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Portraits: A shoe in

A look at some of the biggest names in footwear — from sneakers to traditional European crafts now dominated by Japanese masters

Christian Louboutin

Known for his distinctive red-soled footwear, the French designer was born in France in 1963. He left school at 16, travelling to Egypt and India before returned to Paris. Stints with Charles Jourdan and Roger Vivier led to freelance gigs with some of the biggest names in fashion. He launched his own line of women’s shoes in the early 1990s, and introduced his signature red-lacquered soles in ’93. His first collection for men saw the light in 2011. 

John Lobb

The man who would become royal bootmaker to Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), was born a Cornish farm boy in 1829. He founded his luxury handcrafted shoe brand in London in 1849, expanding to Paris around the turn of the century. Here is his grandson Eric, then chairman and MD of John Lobb, in the St James Street workshop sometime around 1946-1959. This location remains family-owned and continues to operate independently, while Hermès acquired the Paris shop in 1976. 

Alessandro Berluti

Born in the small village of Senigallia on Italy’s Adriatic coast in 1865, Berluti left home at the age of 19 to make his fortune abroad. He ended up working as a bootmaker in Paris for a decade, with notable clients including Isadora Duncan, Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein. The whole cut Alessandro shoe, created in 1895, formed the foundation on which the House of Berluti was built. 

Salvatore Ferragamo

The shoemaker to the stars was born near Naples in 1898, and showed an early passion for shoes. He became an apprentice to a shoemaker at age 11, and at 13 opened his own shop in Bonito, where he was born. He left for America when he was 16, working in a shoe factory in Boston before opening a shoemaking and repair shop in California in the early Twenties, captivating the filmmaking crowd with his Hollywood Boot Shop. He returned to Italy in 1927, and in 1947 became the first shoe designer to win the fashion world’s Oscar, the Neiman Marcus Award. 

Carl Franz Bally

The Swiss businessman was born in 1821, the 11th of 14 children. He founded his eponymous shoe company in 1851, inspired by a pair of boots he saw on a trip to Paris. The brand quickly caught on, famed for its focus on design and functionality. One of the greatest coup’s in the company’s history came about when Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest wearing Bally Reindeer-Himalaya boots. 

Jerry Lorenzo

Lorenzo launched his cult-favourite fashion label Fear of God out of his home in California in 2013 with $14,000 he had in savings. Despite being a party promoter with no fashion training at the time, today it’s one of the biggest names in streetwear. He’s collaborated with the likes of Nike and Vans, and created looks for Justin Bieber’s Purpose tour. Jared Leto fronts the brand’s latest collection, Sixth.

Jimmy Choo

The London-based Malaysian designer was born into a family of shoemakers in 1948. He’s said to have made his first pair of shoes — slippers — at the age of 11, and opened his first shop in 1986 before making his mark at London Fashion Week in 1988. Known for the four-inch heel, Princess Diana was an early patron. Choo was conferred an OBE in 2002. 

Stan Smith

Today one of the most recognised sneakers around, Adidas’ Stan Smith shoes were originally named after and endorsed by the French tennis player Robert Haillet. The American tennis star’s association with the sneaker dates back to the early-1970s, when he was the world champion and the German brand needed an ambassador to break into the US market. By some estimates more than 50 million pairs have been sold globally, making it one of the biggest and longest-lasting sport sponsorships in history. Smith was born in California in 1946, and continues to be the face of the brand.

Yohei Fukuda

Japanese shoemakers are among the most celebrated today, and Fukuda’s creations are among the most coveted globally. Leaving home at 18 to follow a girlfriend to LA, heartbreak saw him divert to London to learn English. Here, a handcrafted pair had such an emotional toll on him that he decided to venture into shoemaking. Positions with John Lobb, Gaziano & Girling and Cleverley followed, before Fukuda decided to return to Tokyo. He launched his eponymous shoemaking company in 2008, and has become known for his attention to detail, which sees him and five apprentices make only about 10 pairs per month.

Virgil Abloh

A trained architect, Abloh was born in Chicago in 1980 to a seamstress mother, who taught him her trade. He has channelled his passion for fashion, art, design culture and music into an internship with Fendi alongside frequent collaborator Kanye West and partnerships with A-listers across the spectrum, from Nike and Planned Parenthood to Takashi Murakami. Abloh launched Off-White in 2013, and became artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear in 2018, the same year Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. A collaboration with Ikea is expected this year. 

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