The Transportive Power of the Cobbler’s Shop

The Transportive Power of the Cobbler’s Shop

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There were the hiking boots I’ve had since high school, so battered that
one Sunday, near the Delaware Water Gap, the rubber sole started to
crumble off in chunks. There were the short brown riding boots,
perforated like brogues, that remained beloved even with a gash worn
through the leather at the heel. There were the teal-blue pumps with a
decorative buckle on the toe, made by an upscale French designer and
borrowed, without total permission, from a friend’s sister, for a
twenty-first birthday party. Those came home flecked with my roommate’s
vomit, a peel of leather dangling from the toe.

I brought each pair to my cobbler, a cheerful Italian who roots for the
Rangers and likes to share pictures of his son, now in grade school. Not
all of them could be salvaged (that shred of leather couldn’t be
reaffixed) but, for the most part, he takes my shabby, downtrodden shoes
and returns them intact, supple, sturdy. He found a patch of leather to
bandage that hole and ordered new Vibram soles for my hiking boots. That
was six years ago. I plan on taking them to Idaho this summer.

A shoe is your most basic vehicle, the means of transport for nearly
every experience outside of your own home. My shoes had conveyed me
through alpine meadows and canyons, carried me to job interviews and in
pursuit of a new life abroad, or borne the abrasion of countless miles of
New York City sidewalk. Reinvesting in a pair that has accompanied you
so far already can feel redemptive, loyal to your inner self.

Not that your cobbler will always approve. He (in my experience thus
far, my cobbler has always been a he) will turn your shoe over in his
skilled hands, inspecting how far down you’ve allowed the heel to wear.
He’ll gruffly twist the sole, as if to wring it out, to test its
integrity. He’s apt to take a piece of chalk or a grease pencil to mark
the balls and heels of each shoe, to transform it into a blueprint for
reconstruction. You’ll strain not to snatch it back, to tell him to be
gentle, to tell him not to pull back the sole, even if it is already
coming apart. Some shoes he’ll pronounce too far gone. Or he’ll name a
price startlingly close to the amount you paid for them to begin with.
There is implicit criticism in his assessments, as if you have erred by
thinking that you could wear these shoes (leather boots in the rain,
wafer-thin sandals without a rubber sole, stilettos to a farmhouse
wedding) without ruining them. But don’t see your cobbler as your
adversary. He’s your trusty, if harsh, adviser. He can keep the
appearance of penury at bay.

To spend time in a cobbler’s shop is to take a trip back in time. You
can feel this in the wood-panelled wallpaper, in the aged flotsam strewn
and piled about, and most of all in the notion that things of quality
are meant to be fixed, repeatedly, even, rather than discarded and
replaced. Cobblers replace buckles, stitch handbags, repair luggage,
punch belt holes, sell umbrellas that last. Wherever you are in the
world, at the cobbler you’ll find the clever, climate-appropriate
artifacts of the local culture: roped espadrilles in Spain and Greece;
in Stockholm, felt insoles that are the key to warm feet in the Northern
European winter.

At the cobbler, as in a hoarder’s dream, it doesn’t pay to throw
anything away. There are the destroyed shoes to be plundered for scraps;
the as-yet unused, phlegm-colored rubber soles; greasy pots of polish; a
sanding belt; pieces of leather and lengths of cord, shoelaces, and
zippers, sundry bits and bobs. There’s a glass vitrine with brushes and
daubers, conditioners and protectors, shoe trees and stretchers. There
are brown-paper parcels of repaired shoes tied with string and
handwritten paper tags that bear the essential details (deposit, phone
number, balance due) in careful, curlicued script. And, amid the ordered
chaos, there are the shoeshine chairs, the throne that any person, no
matter how ordinary, can briefly mount (in public!) and imagine herself
regal.

