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Italian bespoke? It's a shoe-in
Shoes that cost Rs 60, 000 or more and take more than a year to make? Italian handmade footwear is finding a clientele among the well-heeled.
If it weren't for a pair of Moreschi shoes, industrialist Sunil Bharti Mittal may have never managed to spread his business far and wide in Africa. In 2010, Mittal had a crucial meeting with Sheikh Nasser Al Kharafi, the head of the group that owned Zain telecom. He travelled to Kuwait to meet Kharafi who, at the time, was one of the wealthiest men in the world. As soon as he was ushered into the meeting, the Indian businessman noticed that Kharafi was wearing a pair of limited edition Moreschis like him. The legendary Italian shoe brand became the ice breaker and Bharti went on to seal its $10. 7-billion acquisition of most of the African assets of Kuwait's Zain
That's the power of Italian bespoke. Italians treat shoemaking as a science and not just a craft. Even the country is shaped like a boot! "They make shoes for the discerning customer, " says Akbar Shetranjiwala, owner of a high-end men's shoe store in Pune. He will know because it was the quest for the perfect pair of shoes that took him to an Italian shoemaker. Till then, he was selling domestic brands, which were not too focussed on quality or on what the customers want. "When you go to an Italian shoemaker with a problem in his product, he takes it very seriously. "
It was this eye for detail that attracted the businessman. And a couple of years ago Shetranjiwala started stocking select 'Made-in-Italy' brands like Moreschi, Aldo Brue, Enrico Bruno and Barett at his shop Shoe Kings Classique. They are all pedigreed brands which have been run as family businesses for decades. Moreschi and Aldo Brue were both established in 1946 and are patronised by the elite both in Italy and abroad. Kim Jong II used to be a Moreschi loyal and Tom Cruise continues to be one. In India, these brands have a very niche clientele among the well-heeled.
Artioli is another brand that sets the benchmark for shoemaking. Artioli shoes sell at 1, 000 euros (Rs 60, 000) and go all the way to 3, 000 euros (Rs 1. 8 lakh). There's a saying that if you meet a man wearing a pair of Artioli shoes, marry him.
What makes these shoes so expensive, and unique, is the quality of the raw material used, cost of the labour and, of course, the expertise. Most men's dress shoes are made using the Goodyear welting method. The upper part of the shoe is stitched with a leather strip or 'welt' to the insole and the sole. The welt creates a cavity which is filled up with a cork-like material. This creates room for air flow inside the shoe and also makes it durable. But it is the Blake method which is the bread and butter of Italian shoe industry. And interestingly it involves the use of a machine, which stitches the insole to the upper and the outer sole. Shoes constructed using this technique have extremely close-cut soles and are more flexible.
Shoe snobs tend to look down upon Blake-constructed shoes, which are cheaply produced. But they can stand up to any hand-crafted pair in terms of comfort and durability. That's because of the sharp accent on quality and not quantity. "Quality shoemakers will produce 50 to 200 pairs a day. In contrast the Chinese, also well-known for their cobbling skills, produce 10, 000 to 14, 000 pairs a day, " says Shetrajaniwala.
The recent MICAM shoe exhibition, organised by the Italian National Association of Footwear Manufacturers (ANCI) in Milan, got together many bespoke shoemakers under one roof. Arturo Venanzi of Franceschetti, a bespoke brand that specialises in classic dress shoes for men, says that at their factory in Montegranaro each pair takes 15 days to make. Well-known bespoke shoemaker from Florence, Roberto Ugolini, takes up to a year to deliver a pair to a first time client. He has his own method of measuring the foot, which involves drawings of the foot from different angles. First, he makes a dummy shoe which is tested by the customer during a trial. Then the construction of the real shoe, entirely by hands, begins.
The good news is that these masters are now interested in reaching out to new markets like India. "We want to export our shoes to India and want to seek local partners by organising shoe fairs like MICAM in India, " says Cleto Sagripanti, president of ANCI.
However, this may take time. As most Indian shoe manufacturers and sellers explain, Indians still don't appreciate the hard work and craft that goes into making a pair of bespoke shoes. "They are ready to spend more for a luxury car or a handmade timepiece but not for shoes. A millionaire will walk into my shop and pick a pair of Italian shoes. But when I tell him it costs Rs 30, 000 he asks 'Iss mein sona laga hai kya' ? This attitude needs to change, " says Shetranjiwala.
The huge difference between price points is another challenge that Italian shoe brands face in India. A typical dailywear men's shoe in Europe costs around 100-150 euros or Rs 7, 000-10, 000. In India a pair of Bata shoes - that middle class staple - will cost Rs 2, 000 or slightly more. Of course, there are a handful of connoisseurs in India who are ready to pay a packet for a pair that is pure indulgence for the feet.
THE RIGHT MATCH
Dress shoes for different occasions
MOCASSINS IN TAN AND SUEDE |
With a pair of jeans and white shirt
PATENT LEATHER |
For formal business meetings, especially for young turks
IRISH BROGUES |
For a more mature look
For dressy sporty outings, like at the race course or the regatta
For very special and important formal occasions
MONK STRAPS |
For an informal day at work
FORGET POINTED TOES
Trends for summer
Mocassins, brogues and saddle shoes
Pop colours like blue, yellow and green
Two-tone shoes, like black-white, beige-brown, grey-white
Avoid pointed toes, they are so last season
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