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Sole Mates

The Naked Shoe charts the decades-long love story of a shy Jewish girl from Flatbush, her Italian-born Catholic husband, and the gorgeous shoes they created

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(John Manno, © 2010 by Jane Julianelli)

The Naked Shoe: The Artistry of Mabel Julianelli, a photo book that is also a biography, tells the rags-to-riches story of Mabel Winkel, a shy little Jewish girl from Flatbush, Brooklyn. Born about a century ago, Mabel, a mite of a thing, was blessed with a good eye, an innate talent for design, and plenty of ambition.

She found her way to the Pratt Institute, where she studied costume design and fell in love with Charles Julianelli, a gorgeous-looking but equally poor Italian-born art model who dreamed of becoming an artist. She and Charles worked at a Brooklyn shoe factory where Mabel sketched and Charles cut shoe models. In 1929, the petite powerhouse of a girl, set on starting her own business, invited Charles to become her creative partner. Business was terrific, but romance was more problematic. Mabel was besotted with Charles from day one, but her parents were aghast at the idea of her marrying a Catholic. Charles was popular with the ladies. (He’d had a fiancée, who committed suicide.) They finally married after 10 years, at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach on New Year’s Eve 1939. But, never mind that. The shoes, oh, the shoes they created! They were gorgeous.

Mabel, the granddaughter of a Russian-born push-cart peddler, did not know much about Judaism. When she asked her parents what it meant to be Jewish, they told her you were born one, and she didn’t seek to find out more. What truly mattered to her was her great love for Charles and her burning ambition to achieve success. But her story is still a Jewish one; she’s a classic example of a second- or third-generation American Jewish girl whose talent and drive propelled her to prosperity and success.

Mabel and Charles’ beautiful couture creations were sold in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, first under the stores’ labels and then under the Julianelli brand name. The Julianellis were inventive and versatile. They developed new styles and techniques, creating a sensation with their Chopine sandal, a combination shoe/sock, the parts of which could also be worn separately. It was the most talked-about shoe of 1941. The Julianellis’ artistic achievement was confirmed a year later when Saks donated two pairs of Julianelli shoes to the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mabel and Charles kept expanding their horizons, designing footwear that ranged from simply walking shoes to elegant ballroom slippers, and they even branched into men’s and children’s footgear. Worn by such fashion goddesses as Sophia Loren and Diana Vreeland, their designs were also included in the 1945 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, “Is Fashion Modern?”

Mabel died in December 1994, survived by her daughter, Jane, a former Women’s Wear Daily editor and the author of The Naked Shoe. But the shoes she and Charles created—beautifully made, delicate, smart, the epitome of good taste—are her legacy. I would love to have them in my closet.

Edna Nahshon, a professor of Hebrew at the Jewish Theological Seminary, is the author of Jews and Shoes.

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Elaine Ward says:

Edna Nahshon’s review captures wonderfully the extraordinary couple Mabel and Charles Julianelli were – superb artisans way ahead of their time and a devoted and perfectly matched couple in both business and love. She has accurately recounted in her review the Julianelli’s story which their daughter Jane has so successfully captured in her book The Naked Shoe. A delightful review of a delicious new book!

Stuart Epstein says:

Amazing. Another example of creativity trumping all other circumstances. Only in America. And is there really a book about “Jews and shoes”?

this is a great encapsulation of a beautiful, historical and provocative look into the love and artistry of two people by a devoted daughter who dared to try to understand her parents with compassion and truth. How many of us can do that? I have given this book as presents and have recommended it to designers as the perfect coffee table book. And how beautiful is the Naked Shoe?

Florence Wildner says:

Jane is my friend. I helped her unearth, catalog and organize much of her parents’ keepsakes in order to write the book. Your article is a wonderful recognition of beauty and talent, both with Jane and with her parents. I had the honor of wearing the signature shoes, the ones on the cover. I wore them at the book launch in New York. They are comfortable beyond words and they are really one of the “naked shoes”. The book is a real tribute to her parents and the industry.

I’ll take the red t-straps, please.

Ricki M. Perlowitz says:

This is an amazing book a true tribute to two people so in love. Not only with each other but the art of designing some of the most beautiful shoes ever made. A love story not to be imagined and a book one must have .This book should be made into a HOLLYWOOD Movie ….

Susie Hurst says:

What a beautiful book! I keep it on my coffee table. The love story is wonderful, and the accounting of a young Jewish womans success in business in a male dominated world is inspiring. I love it for the beautiful shoes and sexy cover.

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I’ve said that least 4675208 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

Thanks for your website, it is very helpful. I found the information that I need and I will come back. Best Christmas Gift Ideas

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Sole Mates

The Naked Shoe charts the decades-long love story of a shy Jewish girl from Flatbush, her Italian-born Catholic husband, and the gorgeous shoes they created

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