Clog guru, in L.A. for biannual fittings, keeps devotees at her feet

Clogmaster fans take advantage of one of the two yearly visits that guru Cecilia Tidlund makes back to L.A.

L.A.'s clog devotees know the strict code by heart, even if they can't always live up to it.

Sneakers are not shoes. Flip-flops ruin your feet. The last real footwear American women embraced was the saddle shoe.

So says Cecilia Tidlund, the sharp-tongued guru of the simple Swedish shoe. For 32 years, she spread the clog gospel at her La Cienega Boulevard store.

Forget high fashion, she told visitors. Her clogs' wooden bases absorbed shock. Their rolling motion relaxed the feet, aligned the body and toned leg muscles.

It was a pitch that appealed especially to those whose jobs kept them standing for hours.

But simply strolling into Clogmaster and pulling shoes off the shelf was unthinkable. Tidlund insisted that her clients be fitted properly.

She made them roll up their pants so she could examine their ankles. She made them stand straight so she could see how their toes lined up. She had them walk around the shop to show her their gaits. She parsed the locations of their bunions, corns and calluses.

Then she came up with custom sizes, notated in ways only she and her staff could decipher.

Coming to Clogmaster, people said, was a one-of-a-kind L.A. experience — as much for Tidlund as for the shoes themselves. Her converts took it hard when, in 2008, Tidlund closed her doors and moved to Portland, Ore.

Now they have to make do with reaching her by phone or email (she has their measurements on file), and waiting for the two yearly visits she promised them.

Getting an audience with Tidlund on her most recent trip here was like making it onto the guest list of an exclusive nightclub.

Her four days of appointments, back to back from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., were mostly booked long in advance. Her visitors learned where to go only when their slots were confirmed.

On the first morning, a Saturday, those in the know circled for scarce street parking and then, somewhere on Pico Boulevard, knocked on a red door surrounded by ivy.

Inside a former school were comfy couches for waiting, straight-backed chairs for fittings and long tables stacked with boxes and boxes of clogs in many colors and patterns — some plain, some metallic, some with cutouts and painted designs. On the walls were signs very much in Tidlund's voice, such as: "Do not try on display clogs! We will be glad to help you."

Tidlund learned about business at her family's butcher and grocery store in Gothenburg, Sweden. She came to Los Angeles and started the clog shop when she was 24.

Wolfgang Puck was her very first customer. Other chefs (Thomas Keller, Nancy Silverton) followed, along with teachers, rock stars, nurses and surgeons. Before long, thanks to doctors' referrals, she also was fitting those with foot problems — plantar fasciitis, neuromas — and diseases such as multiple sclerosis that challenged their stability.

Now 62, Tidlund is trying to sell her company — her huge database, her fitting knowledge.

To size a client, she picks from two different bases and 19 widths for the clogs' leather tops, which need to hold feet securely in place. The resulting fit, she says, is far more precise than most people are used to.

On this Saturday, all day long, Tidlund fit several people at a time without taking a break. Many were first-timers who said they'd heard about her forever.

"I was only here for 32 years!" Tidlund frequently replied before frowning at their flimsy footwear and saying: "It's like me doing high-impact aerobics without a bra all day long," or "Don't ever wear a shoe that you can wring out like a rag!"

Pity the poor souls who showed up in a "clog" brand that starts with a D. She wouldn't utter the name, though she was quick to ask the wearers, "How many times do you turn your ankles?"

Chefs and line cooks arrived in a steady stream. Kenny Gray, a personal chef from Malibu, was fitted alongside Elie Chow, a garde manger chef at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Joshua Prager, medical director of the UCLA Center for the Rehabilitation of Pain Syndromes, brought his old clogs in to see if he could squeeze more life out of them. He said he discovered Clogmaster in 1981, when he was an intern, and now has colors to match all of his scrubs.

It was a long drive from Ventura for Gretchen Braver, 46, but she said she "would have flown to Portland" if necessary. A neonatal intensive-care nurse at Ventura County Medical Center, she told Tidlund that she worked 12-hour shifts and that in 25 years of nursing, "I've never had a pair of shoes that felt good."

Tidlund warned her not to expect an overnight miracle.

First her clogs would have to be made to fit in a Minnesota factory. Then they'd be shipped, in four to six weeks. Then Braver would need to break them in for an hour or two a day, until the leather uppers softened and the wooden bases began to mold to her feet. They wouldn't feel great right away, Tidlund said — but that was the price of long-term comfort.

When someone else complained that the clogs she was trying on were uncomfortable, Tidlund said: "So is my sleep apnea mask, but if I don't wear it, I'll die. … I have to gaze into my crystal ball to figure out what will be comfortable three months from now."

Those in search of instant gratification, she said, had a world of bad options. As for the others, she'd be back in June.

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com

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