Meet Alim Latif of ROKER, the London-based shoemakers creating fashion’s most fantastical footwear
“When [Charles Jeffrey] cried,” Alim Latif says, “that’s when it felt like the start of something. That’s when it felt like we were getting it right.” Latif was showing Jeffrey the first prototypes of their collaboration for Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY’s A/W17 show, a pair of deconstructed evening shoes with belts – buckle still attached – licked across where the laces have been tied. Seeing Latif’s translation of his exotic vision lead him to tears.
“The impact of something like this, how personal it is… when the designer feels joy, you share in that joy, and the emotion involved is such a personal reward,” Latif says. A beat. “Let me just clarify – the tears were with joy!”
The ROKER x LOVERBOY shoe collaboration, starting with the aforementioned A/W17 show and continuing into S/S18 (pictured here), came about through mutual friends recommending the two meet, and it was obvious from that very first ‘chemistry’ meeting that one would compliment the other.
“Behind all the audacious, fantastical ideas,” says Latif, “If you look with a forensic eye and really break it down, you will see that [the collaboration shoes] are all very classic styles that have been pushed, like a Chelsea boot with a box toe and a high heel where the elastic is no longer functional but an aesthetic feature. It worked because [Charles], from the very beginning, knew that it’s a marriage: heritage and modernity together. It’s about celebrating what has been done before and elevating it to something that has never before been.
“[Charles] is one of the most talented and creative designers working today – for example, one set of references he brought to the studio consisted of shoes he’d taken apart himself, stuck back together with tape and scribbled over with his own hand-drawn illustrations to indicate his vision – so the worry might have been that he wouldn’t be able to envisage the actual shoe beneath the grandiose, but Charles understands greatly that good design is not only beautiful, it has purpose.”
ROKER, named affectionately after the area of Sunderland that Latif is from, was only one month old when the collaboration with Jeffrey came about. Prior to this, Latif was working at T&F Slack shoemakers, formerly Walkers, a prestigious footwear brand who had been creating handmade shoes since the early 70s for people like David Bowie, Roxy Music and Catherine Deneuve. Tim and Fiona Slack, the owners, became mentor figures for Latif. “They gave me the most influential piece of advice,” says Latif, “Look at what everyone else is doing and do the opposite.” This mantra is how the now iconic LOVERBOY box toe came about.
Attention for ROKER came thick and fast: Tim Walker shot Latif’s shoes for fashion editorials, Lulu Kennedy offered sage advice after taking a particular shine to some knee-high lace-up ROKER boots, gender-queer hot property Art School reached out to collaborate, and, which has caused much excitement across social media platforms, AnOther Man cover star Harry Styles commissioned Latif to make shoes for some of his first ever solo performances of his eponymous debut album. Most notably Styles wore a series of ROKER boots on The Late Late Show with James Cordon when the musician took over hosting duties earlier this year, teamed with suits by Gucci and Saint Laurent no less.
“The way [Harry Styles] conducts himself is very much like that of an old school rockstar, how I imagine Bowie or Mick Jagger,” Latif says. “He’s just effortless and reinvigorates the idea of a rockstar-with-stage-presence, a whole look and feel.”
This is the exact type of man Latif loves to design for. The type of man who isn’t concerned with gender constraints or conforming to rules and expectations. “I look to men like T Rex, Jarvis, Nick Cave,” Latif says, “I’ve actually got a copy of Select magazine from the 90s around here somewhere that I am loathe to get rid of because there are some incredible pictures of Jarvis inside. This all stems from the fact that I love storytellers. I see that as one of the functions of what we do. Of what ‘making’ is about. I design for men who dress creatively but still with maturity. They can dress modestly but still be challenging an expected image. I saw Jarvis at Barbican with Chilli Gonazales and I’m sure he wore a Cuban heel and just looked incredible, towering, masculine. The heel added to his shape and exaggerated his presence.”
Everything ROKER designs is gender-neutral and handcrafted, as well as made in London. Because they are most often made bespoke, the shoes are usually individual to the client, which is why, Latif assures, they have such a teeming loyal private client base. ROKER’s collaboration with Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY will be in stores in Japan and Korea later in the year and there will be further collaborations with Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY, as well as further collaborations with Art School and Richard Quinn, the Central Saint Martins graduate who won the H&M Design Award 2017 and is currently being mentored by Vogue’s Sarah Mower.
“My father came to this country as an immigrant with nothing to his name, so I don’t take anything for granted,” says Latif. “London is this wonderful place that attracts the most creative and talented people the world has to offer. The goal for ROKER is to continue to work with them!”