Taking a brand-new pair of shoes to the cobbler may seem high
maintenance, like hand-washing lingerie or cleaning a coat before
storing it come spring. But these days footwear is flimsy, with plastic
parts, or fragile, with a thin, elegant sole, delicate stitching, and
glossy leather that aren’t made to last. If you, like me, are going to
wear these shoes everywhere and insist that they survive, you should
strike up a lasting alliance with your neighborhood cobbler. Visit him
early, to shore up against later damage. I learned this from my mother,
who, when I was growing up, would insist on a small intervention to keep
my new shoes intact: a trip to the shoemaker for taps, small kidneys of
plastic, front and back, gently hammered with miniature nails. They cost
three dollars and can save you dozens, and they tap a dainty rhythm when
you walk—for me, that was the first echo of womanhood.

If you move to a new city, a shoemaker won’t be as pressing a need upon
arriving as a grocery or drugstore, but if you plan to stay you’ll need
to find one. I moved to a new city nine months ago, and last week I
found mine. His name is Phillip, and he has been working in the same
shop for fifty years. He wore an apron and a visor, and used an eyepiece
for a closer look. Behind the counter he’s mounted a handwritten sign,
partially obscured by an old cash register, stating that, as of 1991,
all work must be paid for ahead of time, in full. Personal checks are
accepted.

The first shoes I brought him were a new pair of babouches, a kind of
flat leather mule, with a folded heel, that I had purchased on a trip to
Morocco. They cost five dollars and were markedly similar to a slip-on
that a hip Swedish brand sells for four hundred and seventy dollars. I
was feeling smug about my thrift and sensible in my plan to reinforce
them with rubber soles and taps—until Phillip turned them over in his
hands. “You don’t intend to wear these outside, do you?”

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July 22, 2017 at 04:06PM

It Was Me

It Was Me

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When you look back at the most difficult times in your life and see only one set of footprints in the sand, it’s because I was carrying you.

When also in the sand there’s a pretty great sand castle, at least for someone who isn’t a professional sand-castle builder, that was me, too.

The amazing moat around the sand castle? That was allll me.

When you heard your doorbell ring, and you answered the door but no one was there? Yup, me.

Remember that time when you asked me to watch your piece of pie while you went to the bathroom, and when you got back there was a big bite taken out of it, with a little notch in the same place as my signature missing tooth? That was someone else who had a tooth missing in exactly the same place. I know it was someone else because I was there watching your pie, just like I said I would.

When you look back at all of the most wonderful times in your life, and you see duck prints in the sand next to your footprints, that’s very weird. I wonder if the duck made those times in your life more wonderful, or if it was just a coincidence that he was around.

When you woke up on your birthday a few years ago and there was a giant present topped with a red bow on the kitchen table, and it was exactly what you wanted? And the card was simply signed, “A friend”? And when you asked me about it I told you that it was me?

I just want to reiterate that that was absolutely me.

When you look back at our two sets of footprints in the sand, and there’s a long line in the sand next to our footprints, that was me dragging a stick.

When the line stops, that’s when you told me to cut it out with the stick-dragging.

When the line starts again, that’s when I started doing the stick thing again.

Remember how, on your wedding day, the minister asked the crowd if anyone objected to the union, and someone in the back shouted, “I do for sure!,” and then ran away? I’m starting to think it was that duck.

Remember that time when I was driving and suddenly a possum ran into the street, and I hit it? And the whole way home you cried and said it was your fault for not spotting it earlier? I’ve been thinking about it, and, yes, I think it was definitely you who killed that possum.

When my footprints got farther apart for a while, and then closer together, that was me doing a few silly walks to pass the time. Because, goodness, that was a long walk through the sand.

When your life was saved by a stranger’s kidney donation, that was me. I kept it a secret because I didn’t want you to feel that you owed me anything for it. But now I need a small loan.

When you got divorced and I said, “See, I told you so,” that, again, was likely the duck.

And, when you look back on the most trying time in your life and see that there were footprints in the sand just absolutely everywhere, that was me, chasing a little crab.

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July 22, 2017 at 02:05PM

A little more from the Italian Coast

A little more from the Italian Coast

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More from Cinque Terre

I wonder what it would be like to live in a place like this? Would you get tired of it, or would you get tired of it after a few months or years? I don’t know how you could get tired of it (well,me, not being a city-guy)! Plus, every day italian food? I mean, it’s all they have, so that really takes away the guilt factor.

