PHILANTHROPIST AND ARTIST ARDEN WOHL AND CRI DE COEUR LAUNCH AN ECO-FRIENDLY LINE OF SHOES FEATURING FLORAL PRINTS, LUCITE HEELS AND OTHER KLIMT-INSPIRED DESIGNS
Arden Wohl was 23 years old when she wandered into a used bookstore in Hudson, New York and came upon a pristine coffee-table book of Gustav Klimt’s collected works. One reproduction especially caught her eye—a painting titled Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Klimt’s best-known work from his “Golden Phase,” and perhaps the iconic image of the Austrian symbolist movement. Wohl, who had just graduated from NYU’s film program, had no idea who Klimt’s muse was, let alone how much they had in common. Along with a similarly affluent Jewish pedigree, both women had been exceptionally visible figures within their respective cities’ cultural vortex—uptown girls with downtown style and big personalities.
"We all tell a story through the shoes that we’re wearing, and we all have to have a theme. If you can do that and have a message that’s environmentally and socially conscious, it’s the most amazing thing."
Wohl’s curiosity led her to learn more about Klimt’s muse, Adele Bloch-Bauer, a 22-year-old saloniste known on the Vienna art scene for her rapier wit, and whose life story became something of an obsession for Wohl. “I was struck by the energy of her face, that kind of life she led, and who she was—this woman who brought together so many different people,” Wohl recalls. “She was passionate about collecting all of these musicians and artists all under one roof, and I could relate to that. You could see how much Klimt cared for her in the details of the painting.” Along with being a regular fixture on the New York’s fashion and society scene, Wohl had also cultivated her own vibrant coterie of the most exciting and relevant talents from New York’s creative class.
There were, of course, a few key distinctions between Arden and Adele. Not only did Wohl not marry young; she also had creative aspirations of her own. The path to discovering her aesthetic identity was somewhat circuitous. It began with film, where she made a number of well-received festival shorts during and after college, then detoured into gastronomy and a degree in pastry cooking at the French Culinary Institute, followed by internships at the culinary mecca L’Aureole.
While Wohl still feels drawn to those passions, she seems to have found her voice in fashion, at least for now. This past fall, she teamed up with designers and activists Julie Dicterow and Gina Ferraraccio—the team behind eco-friendly label Crie de Coeur, who had met Wohl at a Humane Society event—to present the first vegan shoe collection in the history of New York’s fashion week (Wohl has been a vegetarian since high school). The debut “soft launch” collection, which was shown at the Highline Hotel modeled by a group of lingerie-clad models, earned rave reviews from the mainstream fashion press and is now available at a number of luxury boutiques.
The secret to the collection’s success? Adele Bauer-Bloch—Wohl’s borrowed muse. Each of the pair of footwear she designed for Crie de Coeur is appropriated in some way from Klimt’s iconic painting.
“I feel like you can tell a story through fashion and you can be an activist through fashion,” says Wohl. “That’s exactly what we’ve done here and I’m so thrilled by that. I feel so honored to have worked with these girls and made this happen. We all tell a story through the shoes that we’re wearing, and we all have to have a theme. If you can do that and have a message that’s environmentally and socially conscious, it’s the most amazing thing.”
Her partners Dicertow and Ferraracio share her enthusiasm, and a clear admiration for Wohl’s distinctive talents. “Arden’s world is surrounded by art, fashion and music, and her ability to support projects and endeavors of the art world is bottomless,” says Dicterow. “Her eye, slightly quirky and unique like us, offers another element to the Cri de Coeur aesthetic. She has many, many ideas and our job is to take a lot of those ideas and turn them into a cohesive and fluid collection. She is also passionate and fearless and cares most about the animals and spreading that message to the masses.” A more extensive collection for Fashion Week 2014 is already under way.