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Tori Amos talks about Shoes
by Dan Williford
photography by Francesca Sorrenti
What's this? Fave musician Tori Amos immortalized in the fashion world? Yep, it's true. Designer Steve Madden has created an original shoe bearing her name. Seems that Madden is a longtime supporter of RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), an organization that Amos founded. Neatly timed to coincide with the release of her fifth album 'To Venus and Back', the shoe's profits will go to RAINN. Madden says that because his customers are usually young women, who are at the highest risk of being victims of sexual assault, he felt it was only natural to team up with Amos to develop his only (first?) "celebrity shoe". So what kind of shoe would carry the name of the controversial, passionate singer/songwriter who has disrupted the calm world of pop music since her debut in the early '90s? It's a high strappy wedge platform sandal that hoists any choirgirl a full 5 inches closer to the planet Venus. It fits right in with Madden's collection of funky, stylish shoes, each with its own name and -- some would argue -- its own personality. And so far its been a success. With Tori fans, Madden fans, and RAINN supporters all vying for a piece of Tori sole, it isn't surprising that autographed versions have been auctioned off for thousands of dollars. Though you can't run right out and buy this shoe just anywhere, Madden and Amos promise they're working on plans to team up again in the future in support of RAINN. We caught up with musician and shoe fanatic Tori Amos in New York just before she headed home to England. We wanted to talk about Steve Madden, Prada velvets, and what happens when fashion and music collide.
Shuz: Steve Madden first sponsored RAINN's presence in the Lilith Fair, so how did that evolve into this shoe project?
Tori: Well, he's been a big supporter of RAINN, and he wanted to develop something that people could buy, take home and wear. They'd have something tangible, something they could hold and have the profits go to RAINN. So this was his idea.
Shuz: He says the shoe was totally inspired by you. Do you think it sums up what you like in a shoe?
Tori: Sure. I mean, it's fun, and I think you can use a little fun on your feet -- especially a shoe for RAINN. It gives you a real "warrior woman" kind of stance because you gain 5 or 6 inches.
Shuz: Do you plan to collaborate again in the future?
Tori: I hope so, because he's one of those people that, you know, are very rare.
Shuz: I once heard you say you're the Imelda Marcos of rock'n'roll. So you're a pretty big shoe fan?
Tori: I'm sure Dolly Parton has me beat, but that's a whole 'nother thing.
Shuz: How many pairs do you think you have?
Tori: I have no idea....
Shuz: What is it about shoes that you like?
Tori: Maybe because when you look down at them, it reminds you that you're still on planet Earth. They say all your nerve endings go down to your feet, making your feet a real sensual, primitive part. And adorning them makes sense to me.
Shuz: Would you consider yourself a collector?
Tori: No. I just choose shoes that are right for me, not because this is good architecture and I need to buy it. For some people it doesn't matter if they're going to wear it, it represents a style they need to have for prosperity... or podiatry [laughs]. Which is not really where I'm at. I get shoes because they express a side of me. And I wear them. Well... sometimes I'll pick up something I don't wear, but then I'll give them to Goodwill.
Shuz: So you don't necessarily have a favorite designer of type?
Tori: There are things I gravitate to. I'm a big Demeulemeester fan. Boots. I perform in different Demeulemeester boots, mainly because there's a big hoof, like a horse's hoof.
Shuz: Yeah, I was wondering. Since you play the piano....
Tori: Always heels.
Shuz: So do they help? They don't get in the way?
Tori: Gives me a stance. But they have to be sleek, or I loose my map. No different than a race car, your shoes have to be really sleek. Otherwise I'm up there playing, going from keyboard to keyboard, swinging that leg back to give me support in my diaphragm and whole body. I'm playing pedals that trigger the keyboards. Sometimes big clunky shoes are really fun, but not to play in. I have a great clumpy pair of platform Pradas that I love. They have, like, a pyramid on the front, over the top of the foot, below the toes. It's just a wonderful triangle where the material gathers beneath the straps. I can't play in them, but I can sure walk in airports in them, clomp around.
Shuz: Didn't a certain pair of clomply platforms lead to the song "Playboy Mommy" on your album 'From the Choirgirl Hotel'? (In my platforms I hit the floor/ fell face down/ didn't help my brain out.)
Tori: Different pair.... velvet. Gorgeous blue velvet Pradas. I was in Champagne, in France, and I fell down these circular steps, all the way down. Really clompy. That was a mixture of Krug and my clompy Prada velvet shoes.