Daily Photo – A little more from the Italian Coast

How much fun are quadcopters in places like this? Too much fun! It’s almost like you can’t take a bad shot. I was wishing I had those new goggles from DJI you can wear so I could do everything from a first-person perspective. I normally fly with a spotter beside me while I stare at the screen. It works great except daytime flying often has a massive glare on the screen. I think those goggles are going to be radical!

A little more from the Italian Coast

Photo Information


  • Date Taken2017-05-02 18:30:40
  • CameraFC6310
  • Camera MakeDJI
  • Exposure Time1/100
  • Aperture4
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length8.8 mm
  • FlashNo flash function
  • Exposure ProgramProgram AE
  • Exposure Bias

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July 22, 2017 at 09:30AM

Moscow Like You’ve Never Seen It

Moscow Like You’ve Never Seen It

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Back to Moscow

I was only here for a rocket-ship ride of four days. It’s not nearly enough… there’s so much going on in Moscow, so many places to see, much less the rest of Russia. It’s way high on my list to return here… and it was great to have Olya be our translator!

Daily Photo – Moscow Like You’ve Never Seen It

I would have never recognized this in a million years as Moscow. It was a really hard shot to get and I almost killed myself. There’s a famous restaurant called The White Rabbit that you may remember from Season 3 of Chef’s Table. Anyway, we were eating here and had a great meal. After we ordered, I jumped up to take my tripod outside to see the scene. This was behind the restaurant and there was no easy way to get the shot… so it required a wee bit of camera parkour!

Moscow Like You’ve Never Seen It

Photo Information


  • Date Taken2017-06-04 21:40:11
  • CameraILCE-7RM2
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time4
  • Aperture5
  • ISO160
  • Focal Length57.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias-0.3

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July 22, 2017 at 09:30AM

News: Lucrezi takes up marketing director role at Forte Village

News: Lucrezi takes up marketing director role at Forte Village

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Marco Lucrezi has been announced as the new marketing director of Forte Village, Sardinia. In his role, he will be responsible for managing the team’s activities in the award-winning resort in Sardinia.

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July 22, 2017 at 08:50AM

Sean Spicer Will Be Remembered for His Lies

Sean Spicer Will Be Remembered for His Lies

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Sean Spicer’s resignation, on Friday morning, after six months of
routinely lying from the
White House lectern and then
ending on-camera briefings altogether, once again raises one of the most
important questions of the Trump era: What is the red line that Trump
must cross for his aides to quit on principle? For Spicer, the answer
was a new boss he didn’t like. Trump, over the
objections of Spicer and Spicer’s closest White House ally, Reince Priebus, the
President’s chief of staff, hired Anthony Scaramucci, a New York
financier and frequent Trump surrogate on TV, as his new White House
communications director.

The hire is unusual for several reasons. The role of communications
director, a job that has been vacant since May, when Michael Dubke, a
low-key Republican strategist,
resigned from the position, is traditionally reserved for campaign operatives.
Scaramucci is a Wall Street guy—he started at Goldman Sachs and later
founded his own investment firms—and a former
host
on the Fox Business channel. Before the Trump campaign, his experience
in politics was more on the fund-raising side than on the strategy side.
In the Trump campaign, which was small, he took on a broader role as an
adviser to the candidate and appeared frequently on TV, where he stood
out because he was less ideological than the usual pro-Trump pundits.

More unusual is the way Scaramucci was hired. In a normal White House,
the chief of staff is in charge of hiring. For the President to
overrule his chief of staff on such an important position is an enormous
embarrassment for Priebus. During a briefing on Friday afternoon,
Scaramucci tried to
downplay the friction between him and Priebus, but for months he has been telling
people of his frustrations with the chief of staff. Scaramucci was
originally asked to run the White House Office of Intergovernmental
Affairs, but Priebus blocked Scaramucci from taking the job, even after
Scaramucci
sold his investment firm to take it.

