The Fabulous History of Italian Shoe Design

Why is it that Italian footwear is far more superior than the designs of other countries? The answer is simple: it lies in their history. Italian shoe designers have long been perfecting their craft, with centuries of artisanal work going into their refining of what is today known as a statement of glamour and sophistication.

To be able to fully appreciate a beautiful pair of Italian shoes, you must first explore the history of footwear design in Italy. Below is a brief history on how Italian shoemaking went from the typical cordwainer, to the perfected footwear we see today.


Humble Beginnings

Footwear design has its roots in Italy just as it does in other countries: in the small villages. Using handmade techniques with the simple materials available to them, local craftsman, known as ‘cordwainers’ (not cobblers, who repaired footwear), would create footwear for the entire village, changing them to fit adults and children, cooks and blacksmiths – whoever needed them.

The shoes usually consisted of animal skins (for colder regions) and vegetation before leather tanning was invented. As it was usually the one man who would produce the shoes for the whole region, he developed a mastery of his craft.


The Required Recipe

Although shoemakers were becoming standard, developing their techniques in regard to construction, it was Italian cordwainers who had a focus on which materials were being utilised to produce the shoe. Most nations have animals that can produce leather (pigs, goats etc.). However, Italian leather differs as it has become a refined picture of beauty. It is supple, soft and richly coloured.

Italians have been developing leather for centuries, and the treatment process used results in a wondrous diversity of products, all made to the highest standard and usually done by hand. Soon became a national obsession with excellence combined with over a millennium of fine artistry. This is what led to the Italian’s ability to produce beautiful footwear. However, there was another essential ingredient to their success: the Italian willingness to adapt to change.


A Fine Response

Prior to WWI, Italy’s shoemaking industry was relatively quiet, except in Italy, of course. It was pioneers such as Salvatore Ferragamo and Guccio Gucci who took Italy’s shoemaking prestige to a whole new level of exposure. At the conclusion of WWII, international consumers began to notice Italy’s flourishing fashion scene. Italian footwear designers adapted to the changes brought on by this new fixation with their design and demand for their product. They managed to do this without sacrificing their dedication to perfection.

Thus initiated an era of casually elegant footwear. Italy now leads the global footwear industry, and this comes down to their simple love for quality from the start to completion. Italians spent thousands of years perfecting their craft of creating fine footwear, perfecting fine leather, whilst other countries took the path towards cheap, mass production. Taking a more artisanal road, Italy cemented its place as the world leader in fine shoe design.