Shuz: You once referred to yourself as a "librarian in heels." What is the symbolism of the heel to you?
Tori: Well, this is different. In the librarian mode, I'd rather be in a Manolo heel with a pointed toe and carrying around a stack of books about religion or history. I just bought these beautiful grey wool Manolo's, slender heel, not short, not ridiculous, maybe 3 ½ inches. I'll wear those with jeans and a sweater.
Shuz: Don't you live on a farm? What do you wear when you're at home?
Tori: I have a great pair of Gucci boots. I feel like a worker at an empiric space station, cleaning up in those boots. I like all that. They're thick, and they have a real sense of rubber going on. And I have a great pair of Jil Sander boots, sort of a refined Dr. Martens meets factory worker in the '60s, like in hosiery mills or something. My uncle used to work in the hosiery mills in North Carolina. They have the big soles that look like tire tracks. I have my trendy moments, but I try to stay away from a really trendy shoe. Well, there were those Prada platforms. Who wouldn't be seduced by royal blue Prada velvet platforms? Forget it.
Shuz: You hear a lot about the connection between fashion and rock'n'roll. Do you think they're important to each other?
Tori: Ah, you have to be really discerning about which train is running which train. And there's no way that fashion is gonna run my train when I take that stage. I'm a lioness, I could just walk out there in... oh... I don't know... say leather heels, leather bra, leather up to the neck that just got ripped off a couch. And I'd own that stage. Or, I could call up somebody in the fashion world, take their advice, and feel like a hostage to the clothing. It's tricky. Live performance is theater. And I do have help. Karen Binns has been styling me for years. She's from Brooklyn, she's black with Jean Harlow white hair, she's loud, and she doesn't mess. She's seen every movie there was to see. She was very much a part of the Basquiat era here in New York. She hosted some of the ridiculous clubs. And she's been really instrumental in inspiring a lot of young designers. Susan Deakon, for instance, just designed everything I've been performing in.
Shuz: So Karen Binns has really inspired your fashion sense?
Tori: Cindy Palmono, the photographer, turned me on to her. She said this person has access to the underworld of fashion. When you get into the overworld, the problem is that someone is gonna show up wearing what you're wearing. Or what's been on the catwalk. So I try to pick pieces that nobody's seen. I go to Karen, to the designers that have a private line going. I'm wearing stuff from this company called Preen. The shirts are tight but flared at that three-quarter length. And they have a T-shirt look, which I love. You know, just things that I haven't seen by other people.
Shuz: Have you always been so conscious of fashion as an art form?
Tori: I was more aware of shoes than clothes. My main intrest is the content of my work. That's more important than anything. But I'd always take the time to put on shoes that expressed what I was working on. Or playing on.
Shuz: What would be an example of that?
Tori: Well, when I was 8, I had these fantastic black-and-white snakeskin go-go boots. And these little Mary Janes with little cards I could put in the toes and change the color. I guess I was about 5, but I still remember them.
Shuz: Is there a pair now that stands out to you?
Tori: Sure. I've been playing a lot in these gold Gucci sandals I bought a couple of years ago. They're very high and they have gold see-through heels that look like a New Mexico sunset. They seem both old and futuristic, like ancient Egyptian meets alien from Andromeda. I had some Manolo's with that see-through iridescence. I love the idea of prisms in shoes, where light reflects. I don't have wild fluorescents -- that's not my scene at all. I'm not just a classic kind of gal, I like to think that's an element. But classic, and turn left. Second to the right, straight on till morning. [sings] "Second to the right, straight on 'til morning...." I was going to write that song once I knew that was Peter Pan's address.
Shuz: One of the coolest pairs of shoes I've seen you wear are the big platform one's in the "Silent All These Years" video [from 1992's 'Little Earthquakes']. Do you know which one's I mean?
Tori: Yeah, the big boots. Cindy found them and brought them to the set. They came and went really quick. Sometimes the boots aren't mine. Somebody else -- maybe the art director -- owns them, and I can't just put them in my bag when I leave. It's really not fair. Patrick Cox gave me a pair of boots once, and they were the only pair in existence. Lilac suede, platforms with three tiers of colors. Really thin, sexy boots. High, over the knee. My mother has them. She doesn't wear them, but she has them. Oh, and can I tell you one more shoe that I adore? There's a shop in London down the street from Harvey Knicks called Gina's. Gina does the sexiest little Holly Golightly sandals for spring and summer.
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