TOKYO — A Japanese shoe designer has become a pop diva's favorite by taking geisha and making it Gaga.
Noritaka Tatehana is the man behind Lady Gaga's towering, cloglike shoes, which have no heel and are 25 to 46 centimeters (10 to 18 inches) tall. Her appearances on TV shows and music videos, teetering in his creations, have helped make him such a fashion star that some of his shoes sell for more than $15,000 a pair.
Tatehana, who has made more than 20 pairs for Lady Gaga over the last two years, said he took the traditional "geta" shoes of geishas and made a modern form with his sculptural platforms.
"My work became an icon. It worked not only as branding for me. It also became part of her branding," Tatehana said in a recent interview at his Tokyo workshop, cluttered with art books and his sleek shoes — some glittering with Swarovski crystals, others with golden studs.
The 26-year-old, who evokes the pensive mood of a monk with his quiet voice, long hair tied back in a bun and baggy Yohji Yamamoto pants, was still a student when his career took off. In fact, Lady Gaga's first pair of Tatehanas had been the subject of his graduation thesis at the prestigious Tokyo University of the Arts, where he studied traditional weaving and kimono dyeing.
He made the shoes with pink, reptilian-looking leather from a stingray, common in Japanese crafts such as decoration for swords. He started his fashion brand by trumpeting the design in an email he sent to dozens of people in the industry.
He received just three responses: one from a blogger, one from a journalist and one from Lady Gaga's stylist.
Lady Gaga was not available for comment. But fashion guru and beer heiress Daphne Guinness said she is a big fan.
"I am so happy to have a friend who speaks the same language as me — not English or Japanese, but the language of art, which transcends linguistics," Guinness said. "He is truly a unique talent."