Scaramucci then appealed directly to Trump to find him another position.
He had three meetings scheduled with the President, and they were all
cancelled. Scaramucci believed that Priebus, who is in charge of Trump’s
schedule, worked to keep him away from Trump. Scaramucci “had to go over
the top and directly to the President,” a source familiar with the
episode said. “The problem is that Trump is in such a bubble now, he
doesn’t know what the hell is going on.” Scaramucci was
offered the ambassadorship to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development, in Europe.

If Priebus thought he had rid the White House of Scaramucci, he was
wrong. In recent weeks, Scaramucci was a familiar figure at the Trump
Hotel in Washington, meeting with reporters and Trump advisers.
Ostensibly, he was there because he was working as an official at the
D.C.-based Export-Import Bank. But, clearly, something else was in the
works.

For Spicer, Trump’s decision to install Scaramucci above him—the press
secretary reports to the communications director—was too much to take.
Given the highs and lows of Spicer’s time at the White House, this was
an unusual choice of hills to die on. Spicer began his tenure as press
secretary with a bizarre
rant
about how Trump’s Inauguration audience “was the largest audience to
ever witness an Inauguration, period.” (It wasn’t.) For someone who was
never fully inside the Trump circle of trust, the performance had the
ring of an eager gang initiate committing a crime to please the boss.
Trump, who regularly watched the briefings, which were broadcast live on
cable news, reportedly
complained about Spicer’s pale suits and later seemed to become aggravated that
Spicer was becoming famous, or at least infamous. Spicer’s temper
tantrums, ill-fitting suits, and mispronunciations turned him into a
pop-culture
sensation
.

But it was Spicer’s
lies and defense of lies that he will be remembered for. Spicer
defended Trump’s lie about how there were three million fraudulent votes in the
2016 election. He spent weeks using shifting stories to
defend Trump’s lie about President Barack Obama wiretapping Trump Tower. In trying to
explain the urgency of the attack on Syria, Spicer
explained,
“You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using
chemical weapons.”

Last week, he lied about the nature of the meeting at Trump Tower in
June, 2016, between senior Trump-campaign officials and several people
claiming to have information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian
government. “There was nothing, as far as we know, that would lead
anyone to believe that there was anything except for discussion about
adoption,” Spicer
claimed,
bizarrely, because Donald Trump, Jr., had already admitted that the
meeting was about Russian dirt on Clinton. On March 10th, Spicer came to
the lectern wearing an upside-down American flag, which is a signal of
dire
distress
.

Despite the repeated humiliations of standing before reporters and
saying things he had to know were untrue, what finally made working at
the White House intolerable for Spicer was a minor staffing issue.
Scaramucci comes to his new job with a good reputation. He is not a
conservative
ideologue
—he
is pro-choice, a moderate on gun control, and anti-death penalty—and he
is well-liked by reporters. But working for Trump can have a corrosive
effect on good people. Scaramucci’s task is to, without sacrificing his
own reputation, communicate on behalf of a President who routinely lies.
Scaramucci has his work cut out for him.

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July 22, 2017 at 01:02AM

What It’s Like to Get Laid Off at the Carrier Plant Trump Said He’d Save

What It’s Like to Get Laid Off at the Carrier Plant Trump Said He’d Save

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On February 10, 2016, the Carrier Corporation, an H.V.A.C. company founded
in 1915, announced that it would be closing plants in Indianapolis and
Huntington, Indiana, and moving to Monterrey, Mexico. Months later, at
the first Presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump brought
up the closings. “We have to stop our companies from leaving the United
States and, with it, firing all of their people,” he said. “All you have
to do is take a look at Carrier air-conditioning in Indianapolis. They
left—fired fourteen hundred people. They’re going to Mexico.” Shortly
after the election, Trump and Mike Pence, who was then the
governor of Indiana, announced a headline-grabbing deal with Carrier
that was said to keep about eight hundred jobs in the U.S. “So many
people in that other—the big, beautiful plant behind us, which will be
even more beautiful in about seven months from now, they’re so happy,”
Trump said at a celebratory press conference.

