John Allen Woodward’s handiwork worn by actor Shameik Moore
A crazy bright red pair of hornback alligator boots landed a Boulder boot maker a claim to Netflix fame.
Being a shoemaker in 2017 is special, in and of itself. John Allen Woodward, of Boulder, is one of the top master shoemakers in the world, known for his exquisite custom boots, including kicks made fully out of rare, extra textured hornback alligator skin. It was those, specifically, that drew famous costume designer Jeriana San Juan (of “Gossip Girl” and “Saturday Night Live”) to reach out to Woodward early last year.
Her request: She had a nearly unlimited budget to get the perfect, bold, bright red boots for actor Shameik Moore’s character in the Netflix original series “The Get Down.” Immediately.
The urgent costume piece came per the vision of Oscar-nominated writer and director Baz Luhrmann, who created the series along with Stephen Adly Guirgis.
The order wouldn’t be easy. But it also came just days after Woodward had set a New Year’s resolution: to not turn down the next exciting opportunity that came his way, no matter how hard it was. He agreed to do it.
“I don’t know how the cosmos works, trust me, but I do know when you put yourself out there — and that’s what artists have to do — once you do that, it’s pretty amazing. You’ll get the calls,” Woodward says.
Woodward is one of the last, few artisans in the nation who make shoes and accessories by hand out of leather, silver and gold. He actually began his creative career as a singer-songwriter, but after meeting a boot maker in a club, he decided to switch crafts and start an apprenticeship making boots.
Fittingly, “The Get Down” is a musical drama based in 1977 New York City, following youth chasing their musical dreams, amid the rise of hip-hop and disco.
“I love the magic of making. Whether it’s shoes or boots or music, it’s real magic,” he says. “You have a vision that only you can see. You sit at a bench with the raw materials and will it into being. At the end of the day the image becomes real. Real magic.”
He says he thinks everyone is born an artist. Just over the years, it gets beaten out of us, as we’re told we should do something more secure, “something that makes more sense.”
“By the time we get out of college, our artist is buried. But we always know it’s buried, because we’re just not happy until we do it,” he says.
He says he thinks all of the excuses that people make to not pursue their artistic passions are rooted in fear.
“Fear is what stops everybody from doing great things in their life. You’re never fearless. Fear is in our DNA. It’s here to keep us alive. It tells us, ‘That’s too risky,’ or ‘Go back to your day job, otherwise you’ll be poor and lose it all and end up starving on the street and die.’ You don’t ever stop hearing that. You just learn how to hear it and then move on through it,” he says.
For his famous boots, Woodward had to match a specific red color, a shade that no alligator skin naturally comes in (well, obviously). To make it further challenging, he had enough pieces (from six different alligators) to make the boots, but they weren’t all the same, natural tan color. That required carefully, hand-dying each piece to match the others.
“They were 15-hour days, very long days, but they turned out great and they were very happy with them,” Woodward says.
He also had to create a specific style of boot that uses the alligator texture on the whole boot from front to back. Woodward says it’s a different, rare style.
Woodward completed his boots in less than a week, in time for filming.
His boots made their Netflix debut a few weeks ago. You can see Moore’s character, Shaolin Fantastic, wearing the boots in season two, episode two. They’re prominent, too. In one scene, he has his feet propped up on a mixing board. In another shot, it’s those $10,000 boots that kick another guy in the cheek.
“It’s really cool to know millions of people are seeing what you made. It’s been pretty exciting,” Woodward says.
San Juan called Woodward “an outstanding artisan.”
“He makes beautiful and unique boots with unmatched craftsmanship,” she said in a press release.
His Netflix gig quickly led to another: the request to make a special wallet for Fox’s hit show “Empire.” Turns out, there aren’t a ton of artists out there who can make custom, alligator accessories on such a short notice. Woodward says he doesn’t know how the wallet will be used in “Empire,” but he says he knows it was significant to the plot. The episode has not yet been released and he doesn’t have an estimated date.
You can watch “The Get Down,” produced by Sony Pictures Television, on Netflix now.
Aimee Heckel is a travel writer at travelboulder.com. Contact her at email@example.com.