Pal Zileri and the Future of Tailoring

large_pal-zileri-factory-visit-ch-2

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

What is the difference between tailored and factory menswear? Often we consider these two categories as distant or even conflicting. However, there are many who actually know how to combine these both, companies that use industrial processes to achieve quality products, in which the experience of the hand and the precision of the machine operate on the same wavelength. This is what happens at Pal Zileri, a historic Italian menswear brand.

At Quinto Vicentino, in north-east of Italy, the Forall Confezioni factory was founded in 1970 by Gianfranco Barizza and Aronne Miola. Here, the Pal Zileri collection was launched in 1980 and since it has targeted the contemporary man, in love with sartorial tradition and modern lifestyle. During a recent factory visit, we witnessed the production process of men’s formal suits, and in particular of jackets. Here, hundreds of skilled artisans make clothes, for which quality is the ultimate obsession. Each jacket is made in 140 to 180 single step, which include cutting, assembling, sewing, ironing, adding linings, pockets and shoulders, but also spare parts such as buttons, zippers and labels. The front part of the jacket dictates the entire process and the amount of hidden details is impressive. Most phases are industrially executed using laser cutting, sewing machines, presses, conveyor belts; nevertheless, some steps are still completely handmade, like in an old tailor workshop.

Since July 2014, Mauro Ravizza Krieger has been the artistic director at Pal Zileri. After plentiful experience with many prestigious national and international menswear brands, Ravizza Krieger is now successfully working on the next chapters of the brand. Pal Ziler has a very long tradition of formal menswear. A few years ago new investors joined the company. Qatar-based Mayhoola for Investments (also owner of Valentino) and Arafa for Investments and Consultancies from Egypt, helped define this new course for Pal Zileri. Ravizza Krieger plays a very important role in this delicate passage.

“First of all, I tried to understand how the company works. The concept of creativity is far more difficult to apply to an industry. We are making a path of transformation from an industry to a brand, fostering a closer bond with the creative process,” Ravizza Krieger explains to CH. Today men’s tailoring is undergoing a renaissance, but it is necessary to update its codes and logistics. As Ravizza Krieger says, “It is important to rekindle an interest in the world of tailoring, without distorting its canons, evolving them without revolutionizing, focusing on the contemporary world, on updates that do not lose the previous values of the company.”

Vicenza, where the factory is located, is a land of art and excellent crafts, characterized by the magnificent architecture of Andrea Palladio and a centenary tradition of jewelry and fine leather-making. And Ravizza Krieger loves to find his inspirations in arts. “My references are very tied to the art world. Our previous collection was inspired by Joseph Albers, who has spent his life calibrating colors on a square shape, something not banal,” he says. “His vibrations, his color combinations create always different moods. And when I work on an artistic period, I always try to bring it to the Italian references.”

As a matter of facts, at Pal Zileri they do not want to rely on a stereotypical vision of Italy, a postcard-like view of something that does not exist anymore. They focus on a less obvious Italy, like that of abstract, optical and kinetic art of the 20th Century. “Creativity should not be sought after at all costs and simply glued to a collection, it should be a thing that belongs to you in each step,” he continues. “For example the inspiration linked to kinetic and Italian optical art gave origin to a capsule collection with optical prints, as well as a variety of fabrics for the evening all in black and white. From abstract Italian art we originated the research on the color palette. The color range definition is an important step because it kicks off the creation of fabrics. In fact 80% of the fabrics that are seen in the catwalk and in the collection are exclusive.”

The evolutionary process of traditional men’s fashion has to be constant, organic and slow. “[We proceed] slowly, without exaggerating. We must not forget that we are in menswear, where there is also a deep need for culture. We do not want to create some weird things and force change. I focus on the contemporary tailoring, where I want to evolve established codes, until they become usable. The continuity of tailoring will only be guaranteed by a continuous updating of its historical values, through the easing of a number of values,” says Ravizza Krieger.

As the technicians explained the difference between the types of construction, we realized that they often used the term “sports jacket.” As many know (at least in the States), in the world of tailoring, the very concept of “sport” takes on many meanings, here being an inherently comfortable suit jacket for more casual events. “Formal classic style is struggling today,” Ravizza Krieger observes, “because the world is less formal, relationships are less formal. Social networks and mobility have made us more informal, so we need to give our clothes different connotations.”

