Search the Collections

Sarkis Der Balian
Birth Place: 
Antep/Anteb, Cilicia -- now Gaziantep, Turkey
Death Place: 
Der Balian was an Armenian born in the early 20th century in the town of Antep/Anteb (modern day Gazianstep) in SE Turkey. He showed an aerly interest in shoes, and when he was orphaned at age seven, he was taken in by a regional shoemaker, who taught Balian the trade. Balian proved exceptionally talented, hard working, dextrous, and passionate about his work. Encouraged to continue, he went to France in March 1929 to hone his art in the workshops of Paris's custom shoemakers. Five years later, he was managing a team for forty workers for the shoemaker Enzel on rue St. Honore and continued to move up, establishing his own workshop on rue de la Sourdiere in 1943.He was so successful, that within two years, he had to move to bigger quarters, this time at 221 rue-Saint-Honore. Internationally known by 1930, he was a consummate craftsman whose passion for shoemaking never waned. It drove him to spend lavish amounts of time creating shoes for various competitions. One of his masterpieces, which depicts the story of Cinderella, is a miniarture painting made up of more than 500,000 tiny pieces of leather. "Zurich," another pair in the same technique, showing the city as viewed from its town hall, took Balian a year to make. The comfort and artistry of Balian's shoes brought him a wide range of clients, from Marie Curie to celebrities such as Salvador Dali, the sculptor Paul Belmondo, Greta Garbo, and Jean Anouilh. He also won many awards and so impressed the jury in one they name him the "Michelangelo of the shoe." He died March 29, 1996. Many of his works are on view in the International Soe Museum in Romans, France.