These boots are made for dancing: the Manila shoe studio that makes theater footwear

Atlantis Theatrical's 'Kinky Boots,' opening June 30, is just one of many local shows depending on one plucky shoemaking company in Cubao for its costume footwear

June 17, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

How does a failing shoemaking factory save itself? By making stiletto-heeled boots for men.

The musical "Kinky Boots" is about cabaret performer and female impersonator Lola helping shoe factory owner Charlie Price keep his business afloat.

Wilson Shoes is fabricating the footwear for "Kinky Boots."
Photo by Alexis Corpuz.

Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group (ATEG)'s upcoming production of the musical will have Nyoy Volante as Lola and Laurence Mossman, originally from New Zealand, as Charlie.

The Tony-winning musical (including Best Musical and Best Score), with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and book by Harvey Fierstein, is based on the British film of the same title.

It starred Chiwetel Ejiofor ("Dr. Strange," "12 Years a Slave") as Lola and Joel Edgerton ("Revenge of the Sith," "Great Gatsby") as Charlie. The movie, in turn, was inspired by true events featured in a BBC2 documentary.

ATEG's founding artistic director Bobby Garcia helms the musical, with musical direction by Molinder Cadiz.

Costumes were originally to be designed by couturier Pepsi Herrera, who died earlier this year. He'd designed or co-designed costumes for Atlantis' "Jersey Boys," "Disney's Aladdin," "Addams Family" and "Rock of Ages."

Raven Ong stepped in to take over the task. Ong's recent credits include Repertory Philippines' "Alice in Wonderland" and "Producers," Atlantis' "Carrie," Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' "Collection" and Red Turnip's "Closer."

In the musical, Charlie observes that existing high-heeled boots aren't constructed to hold a man's weight; working with the drag queen Lola, his factory switches from producing drab working men's boots to fab show footwear.

Wilson Shoes

In real life, fabricating the 48 pairs of shoes (17 pairs of dance shoes, 10 half boots and 21 thigh-high boots) for the cast fell into the hands of Alex Ng, head of Wilson Shoes-where his 20 shoemakers craft bespoke footwear.

Laurence Mossman and Nyoy Volante

Ng's father, Ng Tiam Tiong, founded Wilson Shoes in the late '70s. "After working as a sales agent for a big shoe factory, he decided to open his own," recalls the son. It supplied local stores like Shoemart (now SM) and Cinderella and even exported to clients abroad.

Mirroring the tenacity of the musical's factory, Wilson Shoes has had to adjust to market forces over the years and reinvent itself from factory to atelier. It eventually downsized and rechanneled its output to cater to theater, TV and movie productions. (It also services brides/grooms and wedding entourages, and fashion designers for their one-off couture shoes).

And just as Charlie inherits the factory from his father, the Ng siblings all learned the trade from their father. "It started when we were still young, helping make patterns, drawing designs, making molds, cleaning the shoes," says Alex.

Theater connection

The theater connection began with Ng's late eldest brother, for whom the factory was named. He'd started servicing TV and film celebrity clients and got to know Rep's founders Zeneida Amador and Baby Barredo, which led to building costume shoes for theater.

Wilson Shoes worker.
Photo by Alexis Corpuz.

Wilson Shoes' show credits span different time periods and cultures.

Fantasy? Check. They built the boots for various incarnations of Darna, from Anjanette Abayari and Nanette Medved to Angel Locsin and Marian Rivera.

Medieval? Check. Rep's "Camelot." American depression era? Resorts World Manila's "Annie." '70s disco? Platforms and chunky heels for Atlantis' "Saturday Night Fever."

Functional and fanciful? Army boots for "Cabaret" and "The Producers;" "glass" shoes embellished with real Austria Swarovski clear crystals for "Cinderella;" Native American moccasins for "Peter Pan," and gold slippers for "The King and I."

Let's not forget the nonhuman characters-ogre feet and donkey hooves for "Shrek" and enlarged clawed beast feet for "Beauty and the Beast."

It also did the shoes for Rep's recent 50th anniversary concert, "Rep: 50 Years of Telling Stories," and is crafting those for 9 Works Theatrical's "Newsies the Musical" (opens July 7).

Glittery and colorful

For "Kinky Boots," the titular footwear will be built to look "shiny, glittery and colorful based on Raven's designs," Ng says, listing materials such as leatherette, patent, snakeskin and embellishments like lace and crystals.

The challenge, he says, is to make the male actors' typically bigger feet and leg sizes fit into the silhouette of typically smaller ladies' thigh-high boots, and making sure the actors can dance in them.

"The toes are on platforms and the stiletto heels will be at least four inches. They have to be sturdy and strong."

Choreography by Cecile Martinez, set design by Faust Peneyra, lighting design by Adam Honoré, sound design by Kevin Heard, wig and makeup design by Johann dela Fuente.

READ previous coverage of Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group here.

"Kinky Boots" runs June 30-July 23 at Romulo Auditorium, 4/F RCBC Plaza, Makati City. Visit or link