Ravizza Krieger’s ideas are very clear on this contemporary balance of formal and informal. “I believe that the dream of many people is to have a profession that lets them free, where they can be themselves. [For this reason] I think a lot more about freelancers rather than managers, because they are self-determining. They dress themselves, it’s not us who dress them. I think of a style for non-homologated people, who know how to interpret clothes.”

Annunci

Design Studio Garcia Cumini on their Cesar Unit kitchen

large_unit_08_09

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

The design of kitchens for the last 20 years seems to have focused primarily on two styles reflecting two opposite poles: classical or country versus contemporary or industrial. It’s become very difficult today to find real alternatives, contemporary designs able to make a kitchen look non-obvious and original. That said, there are options, one of which happens to a newly revamped Italian company. Cesar carries nearly 50 years of history in the kitchen sector. Gina Cester, Cesar’s CEO, is determined to define the next chapter, and has called upon the support of Garcia Cumini‘s design studio—the newly appointed artistic directors of Cesar.

The first project designed entirely by Vicente Garcia and Cinzia Cumini is Unit—a system that wants to shift the idea of a kitchen as a fixed object to that of a concept with free elements. During a recent meeting, Garcia and Cumini told us about their new work, starting with their relationship to both the industrial and the domestic kitchen. “The Bauhaus movement,” Garcia explains, “was a pioneer in defining functions, even for this area of the home. It triggered the basic principles of modularity. Since then, many things have changed, but the kitchen remains a very technical space, even though it’s an emotional and special area. In the last decades the offer from kitchen manufacturers was centered on that—technical and material aspects—but the formal side has been linked mainly to modularity and design of cabinet doors. This happened for so long that sometimes it’s hard to see the differences between kitchens from different manufacturers.”

Unit is designed to meet this need. “The objective of Unit is to connect the practicality and ergonomics of the professional kitchen with the humanity of the home kitchen,” Cumini continues. “With our research, we tried to carry the product in a freer design dimension, where the kitchen becomes a single object—such as a table or chair, and no longer an object tied to the size of one single space, or a space designed to measure from wall to wall.”

To achieve this goal the technical choices the duo made were very important. “From an ergonomic point of view,” Cumini shares, “it allows a more comfortable position while you cook because you can put your feet under the containment volume. Research and development at Cesar has allowed the creation of Unit in such a way that frees 2.4 meters of floor space.” This allows occupants the ability to move freely while cooking, without being impeded by their own appliances. Further, “the internal construction has been engineered so completely different from the rest of the kitchens on the market—combining lightweight materials that do not belong to the world of cooking, with traditional materials in this field. As it happens, for example, in the automotive industry when different metals are used in different parts of the chassis depending on their function.”

From an aesthetic standpoint, it is the handles and the materials that compose them which seem very different from the standards to which we are accustomed. “We wanted to bring back the handle as a functional element but also as a decoration,” Garcia adds. “For these reasons we designed two handles for Unit with two completely different personalities, in five finishes. Shell is a handle with a compact size that has been inspired by the classic recessed handles of country kitchens. Eero, instead, has been designed around the idea of realizing a bridge handle. Also the adjustable feet are small functional details that we wanted to become graphic elements.”

“The materials and the colors are also a very important point in this project, because it is that which gives human touch and bring the flavor of the professional kitchen at home,” Garcia explains. “When you imagine a professional kitchen you always think of the practicality of stainless steel, but we also wanted an object that would give warmth and cheer or simply be able to express the taste of the people, not just another finish. [We have therefore chosen] wood, mortar, steel, rolled products, magnetic lacquer—coordinated to Amani and Carrara marbles, slate, Piacenza stone, steel, ceramic and Corian.” All of this lends the kitchen something beyond what we’ve come to expect.

Another addition to the Garcia Cumini line for Cesar is the Wall Waiter: a vertical system that was designed as a horizontal kitchen top. Here classic—albeit lit up—shelves can become containers since they can be folded up to hide objects. As a simple yet clever solution to the stagnation of the kitchen, anyone who lives and uses such a room will surely appreciate what the brand has done to shed new light.

Daniel Libeskind + Alessi’s Time Maze Wall Clock

large_alessi_libskind_time_maze_clock_01

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Undoubtedly a huge name in architecture and design, Polish-American Daniel Libeskind is responsible for designing Berlin’s Jewish Museum and NYC’s World Trade Center—among so much more. One of his most recent and (as always) striking creations is “Time Maze,” made in collaboration with iconic Italian design brand, Alessi. We spoke with Libeskind (who also works as a professor and set designer) about the clock’s bold design and the value of time.

