My first steps into Louis Vuitton’s shoe factory at Fiesso D’Artico confirmed every notion ever held about the French House’s preeminence as a cordonnier. The sleek, modern architecture is balanced by the sense of tradition and awe pervading the space, with fine mens and womens shoes on display in a range of heritage and original styles. It’s clear that all who pass through these walls have a profound reverence for the craftsmanship carried out here.
The more mundane, business aspects of the space show Louis Vuitton in its commercial character – a mock store for sales training, quality control center to test the quality of the textiles being put to use. The rigour of this testing stage is remarkable – stretch tests, exposure to wet & dry, climatic chamber testing; even the curious ‘vibration test’. By the time the material makes its way to the factory floor, it has already shown its mettle in spades.
Going on simultaneously is the making of the last – the mold on which the shoe will eventually be based. Hand carved from wood by skilled artisans, the lasts are then copied into plastic for reproduction in different sizes. When the materials meet the last in the workshop, each has been especially made for the other – a relationship unique in every design.
In the large workshop space the shoes are crafted according to tradition-bound techniques, with older, more experienced workers training the new generation in a centuries old trade. Shoes have been the trade of locals in Fiesso D’Artico since the early 13th century, when the Venetian aristocracy came to the town’s craftsmen for their wares. From start to finish there can be as many as 250 individual processes carried out by hand.
The traditionalists occupy one part of the factory, with one veteran of the trade accorded a special space reserved only for him to work on exclusive made-to-order jobs. Elsewhere, state-of-the-art machines produce sneakers of the 21st century, with only certain finishing processes carried out by hand. A Moccasin section offers ateliers the opportunity to dress and pattern their materials with unique flourishes – it’s said that the workers can tell the maker of a pair of shoes simply from their patterning, stitching or other stylistic signatures.
From brogues to loafers, boots and more, Louis Vuitton is preserving a culture in their workshop that will outlast any of fleeting fashions today. Though boldly modern in so many ways, there is an appreciation and respect for history in the place that evokes a sense of “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Walking away I was struck with a feeling of awe and understanding – such an experience makes crystal clear why Louis Vuitton has remained one of the most respected names on the planet in fashion.