Costumes

Who Makes Those 'Kinky Boots' for the Tony-Winning Musical?

The hit show's challenge: Custom footwear for seven dancing drag queens.
Billy Porter in "Kinky Boots"
Matthew Murphy

This story first appeared in the June 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Broadway musical Kinky Boots, which just picked up six Tonys, is based on the true story of a British shoe factory that, ahem, rebooted its business in the late '90s by creating sexy high heels for men -- which required sturdier construction. "It's ironic that our story developing the show is so similar to the original, with the issues they had making sexy shoes for men to dance in," says costume designer Gregg Barnes, noting the punishing workout the show's dancers put their shoes through. "It's not just club dancing. Our dancers do slam spills and backover gymnastic moves."

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The secret to a high heel that is strong enough for a (dancing) man is in the steel shank. So far, only four pairs have broken, all during early rehearsals. "We have a person who checks the heels every single night," says Barnes. "If there's a problem, the shoes go back to the manufacturer." That would be T.O.Dey, a custom-shoe factory a block from the theater that supplies 80 percent of Broadway shows, says owner Gino Bifulco. His credits range from Wicked to Les Miserables to Barnes' next project, Aladdin.

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Bifulco made 150 pairs of boots, customized for the show's 20 performers -- informed by their feet, body size and dance moves -- for up to $2,000 a pair. Naturally, there's been buzz about a Kinky Boots shoe line, especially now that the show is launching a national tour in fall 2014 (first stop: Vegas). "Kenneth Cole did reach out about a partnership, but nothing has come of it so far," says Barnes. "I know Stuart Weitzman did a partnership with Cinderella, so maybe something like that will happen."