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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Maison Corthay - The Shoes Of Pierre Corthay, Parisian Shoe Maker

I was fortunate to have submitted questions to Maison Corthay which have been so thoroughly answered by Xavier De Royere, President of Maison Corthay. If you don't know about Corthay, as I did not either, then the best way to get to know them is to like them on Facebook as their website does not do their product justice. Anyway, here is what they told us.

In your own words, how did this brand evolve from Pierre Corthay working for Berluti to having his own brand?

In 1990, the opportunity came up for Pierre to acquire the premises of a shoe maker who was about to retire, right next to the famous Place Vendome. The place had been devoted to shoe-making since 1947 (the year that Christian Dior founded his brand …). Pierre felt that he had learnt his trade - first through the rigorous training of the Compagnons du Devoir (a guild that dates back to the Medieval ages, and that trains young craftsmen for a period of 6 to 7 years, through a process of going from Master to Master to learn the trade. This guild trains stone masons, carpenters, jewelers, ..) and then through his time with some of the period's masters (John Lobb and Berluti). With this background and a lot of ambition, Pierre decided he wanted to express his own technique, his designs, his vision and embarked on a very ambitious project !

Pierre Corthay at Maison Corthay

How much is Pierre Corthay involved in the process of shoe making? Is this hands on workmanship from all that are involved in the business?

Pierre is very much involved in the process of shoe making, both for the bespoke shoes as well as for the 'ready-to-wear' part of the Maison. This is reflected in a 'typical day' for Pierre. He usually spends part of the morning in our Manufacture (workshop) just outside Paris, where 14 craftsmen work. He will oversee their work, spend she time to fine-tune a tool, to train a newcomer on the way to stitch a part of the shoe, or getting updated on the progress of a prototype or the durability of a new leather.
In the afternoon, Pierre will always spend some time in the Atelier (the bespoke part of the business - still based in Paris, where Pierre first started. In this capacity, Pierre might measure the feet of a new customer, work on a last, pass on his knowledge to apprentice … So Pierre is very involved in the process, and his influence is felt in the end product !
I would draw a comparison with other parts of the company, where everyone tends to be extremely detailed oriented and hands-on. Not much status, just hard-work and passion !

The process of patine is very sought after, are there techniques in patine that you specialise in, is there a signature patine  or colour dye which you claim to be ‘Corthay’?

The technique of patine is, as you rightly point out, much sought after. Maison Corthay is constantly trying new color combinations, new leathers and new effects. The limits are drawn by the technical constraints linked to leather and use, as well as … good taste. We are very proud to have so many customers and aficionados who are very keen on what we manage to do on patent leather. Quite unique !

Do you create lasts for all your clients? Could you explain to us a little about the last process. How many fittings are required and what is the basic step by step process in creating a bespoke shoe.

We create lasts for bespoke customers. A bespoke customer might come to us for any or a combination of reasons. They might desire :
- a shoe that only exists in the bespoke collection : to own something that is seen as the 'creme de la creme'
- a shoe that exists in the ready to wear collection, but that they wanted fitted to their exact measure. An existing product, but a very personal sense of comfort
- a shoe that is the product of their dreams, of their design. In this case, the customer comes up with a detail, a shape, an inspiration, a color, a material, … and asks us to transform their desire into a shoe ! This is personalization at its utmost.

In all of these case, the dialogue between the craftsman and the customer is paramount. It is important to understand the customer, his motivations, his style, his likes and dislikes in terms of fit, colors, materials ,… In some cases, if the craftsman doesn't think the shoe will fit the aspirations the customer … we will say so.

The process is relatively long, as there are quite a few stages :

- the measurement process. The craftsman - usually Pierre, his brother Christophe or Toulousain - the Chef d'Atelier - will measure the customer's feet.
- after that the last is created and a 'fitting' shoe is crafted. It is a shoe - made of leather and with a cork sole - which the customer will try. The shoe is the replica of the final shoe, but it is done in order to ensure perfection, fit and confirm design, material and color.
- a few months later, the 'find' shoe is presented to the customer.

At Corthay, we believe that the customer should interact with the same person throughout the process : measurement, fitting, delivery. It is key to the success of the operation, the customer's satisfaction and the quality of the interaction with Maison Corthay. All in all, the bespoke process lasts no less than four months.

Should a bespoke shoe, when finished, take some time to wear in? Can customers expect to have blisters or sore feet from the first few times they wear a made to measure shoe?

Bespoke shoes are made with the exact dimensions of the foot and taking any additional personal requirements in consideration. So we can confidently say that the fit is quite exceptional. After a few hours or uses, the shoe feels like a glove.

Are your shoes made in France? If no, are some of your shoes made in France? Do you support local artisan workmanship?

All of our shoes - every single one of them - is made in France, in our own workshops and with components that are made in France (shank, leather, laces, ..). We are constantly training (young) craftsmen and have created employment over the last 2 years - recruiting an additional 30% staff !

What is the most highly sought after Corthay shoe?
The Arca ! Pure design, fantastic comfort, timeless elegance ….

What is the most prized shoe that has been made by Corthay?

Bespoke shoes in 'exotic' skins tend to be the most expensive. The variety and choice is quite phenomenal.

To view our collection, it is best to like us on Facebook at ‘Corthay’
Xavier de Royere
President - Maison Corthay

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