Being a rescuer of clothing and footwear from past generations also comes with the obligations and responsibility of restoration. This means that you need to get yourself a good cobbler. In Italy these small un-publicized bottegas are quite common and I blush thinking of the talent, skill and passion that still goes into rather ancient crafts as such.
These shop windows always catch my eye because they are usually instinctively decorated with old tools and vintage shoe product packaging – things people go out of their way to find to dress a window these days. I was sent by a friend of a friend to my cobbler and I must say that I look forward to the visit every time!
When I enter it always starts off with a startled stare as I interrupt his very involved shoe-magic, then he pushes up his glasses from shoe level to eye level and lets out a long, “Ohhhhhhhhh, It is the girl from Kansas!” He always chuckles at his own joke because he is savvy enough to know about the differences between the states and the great distance dividing them. The fact that his joke never gets old makes me love it even more.
He always stops everything he is doing, as he takes my shoes and explains what he will do to them. It is always fascinating. He was more than willing to tell me a little bit about his origins and his craft, but he was as modest about his beautiful story as he is with his work. His Ligurian father was a cobbler in Paris when he met his Italian mother so they moved back to Italy and began what became the family business. He was much more passionate speaking about the machines. All of the machines in his shop are things that his father collected over his lifetime in his journeys all over Europe. Only the best machines from where they make them the best.
I just love the juxtaposition of such new shoes on such old broken in machines. He has got a machine for everything and I have discovered in Italy that really anything can be done to your shoe. Have it stretched, taken in, re-heeled, re-soled, given a thicker sole, colored . . . the list goes on, but for a person like me who loves to lay track and gets attached to my shoes both new and vintage in a Forest-Gump kind of way this is all great news.
I love my old trustee pair of 1-dollar Ferragamo’s from a Pebble Beach estate sale. The charms are of the epic platform sandal and one of my personal favorite pieces of fashion history. One charm is missing and to my eye, this gives them just the perfect amount of character. The heel disintegrated the first time I wore them, which made for an awkward afternoon as I left a trail of little black bits everywhere I went. Not a worry. I knew that a cheap trip to my trusty Italian cobbler would bring them right back in the game!
Another pair that I could not live without was this vintage pair of bowling shoes in a size 8! In the land of tiny people and their little sizes in the 1950’s, God bless this monster for having my now-a-days standard size. The leather soles lasted through a couple wears, but then it was off to my trustee calzolaio. He loved their little white heels as much me, approved their sturdiness and worked around them to bring them back to walking condition.
The ritual of picking up the shoes is just as great as dropping them off. I have no idea how the shoes are organized because my shoes are never together. One pair is always on one side of the pick-up wall that dominates the shop, and the other pair on the other side. It makes me imagine that there is some ancient logic that they never questioned reevaluating. The old joke gets thrown out about Kansas, we giggle and he humbly shows me his work, thinking nothing extraordinary of it even though it is actually an art. He gives me the total and I am always astonished by how cheap it is as he sends me off. Now there it is a new-old shoe ready for stomping.
I’m sorry that I have no details about my calzolaio, well kind of. He has no business cards, business name or details, which just makes it that much better. He laughed when I asked and his wife laughed even harder exclaiming “He is 80, dear!”