con Edison power station at 51 West 26th street, just off of 6th Avenue.  It was designed by Argentine architect Carlos Almada and managed by Howard Schaffer, who later went on to do Bowery Bar and is currently involved with The Standard hotels.  

Initially, it catered to the Hip Hop crowd.  Puff Daddy got his start there as a promoter, and it maintained a strong urban base throughout it’s run, until 1991.  Saturday nights were dedicated to a house music party called Groove Thing, hosted by DJ Keoki.

Beyond the gorgeous design of the stripped down industrial space, the club attracted an ethnically diverse crowd, stemming from it’s Hip Hop roots.  There was a fantastic mix of banjee boys, freaks and drag queens on Saturdays.  The main floor crowd could get pretty edgy at times, and there were occasional rumors of guns going off, but I ever witnessed it.

The door on Saturday’s was done by Jojo Americo and Richard Alvarez, who were iconic members of the House of Field.  The VIP lounge was hosted by Linda Simpson, who created an underground gay magazine called My Comrade, and her running buddy, Page, along with an assortment of Club Kids and Downtown personalities.

Gina Vetro, also known as Chicklet, did the VIP rope.  She had been one of the starring characters, along with Codie Ravioli, in the MTV series, Art School Girls of Doom.

Before I had made the move to NYC, I was a freshman at Kent State University.  While on spring break, I came to visit a fellow KSU student, Ivan Samuels, who was from the Bronx.  We had met on campus and quickly became fast friends. I had a budding interest in clubs, and he, having grown up in the city, was a seasoned club goer.  He was the person that first took me and Ricky, to BUILDING, whilst on that trip.

Ivan was the coolest, most beautiful and stylish guy that I had ever met.  He was tall, with dark skin, full lips, and newly formed dreads.  He was always dripping in colors and patterns. The pants, shirts and shoes that he put together created silhouettes that were different than anything I had seen.  I had only experienced style from the vantage point of the political punk and alternative scenes that existed between Virginia Beach and Washington DC during my high school years. 

I had seen movies about life in the city such as, Mondo New York, Slaves of New York, 9 1/2 Weeks and Something Wild.  I had also grown up reading ID magazine, The Face and publications from the RE/Search series.  So there were seeds planted in my head, but no concrete resources in suburban Virginia to cultivate these resting ideas.

Ivan was pure NEW YORK CITY, with the accent to match.  He walked fast and talked fast, and was a great mentor to me, when I finally began living here.

One of clues, at that time, that someone was from New York City, was their shoes.  It was all about the “bubble toe shoe” in 1990, which was synonymous with clubbing. They looked like clown shoes, with a round inflated toe and a cushy sole that was great for dancing.

Hip Hop, Afrocentricity, Acid and House Music were all cross pollinating as the late 80’s transitioned into the 90’s, and in my mind, the ultimate symbol of that moment was that particular shoe style. You couldn’t find them outside of big cities, like New York.  I assume you may have been able to get them in Chicago and probably Los Angeles, but I am not sure.

In New York, the shoe game was focused around 8th Street, between Broadway and 6th avenue, a strip dominated by stores that carried a variety of bubble shoes, in addition to every other style.  The original Pat Field store was also located in that area, and the sidewalks were flooded with a fantastic array of street style.

Let’s face it, a look starts and ends with a shoe, and that was especially true for Club Kid style.  How you chose and customized your footwear defined you as much as the nickname you created for yourself.  

Upon arriving to live in NYC and attend SVA, I began buying funky shoes from a shop called Screaming Mimi’s, located on East 4th street.  I had heard of this shop before, because Cyndi Lauper had worked there, and I also took note of it because Michael Economy was the artist behind many of their illustrated advertisements.  It was a great shop, especially for those awkward vintage shoes.  

