The rake

the modern voice of classic elegance

StyleDecember 2016

The Best Foot Forward: Part II

The Rake shines a light on five leading shoemakers from France and Italy, and their chosen iconic models. The featured shoes are the perfect representation of each brand and their craft, quality and story.

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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

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.

Mauban

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.

The Rake, JM Weston, Corthay, Berluti, Santoni, Moban, Mens Shoes, European

Santoni

Since its founding in 1975, Santoni has moved from strength to strength, as well as upscaling from a small, artisanal workshop in central Italy to their factory in Corridonia, which is run entirely on solar power and is as green as green can be. As such, it’s only fitting to showcase its iconic model, the double-buckle monk-strap, in this fantastic dark green patina, Santoni’s first ever model which is handmade in Italy.

“The double-buckle element has always distinguished Santoni, not only in its classic version, but also in its more contemporary and unusual interpretations. It represents the true elegance and style of a shoemaking connoisseur,” explains Giuseppe Santoni, whose father founded the brand. Santoni envisions the patination process — otherwise known as “velatura” — to being as a painting, as each individual layer is applied by hand after being mixed with various other natural colours to create a deep and elegant aesthetically pleasing patina. With its low profile sole, intriguing folded, technically difficult toe cap seam, the double-buckle monk-strap has hand-crafted tapered upper narrows. Its ability to easily transition across the formal-casual line reflects its versatility and as “a classic, reinterpreted,” according to Santoni.

Corthay

Corthay can proudly distinguish itself from its contemporaries through the Maitre d’Art award which the maison won in 2009 — the only French shoemaker able to boast such a prestigious accolade. The Arca, a four eyelet Derby, is an apt reflection of their triumph in creating exceptional handmade shoes  “The elegance of the shoe is enhanced by its inverted lacing, and the last brings out a sleek line and a sharp cut,” Pierre Corthay, who founded the French artisanal shoemaker in 1990, tells me. Even though the model itself is a contemporary design, it seems profoundly classic, as if it has been around for numerous decades.

In its deep, dark aubergine-like purple patina, which sits on the line between flamboyant and discreet, it catches the light in such a way that it underpins Corthay’s charm. Whilst its a perfectly balanced design, from the ‘Eagle Toe’  (”Serre d’aigle” – Corthay’s signature) through to the extended tongue and back to the instep and heel stitching, it perfectly reflects their reputable level of fine construction standards.

J.M. Weston

Founded in Limoges, in 1891 by Édouard Blanchard, J.M. Weston’s heritage is well regarded in the shoemaking world. Their iconic model, the Moccasin 180 — a penny-loafer — hasn’t undergone change in its sleek, slip-on construction in last 70 years and has managed to transcend time, changes in fashion and class boundaries, whilst remaining a staple in any stylish man’s wardrobe. With over 150 manual operations and steps carried out by hand, plus an average of two months of creation, the Moccasin 180 is a stunning example of J.M. Weston’s uncompromising standards. It would be too predictable and quite frankly too mundane to feature a standard, black penny loafer, so Michel Perry, Artistic Director of J.M. Weston, has chosen this bi-material 180 in storm blue full-grain leather and midnight blue suede to tell the brand’s story. “The colours hold special significance for the 180, this edition takes a new approach to allowing the Weston man to show off his elegance and gentility with every step,” the creative says.

The beauty in J.M. Weston’s chosen Moccasin is that it is easily dressed up or down, whilst at the same time its been made from materials of the highest calibre. “In general, one out of every ten leather pieces is kept,” Perry informs me when pressed for details on their leather and its source (which is largely a secret which shoemakers take to their graves). Yet, the Frenchman divulges a snippet of material information: “We also own the Bastin tannery, located a few kilometres from Limoges, which uses plant-based tanning”. With its ergonomic and non-conventional shape, the iconic Moccasin 180 will continue to be a part of a vast demographic of men (and women’s) wardrobes.

The Rake would like to say thanks to the London Edition Hotel for allowing us to use the Punch Room for this two-part series.

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Contributor

Benedict Browne

Benedict is The Rake's Editorial Associate. An admirer of vintage military clothing, British brands and white sneakers, he's partial to a glass of proper scotch. Although, a pint of Guinness will suffice perfectly.

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