The colours and patterns of Suzhou Cobblers hand-sewn silk slippers reflect Shanghai's grandest era, when Huang Mengqi’s hometown was a fashion capital. The slippers Huang Mengqi (Denise to her friends) designs, draws on her background in graphic design, painting and sketching to recreate the kind of high quality slippers that style-conscious Chinese women like her grandmother once wore. Denise calls her line of shoes and slippers 'Suzhou Cobblers' (pronounced: sue-joe) after China's beautiful garden city, and the name of each style evokes China’s history; 'Mandarin Duck,' 'Green Tea,' 'Calligraphy,' 'Good Morning,' 'Plum Flower' and 'Propaganda’.
A small group of expert men and women sew and stitch Denise’s ideas into high quality products. With each purchase, her customers pay homage to their artistry and skills, as well as sustaining the rich tradition of Shanghai style, as she explains, ‘In ancient times, we had fine silk embroidery and in the Chinese modern era our girls looked wonderful wearing collared qipao dresses. But something got lost. Sometimes too much attention was paid to a perceived “correct” way to make these styles, freezing them in time. The biggest problem was quality suffered; Chinatown came to mean cheap. In design it was like solid recipes cooked blandly. I am trying to do a small part to revive these rich styles of the past’.
The embroidered slippers revive the rich styles of the past, but with some added contemporary snap. For instance, Denise takes the bamboo from a black ink painting and brings it to life in colourful silk embroidered onto the toe of a slipper, ‘My goal is to make them immediately recognisable as Chinese but something unexpected and different. I start with something ancient and then try to have fun with it’, she says.