One-On-One With Bass Shoes Designer, Anita Da Silva
At the Bass Shoes spring preview I stumbled upon a vintage archive of my dreams that I was told was built by Bass' designer, Anita Da Silva. I insisted on meeting this woman and was warned that she and I would become fast friends. It turned out that our love affair goes well past an affinity for vintage shoes. Since meeting Anita, who was born and raised in Montreal, I'm very happy to now call her a pal. I've documented the beginning of our wonderful friendship, as she describes her experience as the sole (no pun intended) designer of this amazing, history rich shoe brand.
Lucky: How did you start collecting vintage?
Anita Da Silva: The company I work for had no archive at first, so I just started going on Etsy, eBay and traveling to all of these amazing flea markets. I found that every city in the world has amazing flea markets, especially in Europe. And it’s funny how there’s so many Bass shoes in Europe, even though it’s an American company. I think that they import them for some reason. The Rosebowl flea market is amazing, too. I started finding really random stuff like Bass coins and even old catalogs that Bass used to send out. I started collecting vintage 'cause for me it was like, “okay, I’m starting to learn more about the heritage." That’s how I came to be more in touch with who the customer was before and how the customer really progressed.
What is different about the Bass customer now as opposed to in back in the the ’60s?
We have two types of customers. We have the customer that knows the brand—the customer who knows us from the ’60s and ’70s and now there's this new customer who wears it because she thinks it’s cool and it’s fresh and new. Maybe she saw Chloe Sevigny or Alexa Chung wear it, so she thinks it’s cool and new. But right now I’m bringing back some vintage styles: Some short, pointy and I’m doing colored soles. It’s going to be so fresh and cute.
Where are the shoes made?
In El Salvador. So now I’m doing all this crisp leather and the sole is not going to be matching. And we’re also doing those colored pennies that are going to be really cute. It’s more of preppy way of doing it. But, of course, I’m always keeping the traditional heritage Bass. We're also using pennies like they used to in navy, red and white. They come inside of the loafer. One of the things people also don’t know about Bass is that back then, Bass used to make those amazing sandals that came in leather, like raw-edged, not lined—those were really nice sandals. And I’m seeing so many designers like Isabel Marant making more of those types of leather sandals. And we’ve been doing that on our Sunjuns since the ‘60s. So I see that trend coming back—the Boho Bass sandals. I've been doing all of this research on Bass and there’s the penny loafers, but there’s also those nice boho sandals that we used to make. They made hunting boots that were sort of an outdoor look. Bass has a long history, so I’m trying to bring all this back so that people can know the brand for all those nice sides of it.
How did the penny thing start? Is there a story behind that?
Mr. Bass, back then, he had a tannery in Maine. He was really a leather guy. Mr. Bass had a tannery and he was making a lot of those vintage hunting boots—I have a pair of these boots from back then. He started making Weejuns, which are actually a Norwegian shoe. So he started making moccasins after this outdoor look he was doing, then he started making Weejuns. I think then, they were really popular.
Have you always designed shoes or did you design apparel, too?
Well, I started in apparel. But it’s funny–I don’t know myself as well as my friends know me! My best friend said, "you should go into fashion design because you’re obsessed with fashion." And I was like, “What do you mean? No way! I’m going to die of hunger, I’m not going to make money.” And she was like, “No, you should do it. You’re so good.” So I went into fashion design and clothing, but I was working the shoe store on the weekends just to get the discount.
I did that in high school. My whole paycheck went to the store—that I worked at.
It’s crazy! I had two jobs. I worked in a grocery store, which was super boring, but I made good money because I was a supervisor. On the weekends I worked at a shoe store because I wanted the discount. I had 50 percent off, but still, 50 percent off of designer shoes is still expensive when you’re a student. And then I realized, maybe I should work in shoes. But they didn’t want to hire me back then. They were like, “No no, we don’t have a place for designers—only buyers.” But it’s funny, because then my first job was as a shoe designer. That company did not want to hire me, but then I went to work for Aldo.
You mentioned the direction that Bass is going in. Will there be more collaborations like the one that you’ve done with Rachel Antonoff and Mark McNairy? Will these collaborations continue or will you add new designers to the roster?
I really want to do another collaboration. I had some ideas. We’re doing one with Matches London right now that will be for men. The shoes are going to be made with brush-off leathers. Usually the top is black, but the bottom is another color, so when you brush it off, the nice color pops up. But all the edges are dark, so you have this nice two-tone effect. So for men we’re doing those, but with two colors and we’re also playing with the stitching color. So it’s going to be fun, but still wearable. Because men are not always so adventurous—these are adventurous but conservative at the same time.
So I saw a whole wall of huarache sandals in your showroom. Where did you find those? Were they from the flea market?
Flea markets, yes. Especially at the Rosebowl—they have amazing huaraches.
Tell me about the last inspirational trip you went on.
I like South America for shoes. I find that in South America, they have this way of making shoes that is more of an art craft, as opposed to in China, they're going to make the shoe exactly as it is. If you have a good factory they'll make your shoe look almost like a designer shoe. In South America the leathers are really rich. A lot of times they are vegetable tanned leathers. They have that two-tone effect, so that even when its worn out—it still looks amazing. I have this shoe from A'detacher that look so nice. BUT Italian factories are just the best. No one can be like Italians.
So, even better than South American?
Spain is good too, but Italians have this way of making the perfect the perfect mold. The leather is always perfect. When you give them a sketch the shoe is going to end up ten times better.
If you could spend any amount of money on one shoe to buy this summer or even for fall, do you have a dream shoe in mind that you would want?
That’s a very good question. I would like a block heel. I already have one. But I want a brown one. I bought one last season from this brand called Marcel. It looks like somebody puta mid-boot inside of a short boot. I love them. They’re so nice but they’re very high. I think I would buy a brown, block heel boot. I’m really into the ‘90s block heel.
What do you think about all of the contemporary lines that offer both clothing and shoes?
I never buy the same shoe from the same clothing company. I like to be really eclectic and mix things up. I don’t want to be labeled as one brand or one style. If somebody asks what my style is, I’m like, "I don’t know! It depends on my mood in the morning."
The two of us go on for a minute about how we can never decide what to wear in the morning, but I will say that since I've picked up a few new pairs of Rachel Antonoff X Bass shoes, putting together fun outfits has gotten way easier. You can order that whole collection right here.