Surprising someone with an unexpected interview is a good way to get to know them. Doing that twice, though, is perfect way to get on their nerves. When I had the idea to write about Chilean shoemaker Nelson Ujeda I thought it'd be a piece of cake. The first time I talked to him, out of sheer curiosity, he opened himself like a flower, talking loads about his life and his profession: making high-heeled shoes for a very specific clientele, the workers and residents of Baixo Augusta. But the second time I walked into his shop, SAPATARIA (which is Portuguese for "shoe shop"), in the middle of the afternoon of a sunny Thursday, I found a clouded-over man. I should have known that a guy who picked such a literal name for his business wouldn't have much patience.
This Chilean's been in Brazil ten years and has been in business for the same amount of time, and he seemed really grumpy with the passers by. The area's "hot" right now: in the middle of the brothels and the dirty old bars, lots of nightspots have opened in the past few years, attracting groups of successful types, alternative kids, tourists, and emos. Nelson only wanted to talk about how those people discriminate against immigrants. I gave him plenty of space, and soon enough he came out with it: He was livid with his landlord, who, up-to-date on neighborhood changes (and thus lusting after more digits in his bank account), wants to get rid of SAPATARIA and get some more financially interesting tenants.
All my enthusiasm fell flat. I argued that the interview wouldn't affect his business (in Vice? Seriously?). He totally transferred his unease about shady Brazilians onto me, and the bastard even tried to play hard to get, saying he'd had to turn down interviews from other journalists, including from a big TV station. Sure. But since I already knew how vain he was and wasn't prepared to set aside my own vanity so fast, I knew I could get past his stubbornness. Some compliments about his shoes – how they were super trendy and other fashion-y words – and his softer side came out, though still under the condition that my recorder stay off.
Nelson Ujeda's reinforces his shoes with super-high translucent heels made from injected resin. They're definitely worthy of the area hos and the fashion bitches. All the models at SAPATARIA are made by Nelson, who learned his trade by scrutinizing other shoes and copying them. His father owned a shoe factory in Chile but he didn't want to follow his dad into the profession. Being a shoemaker was a curse, he said, returning to his earlier crappy mood, a destiny he tried to escape by becoming a mechanic after his dad abandoned the family.
But necessity and his experience in his father's factory made him a shoemaker, and a good one. His shoes are beautiful, like I repeatedly said, trying to encourage him. “Have you seen this one?” Nelson said, showing me a shoe. It was a copy of a little Japanese model, the Sabrina Sato. It was in a magazine.
“You know nothing makes itself,” he said, revealing his secret that he works by modifying the copies on the same standard heel, repeated in different designs, in leather or polishes. When a local prostitute came in to ask for a different heel (the Anabela model), he barely thought for a second, just said, “I've only got these heels here.” The hooker walked out with saying a word.
GABI GARCEZ DUARTE