In May of this year, Carrier announced its time line for eliminating
what will ultimately be six hundred and thirty-two Indianapolis-based
jobs. The first round of layoffs began on Thursday, with the departure
of three hundred and thirty-eight employees. One of those was Brenda
Darlene Battle, a fifty-five-year-old Indianapolis native who’d been
working at Carrier for twenty-five years, most recently as a fabrication
technician, or fab tech. She helped run the automatic press that makes
steel doors, among other parts, for A90 furnaces. When the final furnace
door was completed on the first day of mass layoffs, employees working
the assembly line—some for the last time—autographed it. On Friday,
shortly before finalizing paperwork related to her departure, Battle
spoke by phone about the company that employed her for a quarter
century, President Trump, and her future. Her account has been edited
and condensed.

When the final furnace door was completed on the day of the layoffs, employees working the assembly line—some for the last time—autographed it.

Photograph by Duane Oreskovic

“I’ve been working since I was sixteen. I didn’t go to high school or
college. My parents were union people. My dad was a boiler for G.M. I
did a lot of babysitting before I joined the assembly line at Carrier.
When I started, in 1992, they were threatening to move to Mexico, and
any time they got pissed off, that was their old threat: ‘We’re gonna
move to Mexico, anyway!’ That’s what management would say.

“It used to be a fun place to work; I didn’t mind going. Then they
started making changes that only benefit them: robots, cutting jobs.
Just yesterday, they were talking about cutting a three-man blower-shelf
crew—they deal with the forms that hold the blower on one side and the
heating element on the other—down to two. But two people can’t do that
job. My job running the press, it was a two-man job, but then they
brought a robot in. The doors go down the conveyor belt now, and the
robot stacks them in the cart.

“It seemed like as soon as they first put the robots in, they made the
announcement about layoffs a month later. I’ll never forget that day.
They told everyone to meet them at the front of the plant. Then, when
they got up there, that’s when they told us they were really moving to
Mexico. It just went downhill after that. We knew change was coming, we
just didn’t know what. But it went to hell in a gasoline-soaked
handbasket in February of last year. They could have been a lot more
professional about making the announcement.

“This is peak season for the industry right now. We work six or seven
days a week. So those people at work is basically your family. Of the
three hundred and thirty-eight who left yesterday, I knew over a hundred
of them, because I had worked days and nights over the years. I knew a
lot of people. My fiancé worked security at Carrier in the late
nineties, and he had just died three or four days before the
announcement in February of last year. So I was grieving. I was stressed
out, on bereavement. When he passed, I moved home to live with my
parents. Then, last December, my mom passed. So it’s me and my dad and
my sister and her children, in one house.

“Trump came in there to the factory last December and blew smoke up our
asses. He wasn’t gonna save those jobs. And, if that’s the case, he would
have saved us and Rexnord, a company around the corner from us that
makes parts.

“We had a mix of Trump supporters and Clinton supporters at the factory,
I’d say. The ones that really supported him are quiet right now. Some of
them got let go yesterday, too.

“We talked about Trump on the job, after the election. You could always
tell who the Trump supporters were because they never participated in
the conversation. It was about even, blacks and whites, for Trump. Also,
some of them wore the hats. Not anymore, though.

“Personally, I think the President is a ‘rubber room’ politician. He’s
crazy. He needs a straitjacket. He’s in there for his self. He’s not in
there to help America keep jobs. Because if he was we wouldn’t be in the
predicament that we’re in every day. He keeps howling, ‘Make America
great.’ But he can’t make America great if all the jobs are leaving the
States and going to Mexico. People can’t support their families.

“He has a thing against women, too. No woman is safe, to me. He wants to
tell them what to do with their bodies. Women have been working for
years, but he doesn’t want us to have insurance. Everybody came from a
mother. Even him. I voted for Hillary. I think most of the people I
worked with at Carrier voted for someone. The Trump people really
thought he was gonna save our jobs.

