Does it really matter where your shoes are made? In our quest for the perfect balance between the most creative urban styles and the highest level of craftsmanship, we sought to understand why high luxury brands (including Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Channel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, to mention a few) make their shoes in the area immediately surrounding the Medieval town of Montegranaro, in Le Marche, Italy. Our conclusion? It's no coincidence.
MONTEGRANARO, THE GLOBAL CAPITAL OF LUXURY SHOEMAKING.
This small rural region, nested between the Apennines mountains and the Adriatic sea, a three hour drive from Rome, is dotted with hundreds of small and midsize artisanal workshops, where the most beautiful shoes of the world come to life. Here every shoe is the result of a never ending strive for the perfect combination of traditional production techniques and the evolution in research and design.
Rigorous craftsmanship, meticulous attention to detail, the unrelenting pursuit for high-quality materials and a sensibility for contemporary design, make Montegranaro the global capital of luxury shoemaking.
CENTURIES OF TRADITION.
The history of shoe-making in this part of Italy goes back to the XI century, when the region was still part of the Papal domains. Over the centuries, cobblers and cordwainers from Le Marche became world famous for their artisanship, preserving ancient traditions and passing on the art of leather craft from generation to generation.
Until as recently as the '70s and '80s of last century, shoemaking had remained largely unchanged, with production still taking place in family run workshops and even in rooms of private houses. Entire families were engaged in activities such as cutting, upper sewing, soles stitching. In nearly all houses in the Montegranaro area there was at least one treadle machine. Today this legacy is guarded by master craftsmen, who continue refining their cultural heritage of workmanship and Italian excellence, marrying a modern mindset and technology to ancient know-how.
ITALIAN LEATHER. BECAUSE IT MATTERS.
Italy is world famous for its exceptional leather. The use of high-quality leather is paramount to luxury shoe manufacture, which is why all the leading Italian shoemakers source their leather from Italian tanneries that have been in the trade for generations. Tanning is the process which preserves leather and makes it suitable for use - it is also central to why Italian shoes are such high quality. Oak-bark tanning, which dates back to Roman times, is used to make the best calf and buffalo skin leathers. The oak bark infuses the hide with oils and minerals to give it exceptional longevity and make it supple and resistant to decay.
The quality of the leather will determine not only the beauty of the shoe, but also its durability. Luxury shoes are made of full or top grain leather, the richest parts of the hide, which means that if you look closely you will be able to see the natural grain and imperfection of the animal's skin–little dots on the surface. Cheap shoes often have an excessively shiny look as they have a plastic covering to disguise the lower quality skins. After a few weeks of wear, you see the difference.
HAND MADE. SUPERIOR CONSTRUCTION TECHNIQUES.
Italian luxury shoes are made using a "last" - a mould carved in the shape of a foot. The leather has to be pulled by hand over the last and left for a period of time, which can vary from several days to two weeks or more, so it takes the shape of the shoe. Reminiscent of ancient traditions, the first last prototype is literally hand-sculpted from a solid block of wood to ensure the perfect fit. This knowledge translates into shoes that wrap around your foot like they are custom made.
Most mesmerising is watching the artisans as they paint shoes with layers and layers of colour to achieve remarkable depth of hue—a meticulous artisanal process that gives each shoe a dimensional, tonal-black finish, for added depth and character. The shades of uneven intensity are then emphasised through careful waxing and brushing to achieve the perfect finishing.
But perhaps the most significant factor which makes Italian footwear stand out is its quality construction. Italian shoes are typically stitched, not cheaply cemented, using an array of construction methods (Blake, Blake Rapid, Bologna) that involve stitching the upper to the outsole with techniques that reinforce the shoe and provide resilience in inclement weather, as well as ease of resoling for years of wear.
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John Wildsmith, a third-generation shoe-maker, famously said, "You are either in your bed or in your shoes, so it pays to invest in both." Sound advice, given that a person can walk up to 110,000 miles in a lifetime. UNTAMED STREET collections are all artfully crafted in the area immediately surrounding the Medieval town of Montegranaro, Marche.