In the early 1970s, while much of the world seemed to be spinning out of control, Fred Slatten offered escape in the form of shoes -- crazy-high heels and towering platforms that lured rock stars and fashion mavens to his glitzy boutique in West Hollywood.
Slatten made fantasy footwear, adorning his designs with rhinestones, peacock feathers, decals and the hand-painted images of celebrities’ faces, including David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe.
He once customized a pair with live goldfish swimming in the see-through platform base.
Liza Minelli had a pair of black studded platforms named after her. Marvin Gaye ordered silver combat boots with red rhinestones and red laces. Liberace, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Sonny and Cher and “this little pudgy guy who turned out to be Elton John,” Slatten recalled, were steady customers, too.
“There was every shape, every color,” Sally Struthers, who wore Slatten’s platforms on and off the set of TV’s “All in the Family,” recalled in The Times several years ago. “Leather, satin, marabou, glitter — you got one pair and you couldn’t stop.”
Once called the George Barris of shoes after the famous car customizer, Slatten was 92 when he died July 1 at a nursing home in West Hollywood. The cause was respiratory failure, said his friend, Wedil David.
Slatten opened his store in 1970 on a then-unfashionable stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard near San Vicente. For the next two decades “it was an institution,” said veteran Los Angeles footwear executive Joe Ouaknine. “He always wanted the sexiest shoes when no one made sexy shoes. The Louboutin high heels that are so popular -- he started it.”
A typical Slatten platform was seven inches high, made from wood by a Los Angeles furniture manufacturer, with satin or leather uppers. They were embellished by a team of artists using a variety of methods, including decoupage, gold leaf, airbrushing, rhinestoning, even sandblasting. Many were hand-painted with images such as mermaids and wintry wonderlands.
“He was an artist,” said Keith Code, a rhinestone expert who worked for Slatten before becoming a well-known motorcycle riding instructor and author. “He was fantastic at designing the real standard shoes. But when the platform shoe craze came around in the early '70s he loved it because he had the opportunity to make some really wild designs.”
Slatten named his boots for cities -- New York for a sophisticated pair, Boston for a more practical set, and Hollywood for his bestselling silver stompers speckled with 3,000 rhinestones. The most conservative pair in his shop was christened Pasadena.
He named clogs after tony restaurants like Scandia and La Scala, a line of dainty sandals after Beverly Hills streets. Dress shoes with six- or seven-inch heels were named for vintage stars like Veronica Lake.
“Old Hollywood really inspired him,” said Becky Cash, a longtime employee.
He prided himself on creating shoes that no one imagined needing.
In the Midwest, where he came from, “people actually wear shoes for function,” he told The Times in 1973. “In California you almost have to create the need. I’m trying to have people dress from the ground up.”
He was often his own best advertisement, wearing platforms even though, at 6 feet 1, he didn’t need the lift.
The curious flocked to his storefront, where his flamboyant footwear revolved on mirrored turntables illuminated by disco balls that ran 24 hours a day. Every morning he gauged the success of his window display by the number of noseprints on the glass. “He would count them,” Code recalled. “Then he would clean the window.”
Slatten was born Oct. 10, 1922 in Kansas City, Mo. While in college he started selling shoes to help support himself. After moving to California in the late 1940s he worked as a shoe buyer for Bullocks department stores.
He was in the wholesale shoe business when he started designing for a manufacturer in Missouri. By the late 1960s he had a showroom on La Cienega Boulevard that was as jazzy as his merchandise, with rooms decorated in animal print and peacock motifs.
Twice divorced with no children, Slatten closed his shop in 1992 when he turned 70, but shoes were never far from his mind.
“To his last day he would keep these lists,” said David, Slatten's neighbor for many years until he moved to a nursing facility. “He would write up celebrities and what kind of shoe they would be perfect in. He said Taylor Swift would look good in platforms, but not too big and open-toed.
“He considered himself very young. He asked me if I could find him a nursing home with young people in it,” she said. “He was serious.”