Prince maneuvered better in his high heels than most stiletto-clad women do. He would do the splits, jump up, high kick, squat, and run back and forth onstage with specially built 4-inch and 3 1/3-inch height boosters at his soles. After all, Prince Rogers Nelson was a man of mega-talent and charisma but was also of diminutive size. He was famously 5-foot-3 and chose to wear heels to lift himself up a bit, though he certainly didn’t need it. Prince also once said that he liked to wear heels because women were attracted to them—and why not? His aura was a regal, ethereal, sexed-up shade of purple, and his style had to match all of that pomp. Prince had his heels—around 3,000 pairs, to be exact—made to his measurements by a 60-year-old cobbler shop on Sunset Boulevard called Andre No. 1. It was founded by Andre Rostomyan, who became known as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after cobblers by celebrities including Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Today, his nephew Gary Kazanchyan runs the shop and creates custom footwear for actors and actresses in TV and film, as well as musicians like Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars. For nearly 20 years, Prince was one of his most loyal customers.
The relationship began when a stylist from Prince’s team contacted Andre and asked him to create a shoe last, or a wooden mold made in the exact measurements of the foot. Prince was around a women’s size 5 1/2 or a 6. He wanted a heeled bootie shoe that he could wear onstage, at home, and everywhere in between. The shoes that resulted were all exactly the same shape and size, but each month, the artist and his team would send in new design requests that often included a rare silk fabric or a light-up Lucite heel. Sometimes, Gary and his team would only have two days to build a new pair; every shoe was made to match Prince’s extensive collection of glam-god ensembles. “At one point, we were averaging 30 to 40 pairs of shoes a month for Prince,” Gary says. “I think he must have worn at least two or three of those shoes a day because he refused to be seen at, say, a press conference in the morning wearing the same heels as he wore onstage the night before.”
Though most of the design consultations were done over the phone and by mail, Prince did visit Andre No. 1 a few times when he was in Los Angeles. “He was very much involved in the process,” Gary says. “Prince would get attached to a certain fabric and bring it in to me and ask, ‘Okay, how can we cut this? Do we do it on the bias?’ He really dug into the process.” The details had to be precise, even when it was just a simple color or fabric change of the same shoe from the original mold. Sometimes, the musician’s stylist would attach Prince’s symbol to the zipper for added embellishment. And because Prince’s performances required intense movement, the heel was supported with a stainless steel bar, so as to ensure that it wouldn’t snap off when he was coming back up from a split. “We also used a heavier wood on the shoes that we knew he was going to do the splits in, to absorb more impact,” Gary says. Mostly, Prince wore white versions of his Andre No. 1–made heels while onstage, but of course, there were others. Gary specifically remembers a time when the musician asked him to create a purple velvet version—and because Prince had his own shade of purple, they had to get it custom-made by a fabric company in England. He also once asked Gary to make him three pairs of furry thigh-highs in white, black, and purple.