The making of bespoke Dh27,000 shoes

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The making of bespoke Dh27,000 shoes

He is France's premium bootmaker and creates shoes worn by royalty and celebrities alike. Get inside the mind of the unconventional Pierre Corthay.

By Janice Rodrigues

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Published: Thu 21 Jan 2016, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 22 Jan 2016, 10:53 AM

When a customer is willing to shell out a starting price of Dh3,050 for a shoe, you know that's got to be a very special shoe indeed. And believe it or not, all of the creations that come from Paris-based luxury shoemaking company Maison Corthay fall under the bracket of 'special shoes'. Why, you wonder? Well it could be because the brand uses materials including python, crocodile and camel leather for their collection. Or because every single bespoke shoe is 100 per cent hand-stitched in their Paris workshop, and can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete. Whatever the reason, today Maison Corthay's clients include the likes of world-famous personalities like Kevin Spacey, Bob Geldof and Clive Owen. Moreover, it is a widely told story that the Sultan of Brunei - one of the first supporters of Maison Corthay - once placed an order of 150 bespoke shoes.

Stepping behind the scenes

1. It all begins with a private consultation at the Maison Corthay workshop or stores - here the client can discuss the exact design, style and hue he desires (customers in Dubai can have their private consultation at Level Shoe district in Dubai Mall)

2. The first measurement of the foot is done. Based on this, a 'last' is created - this is the dummy foot that comes in pairs, made of the very supple wood that can be shaved down and specifically designed to the proportions of every individual customers' feet

3. The first 'trial' shoe is delivered for a fitting to ensure that the last accurately captured the exact shape and size of the foot. All measurements and fittings are finalised

4. Then comes the assembly of all the real leather components including the sole, the upper, the welt and finally the 'patina' to colour the shoe to the exact requirements of the customer

5. The shoe is presented to the customer at yet another fitting - not less than six months to a year after the first fitting. All additional changes - such as minor colour corrections - are then made

6. The shoes are delivered to customers. The last is kept aside in case the client wishes to place future order
So what is the reason behind Maison Corthay's magic? Well, due credit must be given to the man who started it all: Frenchman Pierre Corthay, who discovered his love for leather at a young age - nine, to be exact. "I would make small leather goods with one of my aunts. It was like a game for me as a child," reminisces Pierre, who is now the artistic director and runs the company with his brother Christophe Corthay. "I decided to cross over into shoemaking when I first discovered the shoemaking workshop at Les Compagnons du Devoir, where I then carried out my apprenticeship for six years."
The Les Compagnons Du Devoid is a multi-training programme that accepts only talented apprentices in France and is a medieval guild of craftsmen. Post that stint, Pierre joined reputed bootmakers John Lobb because he was "fascinated by the combination of excellence and beauty". But only a year and a half after joining, he was approached with an offer he could not refuse: to manage the workshop as chef d'atelier at luxury brand Berluti. "I spent the next five years at Berluti, honing my skills, until I realised that my future lay in starting my own business. So, in 1990, at the age of 28, that's what I did. And I never looked back."
Starting afresh wasn't easy, and Pierre was only making two pairs of shoes a month before the big order from the Sultan of Brunei came in. However, despite being a relatively small company, today, the brand has six outlets around the world, including the one in Dubai Mall, and sells its creations through a number of retailers.
Even more impressive, however, is its eccentric clientele. "We love all of our customers, and always respect their discretion and privacy," says Pierre, who believes in focusing on a client's personality more than their professional accomplishments. Which is probably why he thought nothing of a particular customer, "who is now also a friend", and who would buy a minimum of two or three pairs of bespoke shoes a year - till the client one day made the startling revelation that he was a bus driver. "Clearly, money and status have nothing to do with passion for a beautiful product," Pierre declares.
It is not unusual to find makers of bespoke shoes bursting with passion, but few may share the same interests as Pierre. For starters, there is his love for exotic skins, which he enjoys working with because they "add a certain graphic element to the shoes". Their Arca Crocodile shoe, which uses crocodile leather, is one of their most popular creations. "The difference between exotic animal leather compared to commonly used calf leather is the design of the shoe itself, which is always going to be different. No two skins will ever be the same, meaning each pair of shoes is completely unique."
Even more surprising is his love for comic books. A self-confessed comic book junkie, Pierre would spend hours reading under the bedcovers as a child. Which is why he soon came up with his own superhero - Mister Louis. Available as a comic book for loyal customers, Mister Louis is a sought after bootmaker in Paris by day, and a 'Gentleman Avenger' who creates suits and gadgets by night. "The idea of a super hero really came about as a humorous way to present our small leather goods collection," explains Pierre. "Unconsciously, we are all looking for a superhero to save us, non?"

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