Following on from Part One which examines five leading English shoemakers, we now set our sights Europe’s mainland with another set of some of our favourite artisanal shoemakers from the continent. Both nations are unsurpassable in their pursuit of craftsmanship, and continue to excel across the luxury board. Which is reassuring, as collectively, we as tasteful consumers can rest assured that luxurious goods from France and Italy will be of exceptional standards — whether a sports car made in Italy or a fine French wine — and even surprise us, which is a luxury in itself.
It’s important to first raise a point on the stylistic differences between the English and our French and Italian neighbours. Whilst English shoemakers are by definition very understated, classic and traditional — traits developed through time as a result of the quintessential British style foundation — our neighbours are in a lot of ways, more avant-garde in their design ethos with sharper toes, flamboyant colours and dramatic lines. Nonetheless, a shared strand of DNA runs through the uncompromising pursuit of artisanal perfection, exemplified through these five iconic makers and their chosen iconic models. Shot in the Punch Room at the London Edition Hotel, Berners Street, its paired back, warm and relaxed decor works perfectly in highlighting each shoe’s charm and quality, and if you happen to be in the area it’s worth a visit, their festive cocktail menu is spectacular.
Berluti’s iconic model, the Alessandro — named after the French maison’s founder, Alessandro Berluti in 1895 — is made from just a single piece of supremely soft calfskin, known as Venezia leather. The leather is a luxury in itself, as each skin has to be perfect and imperfection free with all-round thickness the Oxford has no visible stitching, which reflects Berluti’s exceptional levels of craftsmanship working with concealed seams. With its lack of stitching and finishing details the Alessandro is a refined, minimalistic and sophisticated shoe with a six-eyelet lacing system, and has remained a mainstay in the luxury footwear world since 1895. In the words of Jean-Michel Casalonga, Head Bootmaker at Berluti: “It’s timeless and has gone through time without becoming outdated.”
A technical aspect which the French luxury house has mastered is its eclectic range of applied patinas. Berluti has the ability to create any kind of patina your heart may desire, whether you’re looking to reflect a subversive side with an extravagant finish, or an elegant and classical colour, Berluti approach it with obsessive precision, and this deep shade of Vermillion was developed exclusively for The Rake from their workshop in Mayfair by its expert colourists.
Some readers may not have heard of Mauban, but you should, as it’s one of the finest French shoemakers around, despite its short existence. “In the summer of 2014, I discovered my great-grandfather’s boots whilst helping my grandparents move house. It was love at first sight,” Eduoard Quinchon, founder of Mauban, tells me. Undeniably, Mauban is a delightful hidden-gem of the shoemaking world which has only just surfaced and begun to shine. Driven by the desire to recreate his ancestor’s boots, Quinchon also intends to revive the lost art of French savoir-faire in traditional shoemaking, and his take on the Balmoral boot — his first creation — is doing this admirable venture more than enough justice. It’s also a fitting homage to his great-grandfather. Shockingly, he tells me that in the last 25 years more than 20,000 jobs have disappeared in the shoemaking sector, which he also intends on changing: “If no one teaches this timeless know-how, it will simply die and I’m modestly trying to contribute to this extraordinary heritage.”
Each pair of Balmoral boot takes around three months to produce. Crafted on a handmade last in Cholet, the Oxford boot has a discreet and unique ’S’ line and special tab signature on the back, referencing the brand’s identity: updated classicism with a perfect balance of aesthetic and comfort with no material expense spared. The deep shades and softness of the box calf come from a tannery in the south of France called Tanneries du Puy, which Quinchon admires for its “know-how”. Finished with a triple sewn sole (welt, outsole and gemming), Mauban’s Balmoral is a perfect recreation of an age-old boot that’s retained its classical and hereditary charm.