While designing the sharp, abstract “Time Maze” clock seems a world away from a 104-story building, Libeskind tells us the problem solving and creative process is actually almost identical. “I think it’s exactly the same,” he says. “You have to have a revelatory idea, something has to strike you. Then you work on it, refine it, work on the geometry and the technology, but it was the kind of same thing.

For the clock, Libeskind eschews the traditional circular clock-face—a design that has reigned for hundreds of years. Rather, he has opted for a more complicated and obscure shape which reflects the esoteric concept of time itself. The designer tells us, “This is neither linear clock or a circular clock, it’s a labyrinth. It’s a maze. I discovered the word ‘amazing’ basically has the word ‘maze’ in it. That’s what it is—to be amazed is to be in the maze. You can tell time easily in any device, but I think to have an emblem that really makes you think about something, and have something beautiful for the wall instead of just a circle.” Not only does design actually make the time slightly difficult to read (as he says, making one think a little longer, rather than just glancing at the time) thanks to its discontinuous lines, it also reflects Libeskind’s bold architectural style.

Libeskind believes that time is the ultimate luxury, and spending time relaxing rather than racing around or worrying about “wasting” time is of utmost importance. “I guess when they first put the clock on the Gothic cathedral in 15th century, it was more to force people to know when to go to church, but now it’s a different idea,” he says. “So I like the maze—I think is a good geometry for it. I chose red because it’s like a stop sign. Stop, don’t run.”

On the production of the clock, Libeskind tells us he worked closely with Alessi—Alberto Alessi in particular—and was wholly satisfied with the outcome, despite it being a difficult design to bring to life. “This is metal, it’s metallic, and it’s not easy to produce such a perfect line that seems to intersect but is completely perfect in its angles, in its geometries, and I think it’s very beautifully made in terms of its thickness, elegance. It’s a very elegant thing. It’s very puristic in the way the line works, as a line should work. And of course, Alessi is a great company with details, the details of small objects. It’s one thing to have an idea of the clock; another is to produce one that really works, that’s got to be beautiful.” As for collaborating, he says, “I think it’s important to say that Alberto is a very special person. He’s not one of those people that just produces things to make quick money. Of course, profit is important, but it’s the idea of design that is part of the incredible company which everybody loves. Anywhere in the world, Alessi is the gold standard. It’s incredible, it’s an encyclopedia of design.”

Intervista a Giorgia Lupi

2016_focus_lupiwork15-954x539.jpg

La mia intervista a Giorgia Lupi, pubblicata sul Brera Design District Magazine in occasione del Salone del Mobile 2016

Per l’edizione 2016, le attività di Brera Design District ruotano attorno al tema “Progettare è ascoltare”, un tema che sottolinea la forza didattica e formativa del buon design. Se è vero che un bravo insegnante è colui che riesce ad immaginare le persone per quello che ancora non sono, un bravo designer (di qualsiasi disciplina) riesce a mostrarci il mondo come sarà.
E in questo contesto, ricerca e ascolto sono legati a doppio filo. Per questo motivo il premio Lezioni di Design 2016 è stato attribuito a Giorgia Lupi, data designer italiana che da anni opera a New York. Fondatrice di Accurat, Giorgia rappresenta la nuova generazione di designer capaci di superare il concetto classico di “design del prodotto” per arrivare all’elaborazione di materiali puramente immateriali.


Intervista a cura di Paolo Ferrarini

Giorgia Lupi è un’information designer italiana, co-fondatrice e design-director di Accurat, uno studio di ricerca dati innovativa, attento al design. Abita a Brooklyn, disegna, ricerca, scrive. Il suo lavoro attraversa spesso il divario tra digitale e stampato, esplorando modelli visuali e metafore per rappresentare storie piene di dati. Nel suo lavoro, Giorgia sfida l’impersonalità che i dati comunicano,la progettazione di narrazioni visive che raccontano i numeri in base a ciò che rappresentano: conoscenze, comportamenti, persone.

