The mastery of Italian leather shoes

italian handmade shoes

A pair of handcrafted Italian leather shoes: the pinnacle of foot fashion?

The words “Italian leather shoes” are often spoken in hushed, reverent tones by fashionable folk the world over. But why are they so well respected? Here’s our look at the history, the skill and the artistry that goes into every pair of hand made Italian shoes to answer just that.

The History

An Italian man making shoes in his shop

An Italian cordwainer in his shop.
Image: Wikipedia/ Jorge Royan /

Every pair of Italian leather shoes draws on a tradition of craftsmanship that goes back hundreds of years. For you language lovers out there, those early shoemakers weren’t cobblers, but cordwainers. The difference? A cobbler mends, but a cordwainer creates.

Today, as Samina Bhatti writes in The Idle Man:

“completing your look with some fashionable Italian footwear is a no brainer.”

Italian shoemaking became popular around the mid-20th century. Before that, France dominated the sartorial landscape. But once the austerity of the war years came to an end in Italy, traditional crafts, such as leather-working and shoemaking, were not only fashionable, but necessary. They were important elements in getting the country… back on its feet.

Designers Guccio Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo are largely credited for propelling Italian shoes onto the world’s sartorial stage.

During the post-war era, hand made leather shoes would have been assembled using wooden pegs. But modern advances have streamlined many parts of the shoemaking industry.

But the tried and tested methods are still favoured by many Italian shoemakers. Many high-quality Italian shoes are still made by hand.

The Reputation

tool repair shoes

Traditional tools used by Italian cordwainers to create leather shoes by hand.
Image: ChiccoDodiFC/Bigstock

It’s not just the tradition of hand-making that gives Italian shoes their stellar international reputation. It’s the care and attention that goes into every detail, from the creation of the high quality, buttery soft leather to the minute, perfectly-executed stitching on every pair.

Producing the leather alone is an exacting process filled with tradition. Leather-making is a highly-specialised industry in Italy, with a history that dates back thousands of years.

In Tuscany alone, as designer furniture producer Cuero points out, several companies will be involved in the tanning process. The hide moves from company to company in the region, each adding their own expert touch. Curing, fleshing, tanning and splitting are all undertaken by specialist maestros.

Ultimately, blogger, Kieron Casey, over at The Totality has it right when he says that Italian shoes aren’t just popular because they’re “devilishly and indisputably handsome”. He says it’s because of:

“the durable construction of the footwear which puts them head and shoulders above the competition.”

What sets Italian shoes apart?

Pair of brown leather shoes

Men’s Prestige Brogues with Italian leather uppers and two-tone brogue styling (£54.95).
Image: Samuel Windsor Brogues

Italian leather shoes are made to last, which is why many men consider them to be an “investment shoe.” And why not? They’re high quality items, and are great for your feet.

Custom-made Italian shoes are essentially sculpted to the foot. The cordwainer matches the incredible engineering of the human foot (26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments), with a shoe that’s crafted to cushion and support the foot’s every move.

But you don’t need to buy bespoke in order to benefit from wearing Italian leather shoes. Those quality materials, including the high-quality, supple Italian leather, go into ready-to-wear shoes, too, making them a clever option. Sonya Glyn Nicholson, UK editor of The Parisian Gentleman says that they’ve been known to break in more quickly, and:

“…have their advantages when time, money, and more immediate comfort are important.”

And those factors are, indeed, important.

Comfort is the determining factor for many men choosing shoes. That’s why our handmade Italian leather shoes, made using Goodyear welted construction, have a cushioned leather sock in addition to the quality Italian leather upper.

But, a word to the wise: if you wear our handmade Prestige Leather Loafers, adhere to The Idle Man’s rule:

“For the love of Salvatore Ferragamo, please wear them without socks or at least pretend and wear invisible socks.”

We recommend the invisible sock option. Italians call these ‘fantasmini’, meaning ‘little ghosts’. They’re a great way to keep the classic look while making sure that your feet stay as fresh as a gentleman’s should.

Have you ever worn Italian leather shoes? What did you think? Share your tales of shoe splendour with us over on our Facebook page.

Posted in Leather boots.