A tutti non si adatta una sola scarpa.
—Italian proverb that translates as ‘The same shoe does not fit every foot’
Ah, Italians and their wise sayings. I’m convinced it’s why a luxury French brand has to have its shoes handmade in Fiesso d’Artico, Venice. That, and the town’s unshakable status as the shoemakers’ capital since the 13th century. Yes, I’m sure it’s the latter.
In a world where fast fashion is no longer considered a phenomenon but instead, a widely accepted norm, it’s easy to forget the precision and detailed workmanship that goes into a luxury product. Savoir faire is a term so frequently used in the industry it’s almost a dirty phrase. Gone are the days when this pretentious, ambiguous term was used to describe the semi-vague notions of the inexplicable innate skill and ethereal concepts that surround the impossibly beautiful product. You get my drift.
But beyond words, work does speak for itself. Enter Manufacture de Souliers Louis Vuitton, home to Louis Vuitton’s business shoes, iconic sneakers and more significantly, the people who sustain the craft’s heritage and make it possible. Nothing here is an accident and everything about shoemaking is celebrated.
A larger-than-life white pump lined with The Birth of Venussculpture by Jean-Jacques Ory greets at the entrance. A metallic Priscilla stiletto by Joana Vasconcelos rests at the heart of the space. No subtler way to say all masterpieces find their genesis here.
Like all art, an archive of notable silhouettes are displayed in a gallery arrangement in the first room. There’s a petite showcase on early recorded footwear in anthropological history, resources on the subject, and for a clever touch, a series of quaint shoe-themed artworks by Andy Warhol. Heck, the factory itself is shaped like a shoebox.
The Run Away sneaker—the new fully customisable Louis Vuitton footwear—begins its journey in the lab where it undergoes a series of tests to evaluate its capabilities. Leather, the accompanying accessories, down to the in and out soles are assessed under different weather conditions and possible situations.
It pleases me as a customer that the materials are not just suited to the climate of the region it’s made, but built to withstand the unfair heat and humidity of my country. This shows the competence of the brand as a player on the competitive global field and more so the forethought into the client’s needs.
"Our goal is comfort,” a le formier artisan explains. “It’s the most difficult thing to join style with comfort.”
The attentiveness to detail starts to take shape. The shape of the individual foot that is. Custom measurements form the prototype and each pair is a snowflake. The unique, unduplicated last is made by hand in traditional material—that is, wood—before translation into a digital 3D drawing for real-time modifications. The last’s metamorphosis concludes in a to-the-millimetre exact plastic bust that is, as the artisan calls it, “the first brick of the wall”.
This plastic cornerstone comprises the best fit that is foolproof to inconsistent universal size systems. So take your half sizes and go you anglophiles, there’s solely the dimensions of the feet here. Yet, as he shares the importance of accuracy and the company’s growing investment in technology, the most shocking thing is that all lasts come from only him and his colleague. If you do the math, that’s god knows how many orders versus this duo.
As you let that sink in, I’ve moved on to the next room in the house: Nomade. For the uninitiated, the workshops are aptly named after famous LV bags. Nomade, Speedy, Alma… clearly, the sense of brand ownership is evident here. There’s even what I esteem is a double entendre on its warehouse’s name—Neverfull.
A vibrant rainbow of options greet me. Whether you’ve chosen full calf, full alligator, or a mix of both for your Now Yours sneaker, they’re all genuine leather. They are all carefully inspected for bites and blemishes by suppliers before they are cut for symmetry.
You would think that the reign of technology has infiltrated and overtaken the manufacturing process in this modern age, but you could not be more wrong.
The brand has deftly taken advantage of the benefits of advancement, but placed them in the trusted hands of the artisans. As they man the machines, they helm the possibility to digitally print, hot-stamp or emboss your initials and keep total production duration at seven weeks per pair.
It was fascinating to see the 13 zones of the Now Yours sneaker in physical, jigsaw-like pieces before my eyes. With customisation available down to the soles, there are 300 combinations for the outsole alone. Together with heel, tongue and laces, that amounts to more than one billion possible design outcomes. Talk about special.
I shuffle towards the next group of artisans and realise I’m barely halfway on the 30 steps required for the entire construction. As the multicoloured components come together at the touch of adroit stitching hands senior to the technique, it was refreshing to see, along the other side of the table, youths mirroring the task. It is extremely critical, I am told, for the finesse to be transmitted to the next generation to uphold the shoemaking heritage of Italy.
In an accompanying preview of the maison’s business shoe division, I meet a shoemaker with possibly the most experience in the factory. He started on his profession, a job he learnt from his family, when he was 10 years old. “Everyone has a specific walk and foot shape,” he expresses in his native tongue whilst working on a complicated stitching with nothing but needle and thread.
He holds up the shoe. With decades of experience, the gap between the holes are even. You can’t see what’s seamlessly holding the shoe together from inside or outside. This dexterity, together with achieving the perfect patina amongst a plethora of personally wielded sequences involved, is a treasured language that should surely be inherited.
The final atelier hosts comparatively more equipment in a smaller space. Again with a surprisingly small team, the cohesive leather segment is fixed accordingly on the last. The soles are expertly glued on by hand and pressed in position by machine. The completed shoe is heated, rested and placed in a freezing chamber of -20°C, before the initial last is taken out like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Back in my adolescent years, I used to think that luxury stood as an infallible status symbol. Alas, many continue to hold to this notion and even more tragic is the fact that some brands enable that market; just think of expensive ‘luxury’ T-shirts. The question is: do you know what you are paying for?
Bespoke is steeped in the DNA of Louis Vuitton, from Greta Garbo’s vintage shoe trunk to the made-to-order, inscribed travel trunk of René Gimpel. While you may not be a celebrity or cousin to the designer, with the Now Yours customisable sneaker, you have the chance to own a slice of true savoir faire and what luxury is rightfully about.
The 'Now Yours' personalisation service is exclusively available at the Louis Vuitton Marina Bay Sands Island Maison.