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Modern-day cobbler Lauren Brinkers

Modern-day cobbler Lauren Brinkers

Modern-day cobbler Lauren Brinkers crafts and paints exquisite handmade shoes at her studio in Cornwall.

By Cynthia Hochswender

Photos by Sari Goodfriend

Shoes keep us grounded. They’re not the cherry on the cake, they’re the plate that keeps it all together, the surface that no one notices until the cake is gone. Unless they’re handmade works of art, such as the ones made by Lauren Brinkers in her small studio in Cornwall where she’s been working since 2021, on property she bought with her partner, photographer Stephan Sagmiller.

In the way that other youngsters might be interested in making doll clothing, Brinkers had a fascination with footwear from an early age. In her 20s she began actually making them, “without really knowing what I was doing,” she recalls. She took a class in Manhattan, not expecting much; however, it turned out to be inspirational and instructional. Her teacher encouraged her to further her studies in London or Milan, the two cities where handcrafting shoes was still an art and a business. Brinkers chose Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion and continued on to internships in the traditional shoemaking neighborhood of Hackney.

She returned to the U.S. with a deeper knowledge of techniques, materials, and machinery, including the vintage Pfaff sewing machine she purchased in England.

“Pfaffs are very hard to find in this country,” she says. “But they’re the best, and I had to have one. That was non-negotiable.”

While Brinkers is ethereal, esthetic, and imaginative, she is also definite, sensible, and tough. She worked for years as a pediatric nurse in Manhattan, then moved to a research nursing position within the same hospital. However, when COVID began, she was back on the nursing floor and was sent to locations all over the city.

“That was a scary time to be a nurse,” she recalls.

Already, Brinkers and Sagmiller had been considering a move from the city but they weren’t sure where. Seattle? California? Eventually they found their way to Cornwall.

“It was the middle of the COVID housing frenzy, and we thought it would be impossible.”

Then they came upon the old CBG art gallery in Cornwall, fell in love with it, created their two studios, and found inspiration in decidedly different surroundings.

“Being here instead of the city has expanded everything,” she says emphatically. “I find inspiration in everything I see. And the weight of the city is off of me. Now I can just walk out to the studio and create, instead of riding a Citi Bike while carrying five pounds of leather.”

Brinkers’ shoes embody the two different sides of her craftsmanship: They’re hand-dyed and hand-painted, and made of buttery soft leather. Often there is a bow. But these shoes are also sturdy, comfortable, and meant to be worn. The delicate uppers are grounded by handmade stacked-leather Cuban heels. 

“My biggest inspirations,” Brinkers says, “are Medieval slippers and American cowboy boots.”

Brinkers shoes are sold at the Field + Supply fairs in Kingston, Three Turtle Doves in Woodstock, 100 Main in Falls Village, and on her website. She introduces several new collections each year, but will also take custom orders. —

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