Earlier this year Louis Vuitton unveiled a made to order shoe service at its awe inspiring New Bond Street flagship. The first of its kind for the House in Northern Europe, the service invites the customer to create their own personal pair of shoes and complimenting belt. Clients are given the choice of model, material, finish; everything to invent the shoe that corresponds precisely to their personal tastes and desires. With three thousand possible combinations, it is the ultimate in luxury. Last week I was invited to explore the space as the Maison opened its doors to celebrate the artisans and craftsmanship that continues to push its world of luxury forward.
The shoe making process that combines for this service requires a series of master craftsmen that the Maison have nurtured at its Fiesso d’Artico workshop. There, the most seasoned craftsmen labour to create this inimitable footwear. From selecting the very best in precious materials by knowing how to assess a leather’s softness or the quality of exotic skin to crafting a truly unique last, the precision of cut to the reinvention of the traditional perforation technique. The service builds on the knowledge and experience gained from years of excellence and will satisfy the whims and fancies of the most discerning and demanding customers. Ultimately the shoe service offers twenty four styles which showcase four different soles (thin Blake, regular Blake, Goodyear and Norwegian), a palette of eight sumptuous shades with five different finishes of calf leather (from smooth, burnished, grain, suede and pattern) alongside the three exotics of python, ostrich and alligator. For those wanting greater personalisation, belts are available in the same leathers, colours and finishes that match those of the shoes. All made with the same Louis Vuitton savoir faire. Customers can chose from two different widths and three different straps as well as two styles of buckle with four different metal finishes. The belt is adjusted to the customer’s waist size and only three holes are punched, compared with the traditional five holes, to create a completely custom item.
The Made to Order area inside the New Bond Street store.
The concept of savoir faire has never been more spotlit than it is now. Where luxury was once highly guarded and secretive about its practices, many House's now revel in inviting its customers to learn more about what it is that makes their products so special. This can be seen with Louis Vuitton's recently relaunched website that features a series of videos honing in on the intricacies of its process. As much as I enjoy a few minutes of procrastinating by viewing them, I long to explore the workshops myself. I could watch true craftsmen and get utterly lost in their work all day, everyday. Thankfully, the evening showcased a selection of workshops. Fittingly to coincide with the launch of the made to order service I was introduced to Roberto. For a few hours he was taken from his preferred habitat of the Fiesso d’Artico workshop and transported to the New Bond Street flagship and he busied himself by doing what he loves, making beautiful shoes. Roberto has been making shoes for thirty seven years and his passion, experience and craft was clear to see. The ultimate care for details on each shoe is a reflection of the expert hands and gestures of men like Roberto.
Of the four possible construction methods used in the range, the Norwegian is the most technically challenging and intricate. It is also the one that I am most unfamiliar with. Despite the name, it's a specialty of a relatively small number of Italian shoemakers. It was originally conceived as a way to make shoes more waterproof, but the Italians who still specialise in it today opt to use it for aesthetics and to illustrate their shoemaking virtuosity. In essence the upper is turned outward to sit on top of and parallel to the outsole and two rows of stitching connects it to the feather of the insole and the outsole. It creates a beautiful effect. Only the dexterity of uncommon Venetian craftsmen like Roberto guarantee the quality required. I was told that out of all Louis Vuitton's workforce, he is the only one who can. It was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to watch him at work in the store...
Snapshots of Roberto at work.
In addition to Roberto's shoe construction I was able to study one of the beautiful stages of finishing, the patina. With the same tools that have been used for generations including a thin brush, cloth, polish, water and wax, skilled workers are able to create elegant patinas. The glazed, transparent appearance obtained on a leather or crocodile shoe are emblematic of Louis Vuitton excellence. An hour is spent on each shoe and I spent atleast twenty minutes infatuated with the demonstration before me. It was nothing short of polish alchemy as each layer in built up...
The creation of the patina.
Having discussed the made to order shoe service in some detail and showcased the craftsmen that combine to realise the desire of Louis Vuitton's customers, I'd like to finish this post by taking a well crafted step away from the world of footwear to highlight another of the Maison's artisans, Les Edge. With a wealth of experience undertaking commissions from Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street to prominent museums, traditional gilding and writing has taken Edge across the world and seen him provide a hand painted personaliation service for Louis Vuitton for the last thirty three years. Being far from my everyday world, it is a service I didn't know existed and it was a pleasure to be introduced to it.
The Mon Monogram service which is also available online is a great form of personalisation but the hand painted strips and monograms in rich, vibrant colours give a unique elegance to Louis Vuitton's hard sided luggage. In a similar way to the made to order shoe service, the artistic lettering does more than merely identify difference, it gives luggage and travel accessories a distinctly personal character. Using the finest tools and meticulous artistry, expert painters like Edge create striking travel pieces that bear the stamp of exclusivity.
Les Edge showcasing his hand painting skills.
Luxury just like all strands of fashion is is built on desirability and aspiration, the creation of beautiful objects that people dream to possess. Almost a week on from my evening spent exploring the exclusive riches of Louis Vuitton and I'm still dreaming.