I had been an avid thrift store shopper all throughout high school.  Aside from one visionary shop in Norfolk, called Street Theatre, which is where I bought my ID and Face magazines. The only other option you had to create unique looks, was to buy vintage at thrift stores.  My interest in used clothes came from the movie Pretty in Pink, which had a huge impact on me.  I too, like the main character played by Molly Ringwald, was a funky kid from the wrong side of the tracks.

The East Village was filled with a plethora of interesting well curated vintage shops, including Rose’s Vintage, Antique Boutique, Howdy Do, Alice’s Underground and of course Love Saves The Day, which had been iconicized in the film Desperately Seeking Susan.

One of the things that I remember distinctly about the early 90’s, was the weight of the platform shoes that myself and fellow Club Kids began creating at the local shoe repair shops.

Many of us were adding platforms to the standard Doc Marten shoe or boot, a footwear staple that we carried over from the alternative and punk scenes that initially groomed us.  I had my pair of knee high platform DM boots, just like the others.  Boots of any kind, usually transitioned well into a platformed style because they were structurally sound and could handle the additional weight of the platform.  

I became interested in trying to platform some other styles of footwear, just to give myself a slightly different edge.  Some of these attempts were complete failures.  There were moments when my shoes would just snap into two pieces, or the platform would come unglued from the shoe midway through a night out, leaving me hobbling along until I found a way home.

I would buy these funky shoes at Mimi’s and then take them to Alex Shoe Repair and have him cut off the existing soles and replace them with platforms, adding anywhere from 4 to 7 inches.  I platformed the Wallaby-type suede shoes, that I am wearing in the Greek Maxx photo shoot, as well as some pimp shoes, that I wore in my Looks To Look For feature in Project X magazine.  Those are one of the shoe styles that just snapped in two due to the weight of the platform. 

Photographs by Michael Fazakerley

Photographs by Michael Fazakerley

Later down the line, I eventually found a fantastic buckled sandal from John Fluevog that I platformed and stenciled the logo of my favorite band, PLASMATICS, on the side.  Those were my all time favorite shoes.  I wish I had kept them, but they were so heavy to carry around when I started traveling and living in Europe.

Initially Alex didn’t use the soft sneaker rubber that would eventually come to define the outrageous Club Kid style platforms, he used the hard heavy rubber made for boots.  As we were developing the designs we wanted made, he was also still figuring out how to make them.

It was Erle, Lil Keni and Jennytalia that really pushed the platform shoe game over the edge, because they had the insight to begin platforming sneakers, which called for the use of lighter rubber soling that also came in a range of bright colors.  The shoes that those three developed were real museum pieces.

They added a sculptural element by cutting each layer of the stacked sole into a different horizontally relief shape.  Their creations they looked like exploding comic book word bubbles worthy of a Lichtenstein painting.  They were able to add height, color and surface.  Keni had built the three dimensional letters of his name into his shoe.

While using the lighter rubber made the shoes much less heavy, the horizontal sculptural elements added an additional obstacle, which forced the wearer to develop a specific walking style.  They had to "walk around" their own footwear, if that makes sense.  As Club Kids, many of us had to teach ourselves new styles of walking and dancing to accommodate our footwear and various make shift garments.

The shoes became our very own mobile go-go boxes attached to our feet, and we perched gloriously on top of them.

And that brings me back to BUILDING.

One of the most exciting break throughs in my time at BUILDING, was that I met my very first lover Donald, on one of the three balconies that extended from the VIP area.

I had never seen a boy quite so beautiful, let alone one that took the initiative to actually flirt with me.  We were talking about my purple tutu that I was wearing and he said to me, "My urine is purple too."  I paused for a moment, and thought, "Wow, this guy isn't just beautiful, he's freaky and weird too."  What a great combination.  I was all in, but I will save our story for my next post.... be continued


September 2018

Detail from Webster Hall Street Poster, c.1994  Original Photograph by Adolfo

Detail from Webster Hall Street Poster, c.1994

Original Photograph by Adolfo