Shoes have become more artisanal, individual and personally customised in recent years. Nike has produced a $50,000 edition of its Air Force 1 sneakers studded with dozens of diamonds totalling 11 carats, for example, while Italian maker Testoni has offered a more formal alligator skin pair with a diamond and gold buckle at $38,000. As super-luxury brand Louis Vuitton, along with a raft of other A-list designer labels, gears up to launch a collection of bespoke shoes for men this season, your own entirely personalised, expertly crafted pair of shoes, whether in alligator or stingray, in any riot of colours you desire, is becoming more attainable.
The French luxury giant’s latest move sees it offering customers the chance to invest in a pair of shoes built to last a lifetime. Its new Made to Order service allows customers to choose the shape, material, finish and detailing so that the shoe – made in the traditional shoemaking region of Venetia in Italy – meets their particular specification. With the fashion world focused on Louis Vuitton’s menswear offering, thanks to the new appointment of Kim Jones as the men’s style director and his stellar debut last season, there has never been a better time to invest in Louis Vuitton. Nor is Vuitton alone in pursuing the idea of giving shoe fans greater freedom over their footwear: Prada has launched its Walking in Milano line, four styles that can be customised to meet customer preferences. Gucci’s new James Franco-fronted Made to Measure clothing line also includes shoes.
Top-flight footwear is not the exclusive territory of brand giants. Paris’s expert shoemakers also include Aubercy, Crockett & Jones and, perhaps most famously, Hermès-owned John Lobb. Shoe buffs will point out that such services highlight the distinction between made to measure (a standard shoe adapted for improved fit and style, according to the customer’s wishes) and true bespoke (a one-off pair made from scratch) – which, if you’re patient and time is on your side, can be had for considerably less than a certain pair of Nikes. Such shoes perhaps deserve special attention – even cleaning them with Dom Perignon Champagne and antique linen is not too extreme for the French.
Anthony Delos, who trained at John Lobb in Paris and launched his own business in 2004, is a rising star of Parisian men’s bespoke shoemaking and has been cited as best capturing the spirit of French shoe design as a synthesis of English simplicity and Italian pizzazz. Others are already established with elite shoppers. Pierre Corthay, who also trained at John Lobb, then at Berluti, is one of just two French shoemakers named Maitre d’Art by the French Ministère de la Culture, one of the highest accolades it awards for professional excellence. In the year Corthay opened his atelier on rue Volney, near place Vendôme, the Sultan of Brunei ordered 150 pairs. Corthay now makes just 100 pairs of shoes a year, a tiny number compared with the hundreds of thousands turned out by even a top-end ready-to-wear factory. His mainly French clientele appreciate the principle that ‘a shoe has to look beautiful from every angle – like a sports car or a piece of sculpture.’
Certainly, if the English maxim that you can tell a man by his shoes is true, Paris could be a prime destination for any would-be dandy disillusioned by the comfort or performance of mass-market shoes and ready to put his own stamp on what will very much be his own pair. While much ready-to-wear footwear is sophisticated and beautifully executed, bespoke is an art form that Paris’s luxury labels are eager to explore. It’s also about reviving a dying craft and supporting the craftspeople who have passed the trade from generation to generation. And, while the cost may seem almost frighteningly exorbitant, as a bespoke pair of shoes ages and wears, it looks better and better. And it will always be truly, uniquely, yours.