Caryn Wilensky, designer of her own brand Coast and Koi – an exquisite line of bespoke shoes from Cape Town, South Africa. Caryn represents the highest standards of handcrafted excellence, sophisticated luxury and comfort. Each pair of Coast and Koi shoes is unique, and always Blending African and Oriental influences. Caryn does capsules collections for clients with a minimum number of pairs and offering a unique collection even to private clients. A collaboration of ideas always works best, then the product remains completely exclusive to the client. Caryn’s timeless creations are unlike anything in the market today.
One of the remarkable collection is “The Museum Collection” – it’s the joyful collaboration with Amanda Johnson Studio which is located in Delray Beach, USA. Amanda James made one of a kind textiles for Caryn at Coast & Koi. And we will be asking Caryn Wilensky about the way she created those unique shoes.
Where do all the ideas for the unique shoes come from? And are you ever tired of designing new ones?
I believe in the power of ancestors, personal guides and muses. As long as I am ‘tapped in’, inspiration can come from anywhere. I am careful not to disturb my daydreams – they can often be very productive!
I can be going about my day and something will catch my eye – a fabric or design fragment – a visual seed. Only later, I will find I have an idea for a shoe that has taken shape around that seed. Of course, it helps when you live somewhere as visually rich as South Africa.
I believe there is a fashion zeitgeist that steers the direction of trends. I am grateful that every now and then my muses have pointed me in that direction.
Coast & Koi is inspired by African renaissance. What does that mean for the design?
I believe it is Africa’s turn. The narrative of ‘Africa Rising’ might have run its course when it comes to world politics, but definitely not when it comes to fashion. Having worked as a fashion buyer abroad, I can confidently say that interest in Africa has never been stronger. The search for an untapped frontier is not new in fashion, but recently that attention has turned to Africa.
However, designers often have a very narrow concept of what Africa is, limiting themselves to what is essentially a stereotype. Visual examples of this might be leopard print or a very obviously tribal pattern.
I experience this when people comment on my shoes as being ‘very Eurocentric’, simply because they do not conform to that stereotype. When you can reframe your concept of Africa as being the origin-point for all human development, then it makes sense that other cultural influences would be part of that African whole.
Also historically, everything is of Africa. The earliest trade routes all passed through here, so it stands to reason that vestiges of other cultures (Indian or Asian for example) would remain here and find their way into my work. Yes, my work may be eclectic, but when I think of Indo-African design I am not thinking of India, I am relating to the Indian strand within Africa.
I see my role as broadening that narrow concept of what Africa is. Dissolving the stereotype – that’s the real work of renaissance!
Through my brand, I hope people come to appreciate a conception of Africa beyond the stereotype, because really it’s more interesting with all its nuances and complexity.
The Museum Collection looks so gorgeous please tell us more about it and what is Babouche footwear?
The Museum Collection is a handcrafted collection of bespoke Babouche footwear. We collaborated with Amanda Johnson Studio, located in Delray Beach, Florida.
Amanda and I are happy to share with you, The Museum Collection, a very special collection of Babouche footwear. The collection is made of custom printed luxurious silks, satin’s and linens derived from Amanda Johnson Studio original paintings.
Babouche footwear is a type of footwear that originally hails from the Middle East where they were worn by both women and men. The babouches, which are popular with fashion enthusiasts, do not curl at the toe like the medieval footwear designs that are commonplace in Marrakesh souks. Babouches were often decorated for weddings, feast days, special occasions, and other special occasions with embroidery knots, tassels, sequins, and patterns.
This collaboration is not about mass production, but rather about classic elegance, unique design and individual style.
Who are your clients – is it more tourists or locals from Cape Town?
In the past it has been mostly tourists from within South Africa. But lately, more and more interest has come from the internet, both for personal orders as well as retail partnerships.
Where are the shoes sold, online as well as in store?
Yes, both avenues. I have several retail stockists locally, as well as a whole host of orders I am now fulfilling for retailers abroad. Coast and Koi is definitely on the move!