Italy has a long tradition of bespoke shoemaking, and throughout the country, there is a strong historical culture of whole families working together, dedicated to making good quality shoes. Most Italians have very good background knowledge about the different types of shoes, the constructions available and the practical advantages of each type of shoe.
Italians are passionate about fashion and in particular shoes. Many of the world’s top innovations in the shoe industry have been created by Italians. They have local access to the best raw materials and so have pioneered new designs and ideas using these fine components.
It takes real skill and years of experience to produce a hand patina wholecut oxford as shown below.
Starting with leather, the city Santa Croce Sull’Arno in Tuscany has hundreds of high grade tanneries producing fine supple leathers in a myriad of finishes. Aniline dyed calf leathers; with a rich depth of colour is one of the most popular products for men formal shoes & boots and superb printed exotic Iguana & Snakeskin leathers just like Thomas Bird’s Harrison loafer.
The finishing skills in Italian factories are amazing; some types of finishes require several applications of waxes and polishes applied several times during the manufacturing process before the final inspection.
Genius is simple, and it is easy to “over style” shoes trying to incorporate too many features and embellishments into the pattern. Italians tend to produce simple but very elegant designs, achieving the perfect balance in a shoe, for example some of the metal accessories they use such as buckles and trims are designed by professional jewellers so simple yet very effective. Take for example the oxblood Bourne double buckle monk below.
It is easy to see why some of the world’s top successful clothing brands, such as Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Ferragamo all originate from Italy.
Everyone takes it for granted that Italian shoes are some of the most practical and comfortable to wear because of these top quality components used, but it is the styling and panache that gives them the edge on other shoes. Attention to detail is the key to their success, starting with the last shape where skilled modelists make elegant toe shapes whilst respecting the critical dimensions need to fit the foot comfortably.
They create and follow fashion trends continuously, adopting and incorporating new technology and materials into the footwear designs. Some of the latest lightweight polyurethane soles with good wear resistance and slip resistance have been developed locally and many formal shoe makers have combined these with leather soles to produce a hybrid sole, hard wearing yet thin and lightweight.
In the Marche region of Italy there is a strong concentration of high grade men’s shoe factories many founded by dynastic families descended from these rural cobblers, who instilled a philosophy of quality and attention to detail even in today’s modern factories. As a consequence there is still a great deal of hand finishing in every shoe factory as a result.
Below: Hand dyed and finished oxblood Hampton Penny Loafer.
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