“I think the C.E.O. of Carrier and Trump was in bed together the whole
time. That day Trump came to Carrier, those two were too chummy. The way
they sniggled and giggled. That sneaky kind of shit-eating grin.

“They sat us in the room based on seniority and job classification. On
the aisle with me there was ninety-five years of seniority, just with
three people: myself, my girlfriend, and this one guy who has been there
forty-five or forty-six years. It was an experience, because not only
was the media there, there were people from the E.P.A. We met a lot of
interesting people that had nothing to do with Trump. I didn’t need to
shake his hand.

“I’m going to be taking it very easy for a few months and do some of the
things that my dad wants to do. He’s seventy-seven years old, but he
thinks Trump blew smoke up our asses, too. We’d like to travel and see
family in Cincinnati, Kentucky, Tennessee. I’ve got a little money
saved. I’m in no hurry to look for another job quite yet.”

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July 21, 2017 at 11:15PM

Found: The ‘Cell’ of a 6th-Century Monk in Scotland

Found: The ‘Cell’ of a 6th-Century Monk in Scotland

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article-image

On Iona, an island off the western coast of Scotland, there’s an abbey and a nunnery, but there also used to be a wooden hut. The hut, which burned down long ago, was rumored to belong to Columba, the 6th-century saint who is credited with helping to bring Christianity to the region.

Last week, the University of Glasgow announced that they had, for the first time, found definitive proof that the hut does, indeed, date to the time of St. Columba. The hut is likely St. Columba’s "cell," where he wrote while looking at the mountains.

“This discovery is massive," Adrián Maldonado, one of the archaeologists who worked on the project, said.

The archaeologists used carbon dating to judge the age of some charcoal that was excavated from the location in 1957. The process confirmed that the charcoal was from the time of St. Columba.

“The remains on top of Tòrr an Aba had been dismissed as from a much later date," Thomas Clancy, a historian at the University of Glasgow, said. "Now we know they belonged to a structure which stood there in Columba’s lifetime. More than that, the dates, and our new understanding of the turning of the site into a monument not long after its use, makes it pretty clear that this was St. Columba’s day or writing house."

St. Columba was born in 521 and lived in Ireland until 563, when he was exiled to Iona after a bloody dispute with a local cleric. He died on the island in 597, having written 300 books in his lifetime, according to legend.

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July 21, 2017 at 10:45PM

Medieval Graffiti Discovered on an Egyptian Cave Wall

Medieval Graffiti Discovered on an Egyptian Cave Wall

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Archaeologists in Egypt have recently discovered some religious scrawlings on a cave wall, that date back to the 13th-14th century.

The graffiti was carved into the wall of a cave on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, according to the International Business Times. Of the Arabic proclamations so far identified, some of which have been worn off by erosion and time, are religious statements, translating to things like, “No God except Allah,” and “May God forgive him and his parents and all the Muslims. Amen." The writing is thought to have been the work of medieval pilgrims.

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities is looking into granting the cave protected status so that it can be protected for further study, hopefully giving a window into the lives of the people who made the grafitti.

Graffiti might still be cool, but it certainly isn’t new.

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July 21, 2017 at 10:38PM

The Artist Who Creates Portraits With a Clothing Iron

The Artist Who Creates Portraits With a Clothing Iron

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Ironing has never been so cool. Benjamin Shine, an artist who splits his time between London and Sydney, has become a pioneer in what he calls "painting fabric"—using irons to create portraits in cloth.

As a member of a family of garment manufacturers and a one-time employee of a fashion company, Shine has long seen the art in clothing materials. But he decided to capture that beauty in a nontraditional way: rather than designing clothes for people, he decided to design the people into the clothes.

One of his most famous works, The Dance, is made from 2,000 meters—or 1.2 miles—of tulle.

Video Wonders are audiovisual offerings that delight, inspire, and entertain. Have you encountered a video we should feature? Email ella@atlasobscura.com.

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July 21, 2017 at 10:10PM