World shoe aficionados flock to Italian masters



Ella Ide, Sonia Logre| AFP

Published — Wednesday 14 August 2013

Last update 12 October 2013 9:36 pm

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

FLORENCE, Italy: A stone’s throw from the Duomo in Florence, students from around the world are learning the art of shoemaking from an Italian master and bringing fresh hope to an artisan trade in crisis.
Bukola Asafa, a 30-year-old mother-of-two from Nigeria, stitches a deep red lining for a pair of made-to-measure grey moccasins, while around her others mold wooden models for high heels or shape leather on thunderous fleshing machines.
“I studied for an MBA at Liverpool University then opened my own company making bags in Lagos. Now I’m here to get that ‘Made in Italy’ touch for shoes. The designs will be mine, but influenced by Gucci!” she said with a wide grin.
She is not alone in traveling to Florence to learn from master cobbler Angelo Imperatrice, 75, who was taught the trade aged 11 by his uncles. Some of his students go on to sell their shoes for 3,000 euros ($3,991) a pair.
Imperatrice is from the Basilicata region in southern Italy but grew up in the Tuscan city famed for leather-working, where the cobbled streets “once thrived with artisans, from silversmiths to watchmakers and knife-sharpeners,” he said.
The bustling streets near Michelangelo’s statue of David may sport trendy shops with dazzling shoe displays, but it is the Oltrarno area on the other side of the river where the heart of Florence’s ancient artisan sector thrived.
“Crafts like these have fallen out of fashion, but young people would do well to consider cobbler apprenticeships. They could become the next Salvatore Ferragamo,” he said, referring to the Florentine designer loved by A-listers.
The blue-eyed master teaches up to eight students at a time at the Accademia Riaci — there is a long waiting list — and around 100 have graduated so far.
Amid the rolls of suede, calfskin leather and cord stand finished models, from a pair of towering patent-red heels with a seductive, winding ankle-strap to a lower-heeled blue velvet-lined court shoe with a small gold fork as a clasp.
Mashizan Masjum, a television producer from Singapore, said he had long dreamt of designing women’s shoes — “elegant, but with an edge” — and believes he and his fellow students from Japan to South America will help keep Italian shoemaking alive.
“In this class we have people from all over the world learning from the same Italian master: it’s globalization at its best. There is a crisis, but with every crisis comes opportunity,” the 41-year-old said as he nailed down a sole.

Returning to the old trades
Imperatrice says that while cobbler apprentices used to work unpaid for four years on repairs before they were allowed to begin shoemaking, freshly trained shoemakers can now set up shop fairly quickly for between 4,000 and 5,000 euros.
Elderly masters of his generation often cannot read or write and are unwilling to face the bureaucratic hassle which modern apprenticeships bring, he says, but they still have a huge amount to teach about the ancient craft.
Several students say their interest in a hands-on trade has raised eyebrows.
Dana Alseif, 25, from Saudi Arabia, worked for a while in private banking before risking the wrath of her engineering family to do an intensive Italian language course and indulge her passion for classic men’s shoes at Riaci.
The only Italian on the eight-week course — which costs 5,100 euros — is Daniele Ortolani, a 31-year-old who had been repairing shoes for eight years when he decided to learn how to make custom-made models for people with orthopaedic conditions.
“Some of my friends were surprised when I chose to become a cobbler, but others are now considering the old trades. Being an upholsterer or rag-and-bone man is an increasingly appealing way to beat the economic crisis,” he said.
Imperatrice has high hopes for Ortolani, who he hopes will become the next Stefano Bemer, a renowned Tuscan cobbler who boasted Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis among his pupils, before dying in 2012 aged just 48.
Bemer took the British actor in as an apprentice for eight months between 1999 and 2000, welcoming him in to his tiny workshop at 8 a.m. every day to learn how to make shoes using 180 different leathers, including hippopotamus and sharkskin.
“I want to join the greats some day,” Ortolani said.
“I fear there will always be fewer Italian cobblers, but I hope the Tuscan expertise will somehow survive.”

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Al Hamzi, director general of prisons, has sacked Brig. Ahmad Al Shahrani, director of Jeddah prisons, after the case of a video clip about prisoners taking heroin went viral, according to local media.Quoting informed source...
RIYADH: Plans are underway to shift the labor dispute commission in the Ministry of Labor to the Ministry of Justice. Related discussions were held here Thursday between Justice Minister Walid Al-Samaani and Labor Minister Mufrej Al-Haqabani.The disc...
JEDDAH: Drifting has taken a heavy toll of young men who spent their time and energy in the pursuit of this dangerous game for lack of family awareness and guidance.Observers said that the last decade witnessed a dramatic increase in traffic accident...
RIYADH: A mass brawl between migrant workers at a company along Al-Thumama Road broke out in Riyadh on Thursday, causing the death of one worker and the burning of two police vehicles.A Riyadh police source said authorities received a report on Thurs...
JEDDAH: Thousands of expatriates living in Jeddah, who are non-Arabic speakers, were excited about the monthlong 36th Jeddah Festival.The Jeddah and summer festivals this year had a number of theatrical events, entertainment programs, fireworks, arti...
MADINAH: In a tragic Madinah incident, two children died and a woman was injured in a fire which broke out in a house.Capt. Naif bin Mohammad Al-Juhani, spokesman for Civil Defense, said the control room received information about the fire incident i...
JEDDAH: Saudi Aramco said it has financed building 63,000 houses for Saudis through the citizen house owning program implemented by the company. The company said it has granted 1,037 loans to Saudis to build new houses in 2014, stressing that this pr...
RIYADH: A special team of officials from the Ministry of Health, led by Deputy Minister Hamad Aldhwilaa, visited hospitals in the southern border area to ensure that services are available to serve patients in the Asir, Jazan and Najran regions.On ar...
DAMMAM: On April 30 1935, drilling started on test well No. 1 in Dammam. After seven months, only gas was found with traces of oil at a depth of 700 meters. So it had to be plugged. Drilling began on Dammam well No. 2 on Feb. 8, 1936, and started pro...
JEDDAH: A team of doctors at King Abdul Aziz Hospital carried out emergency life-saving surgery on a Kazakh pilgrim who was suffering from a rare disease, on the night of Eid Al-Fitr, according to a website.The 17-year-old Kazakh pilgrim was brought...
JEDDAH: Members of sector committees affiliated with the Council of Saudi Chambers have tried to reach a settlement with the Ministry of Labor that would allow laborers to work on their projects during the day.The attempt was made based on an agreeme...
JEDDAH: The increase in school fees has caused parents to remove their children from private schools and enroll them in public schools in Madinah.With the approaching new school year, many parents were surprised to find that school fees were increase...
RIYADH: The size of the tourism industry has crossed the SR100-million mark with around 130 organizations in the field and the revenues generated through festivals are approximately SR11 billion annually, experts have said. The figures have been prov...
JEDDAH: A total of 105 pay-and-park areas have been opened in the city, including Jeddah historical district, downtown market place, Bab Makkah, Al Andalus Street and Palestine Street.Hani Ahmad Abdullah, media spokesperson for Jeddah Municipality, s...
RIYADH: Moroccan Ambassador Abdussalam Baraka has praised “excellent” trade and bilateral relations between his country and Saudi Arabia and expected the ties to grow further.Speaking on the occasion of Morocco’s National Day on Thursday night, the e...

Stay Connected

Facebook