Double monk strap shoes are Santoni’s most popular model. Photograph by David Celdran
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We visited the Santoni workshop in Italy to learn how they make their handmade shoes

David Celdran visits the Santoni workshop in Corridonia, Italy and details the steps that go into crafting the brand's famous footwear
David Celdran | Mar 26 2019

Santoni has been in the business of making handmade shoes from Italy for almost 45 years now. Ever since its inception, the brand, created by Andrea Santoni, has stood for "quality, passion for details and rigorous handmade workmanship." Here, Executive Class's David Celdran visits the Santoni workshop in Corridonia, Italy where it was no doubt revealed to him just how serious the brand's commitment is to their abovementioned core elements.

Here, Celdran lists the steps in how Santoni creates its handmade shoes.

 

Sourcing the skins

Animal skins are the preferred material for Santoni shoes. The company sources the best leather from farms and tanneries around the world.

The company’s reputation for producing high quality shoes starts with the leather they purchase to manufacture each pair. Animal skins are the ideal material for crafting footwear since leather is naturally stretchable and is thus easier to work with for the shoemaker. Leather’s permeable quality also makes it more comfortable for the customer. Santoni sources leather from the best farms and tanneries in the world, preferring skin in its natural state and color. White and flesh act as the ideal canvas for Santoni’s in-house veladura technique wherein layers of paint are applied on the shoes’ upper. Apart from hardwearing cowhide and supple box calf, exotic leathers such as crocodile, snake, lizard, and ostrich are routinely used. Animal skins shipped to the Corridonia workshop are meticulously inspected for imperfections and only unblemished leather makes it past this first stage of production.

 

Cutting the leather

Individual parts are cut from a single piece of leather using the shoe designer’s pattern as a guide.
The animal skins are sent along with the shoe designer’s patterns to the clickers who then proceed to cut individual pieces of the shoe by hand using a cutting knife and whetstone.

Clicking is the proper term used by shoemakers to describe the time-consuming process of cutting the leather that forms the various components of the shoe. The animal skins are sent along with the shoe designer’s patterns to the clickers who then proceed to cut individual pieces of the shoe by hand using a cutting knife and whetstone. Since every piece of leather is different, and because the slightest misstep can damage valuable material like crocodile skin, Santoni relies on the most experienced artisans in the workforce to cut the leather.

 

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Stitching and finishing the upper

(L-R) The lower of the shoe is stitched and assembled by hand, The hollow area above the sole is filled with cork to provide springiness and comfort to the pair.

In the majority of shoe factories around the world, including Italy, industrial sewing machines have replaced the traditional method of stitching by hand. Santoni, however, still relies heavily on the hands of their artisans to assemble the upper portion of their limited edition and bespoke footwear. Various leather components cut by the clickers are brought to closers, the term given to these artisans. Literally, these workers close the upper of the shoe using a variety of cotton, linen, and silk thread and a combination of stitches. Experienced artisans are always careful to stitch the seams accurately and evenly in order to produce the visual harmony and elegance expected from Santoni.

 

Constructing the shoe

A Santoni artisan stitching the sole using a complex double-stitching technique. The wax-coated thread is passed through the eyes of needles and pulled through the holes in the sole in opposite directions.

This is where the three-dimensional shape of the shoe begins to take form. The leather used for the sole and other parts that comprise the lower portion of the shoe is placed on the last along with the finished upper and then sewn together by hand. Before this takes place, the various parts of the lower—the welt, insole, cork filling, and outsole—are cut and constructed separately. The insole is the thin leather lining that separates the upper and lower sections of the shoe while the cork filling underneath gives the sole its characteristic springiness and comfort.

The upper is fastened to the lower portion using a traditional stitching technique employing two needles simultaneously, with the heel attached later.

 

The tinting process and veladura technique

(L-R) White crocodile leather serves as a blank canvas for Santoni’s artists to paint on, Each pair is handpainted, with each layer of color applied in a precise rhythm.

The veladura technique that creates the deep, three-dimensional patina on the leather is one of the most challenging and time consuming steps of all. Santoni’s art-schooled professionals apply anywhere from four to 15 layers of tint to create the startling effect on the leather. The white leather acts as their canvas, and each tint, from the thousands developed by Santoni since 1978, has its own secret recipe. Because the tinting process is done entirely by hand, no two pairs are ever alike—and neither is the left shoe from the right. It takes up to four hours to tint a single pair. Blue is the iconic color of the shoecompany although various shades of brown are perennial bestsellers.

 

Polishing and finishing

(L-R) The leather of the shoe upper is smoothened using a burnishing iron before these are polished to a high gloss using natural waxes and creams, Inner shoe lining and undersoles painted orange are a trademark of the Santoni brand, Santoni has developed more than a thousand tints in-house and use these to produce shoe colors and hues exclusive to the brand.

Aside from the rich patina, soles painted in a deep hue of orange are another trademark of Santoni shoes. In this final stage of production, the newly painted pair is made to dry before the slightly damp leather is smoothened using a burnishing iron. When done, finishers apply shoe cream and polish the leather to a high gloss. A final quality check is undertaken before each pair is put in a flannel bag to protect its surface from scratches, boxed, and sent to storage.

 

Photographs by David Celdran

This article originally appeared on Vault Magazine Issue 16 No 4 2014.

 

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