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Not long after Diana “Didi” Rojas began working at a ceramics studio in New York, she noticed her sneakers had become encrusted in clay. Her shoes were dirty—filthy even—and they almost looked to be made of ceramics themselves. So Rojas decided, largely because she found it to be funny and resourceful, to actually create a ceramic version of them. She did it on a whim.
That whim grew into an obsession. And soon Rojas found herself combing fashion websites on a search for high-end footwear she could replicate. That was 2016. And in the years since, between political tumult and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Rojas has sculpted models of casual outdoor clogs, luxury brand sneakers, high-end boots, and iconic sneaker silhouettes. She chooses her subjects, she emphasizes, mainly as a matter of chance, based on what she’s seeing on the street or consuming in pop culture.
On another whim, Rojas also eventually started to post a lot of the designer ceramic shoes she was making on social media, even jokingly wearing some of them. She quickly amassed a passionate following—and plenty of them, yes, are “sneakerheads,” the people who collect and trade sneakers obsessively as a hobby.
“It’s been interesting to see how ceramics have taken off, and I feel like [social media] had a lot to do with that, back when it was a little more organic,” Rojas says.
For Rojas, her ceramic shoes lie at a weird and particular intersection of consumer culture. Straddling both the art and shoe world, she seems to draw attention to how sneakers, high heels, and sandals can transform into valuable objects for collectors. In her reality, the shoes totally lose any practical function and become, really, just pieces of art. An innovator, she exists in a space between an ancient art form and the extremely-online. She has taken a rather antiquated artmaking process and adopted it for modern times, setting her own distinctive path as she questions our relationship to shoes and asking why, exactly, we hold them so valuable. Her work has prompted some glowing praise in the press, who have called “her tongue in cheek designs … pop art for the 21st-century hypebeast.” She’s something of an Andy Warhol for a youth attached to their phones and what they wear.
Rojas displayed her shoes in her first solo show, You’re Doing Amazing Sweetie, in the fall of 2019, which featured over 20 of her most inspired shoe creations. And while she is hesitant to label herself a “sneakerhead,” she does admit she has “only become more obsessed with it.”
“They are fascinating objects. Shoes reveal so much about their wearer,” she said when interviewed about her solo show, which garnered a lot of attention. “They can tell a whole story about a person’s life and daily habits.”
Rojas’ daily habits now include making her ceramic creations. At times she’s given followers on social media a behind the scenes look at her process, which is fairly involved. She uses a hand-building method called “coiling,” where she essentially rolls out snakes of clay and makes the silhouette of the shoe; from there, she sculpts it, and waits for the clay to dry, which can take days and sometimes weeks. Lastly, she glosses her creation before firing it in the kiln.
Rojas comes from an artistic family. (Her identical twin, Mars, is also an artist.) She credits both her parents for fostering her talent: In Cali, Colombia, where she was born, her father worked as an architect; they relocated to New Jersey when she was a kid, and while her dad had to pick up a factory job, he continued his creative pursuits as much as he could. Meanwhile, Rojas drew and painted throughout her childhood.
Still, it wasn’t until art school, at Pratt in Brooklyn, where she first came across ceramics. Rojas graduated in 2016 with a degree in communications design. But she grew to love working with her hands, and the physicality of the form. It was there she was immersed in a diversity of perspectives, and from it her own path emerged. She adopted a unique perspective, one that morphed her years of art-making as an adolescent with a new, unfamiliar form as an adult. “I was around sculptures growing up,” she says. “But it was never something that I thought I could do myself. It was an enlightening kind of experience.”
Most of her classmates, Rojas felt, did not know how to talk about her portfolio—or art, she says, that wasn’t in 2-D. She found that exhilarating, and leaned into it, never shying away from her compulsive nature. One early project saw her make 1,000 ceramic mini hotdogs and, as part of an installation, put them all over the floor in a gallery space. “Part of me just wanted to see what a thousand of anything would look like,” she says.
Now, Rojas is in charge of special projects at a studio she helped open in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, where she leads outreach and hopes to foster more of a community of like-minded artists.
She has no plans to kick back and take off her shoes. “I’ve been exploring the idea of hardness with the ceramic and softness,” she says. “Recently I stumbled across working with shoelaces. I’ve been doing these pretty big weavings that I haven’t made super public yet.”
She’s set to premiere them at an art show next May.