On any given day at Top Service, shoemaker Fabrice Gallean is busy dyeing Isaac Mizrahi's furry footwear a catwalk-worthy bubble gum pink. Or he's frantically swapping the M and J monograms on Michael Jackson's loafers, which arrived from Italy with the initials transposed.
But don't plan on strolling into Gallean's midtown Manhattan shop for a session of stargazing. OK, Larry King's been by; likewise Sigourney Weaver and Cindy Crawford. But celebrity clients tend to send someone else to Gallean with their orders."I'd rather see the people themselves, but we usually just see their maids or messengers," said Gal-lean, who fashions custom-made shoes for runway shows of Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Prada and Gianni Versace. "The only time I spoke to Calvin Klein, he was screaming at me because I was late for Fashion Week."
Feet are Gallean's fortune, notably those attached to leggy limbs of supermodel customers such as Naomi Campbell. He also services high-stepping shops such as Bergdorf Goodman, Stuart Weitzman, Patrick Cox and Vera Wang.
Gallean's rush hour hits right before Fashion Week, one week in the spring and the fall when New York collections are shown. It is an occupational hazard better known to him as "a madhouse." That's when, for example, Mizrahi's shoes arrived from Italy with the wrong heels, three days before curtain time.
"Talk about cutting it short. Fashion Week is just one week, but there's always a disaster someplace," he said. "Somebody calls me, `This is Calvin Klein. I'm sending 30 pairs of shoes right over.' We work until 1 (o'clock) or 2 (o'clock) in the morning. Most every season (a runner) takes the shoes and runs to the show, which is like 30 minutes later."
Shoes can make or break a show.
"Around two years ago, we made shoes with 5-inch platforms covered with gray suit fabric. The model actually fell off the runway. That was the end of the designer," he said.
But Mizrahi's three-day order was a success story. "We just popped the heels off and put new ones on. That's really easy to do, compared to other things."
"If you have stilettos and the heel breaks in half, that's difficult to repair," he said. Still, "we fix at least three pairs daily, this year more than ever because stilettos are so popular."
Then there's the shoe-aholic who keeps bringing in the same beloved pair of Stephane Kelians for repair.
"These shoes, I can't see them anymore," Gallean said. "They're like old friends for her, and we keep managing to keep them together, but I had a nightmare from these shoes."
Gallean started servicing the stars thanks to a triple combo of location, location, location. Satisfied customers, including nearby shoe stores - such as Manolo Blahnik on Fifth Avenue - began referring young designers in search of customized footwear for their shows.
In addition to a flair for accommodating designer whims to wed one shoe's platform to another shoe's toe, Gallean's charming French accent entices.
The 30-year-old native of La Rochelle, France, started his career in the old country at his father's shoe repair. Along with his brother-in-law, Regis Guilloux, Gallean now works with his sister, Virginie Guilloux. She's been known to dash to the Four Seasons for an emergency overnight refitting with Janet Jackson and her uncooperative black leather mid-thigh stiletto boots.
For Amazonian models and their size-10 feet, shoe stretchers are indispensable.
"Don't imagine they're wearing comfortable shoes if they're very high heels or platforms," said Gallean, who runs a thriving business cutting down heels for the public.
"Models can go the length of the runway, but most of the time that's about it. That's really where their professionalism comes in. They know how to wear shoes no one else would know how to wear and gracefully, too. As they say, no pain, no gain."