Per fare il tuo lavoro, si deve “ascoltare” il mondo, bisogna sintonizzarsi a tempo pieno su una modalità di ascolto. Come riesci a farlo? È qualcosa che accade spontaneamente o c’è una maniera specifica per riuscirci?
Sì, assolutamente. Per essere un data visualization designer bisogna trovare nuovi modi di attirare le persone attraverso nuovi linguaggi e nuove soluzioni che accanto al fatto di essere funzionali, precise e adeguate devono essere magnetiche e sorprendenti. Proprio in questo senso credo che imparare ad “ascoltare virtualmente” il mondo sia essenziale: imparare come vedere è essenziale per imparare come fare design. Imparare a vedere e a capire quali sono le qualità estetiche che attirano i nostri occhi in merito a ciò che ci circonda, è essenziale per i creatori di qualsivoglia tipo. Ciò che faccio ogni volta in cui comincio qualsiasi tipo di progetto è concedere a me stessa di essere veramente ispirata da ciò che mi circonda. Cercare degli indizi in contesti insoliti è una buona maniera per scoprire e setacciare le qualità estetiche di tutte le cose che mi piacciono, come fonte continua di ispirazione, e per essere in grado di astrarle e di introdurle come principi basilari e linee guida nel mio lavoro. Facendo soltanto attenzione a ciò che accade nella nostra mente quando guardiamo il mondo intorno a noi, possiamo sforzarci di imparare come vedere e come riconoscere gli elementi qualitativi e riportarli mentre creiamo qualcosa di nuovo.

Sostieni di essere particolarmente attratta da “forme comuni” di visualizzazione. Qual è la relazione tra familiarità e innovazione nel tuo lavoro?
Ho capito di essere ispirata soprattutto da linguaggi visivi che sono in qualche modo già convenzionali, alla cui estetica è familiare per la nostra mente: se una serie di norme estetiche per le forme, i colori e la composizione spaziale funzionano in un contesto che osservo, credo che ci dovrebbe essere una modalità di applicarle al design al quale sto lavorando. I contesti visivi ai quali mi riferisco sono arte astratta, ma anche l’estetica ripetitiva delle note musicali, specialmente della musica contemporanea, o il sistema di stratificazione dei disegni in architettura o addirittura le forme e gli elementi degli oggetti e degli elementi naturali: ambienti visivi ai quali le nostre menti possono fare riferimento senza necessariamente coglierli appieno. Definirei poi il design di successo come quello in grado di equilibrare gli aspetti convenzionali (ad esempio le forme con le quali le nostre menti hanno già familiarità) e gli aspetti nuovi: nuovi elementi che possono coinvolgere e dare piacere alle persone nella speranza che si tratterrà sulle nostre visualizzazioni un pochino di più, e nella speranza di poter contribuire allo sviluppo del dibattito nel nostro ambito.

Potresti essere definita artigiana dei dati? Qual è il ruolo del lavoro manuale nel tuo ambito?
Mi piace! Infatti lavoro con i dati in una maniera estremamente manuale. Quando lavoro su qualsiasi tipo di progetto di visualizzazione di dati, produco tonnellate di schizzi addirittura prima di inserire i dati in qualsiasi tipo di strumento che può restituirmeli in un grafico. Produco degli schizzi per comprendere come organizzare i dati a livello di spazio, per definire sia l’architettura della composizione che gli aspetti visivi dei minimi dettagli. Ho sempre utilizzato questo processo laborioso come un modo di implicarmi con i dati prima di creare le visualizzazioni digitali finali. Per molti lettori, il termine “data visualization” potrebbe essere associato con competenze nell’ambito della programmazione pesante, software complessi e tanti numeri per la gran parte, ma, che lo si creda o no, tantissimi dei designer della visualizzazioni di dati utilizzano gli schizzi di vecchio stampo e le tecniche di disegno su foglio come loro strumento principale di lavoro: producono degli schizzi con i dati per capire ciò che è presente nel numero e come organizzare quelle quantità in maniera visiva per trarne un significato.

Molte persone temono che l’eccesso di dati possa uccidere la spontaneità, ma tu ha detto che i dati possono aiutarci a vivere una vita migliore. Com’è possibile?
Per il progetto Dear Data, ho impiegato più di un anno a raccogliere dei dati personali su diverse tematiche (le mie ossessioni, le mie routine, i miei desideri, i miei pensieri negativi, i miei pensieri positivi, un po’ della mia relazione con il mio partner…). Ma invece di fare affidamento su una app di auto-rilevamento digitale, ho raccolto i dati a livello manuale, aggiungendo il contesto di ognuno dei miei log, e pertanto rendendoli davvero personali, soltanto su di me. Nel momento in cui stanno proliferando le app di auto-rilevamento e il numero di dati personali che possiamo raccogliere su di noi aumenta nel tempo, dovremmo aggiungere significato in maniera attiva e contestuale al nostro rilevamento. Non dovremmo aspettarci che la app ci dica qualcosa su di noi senza sforzarci in maniera attiva, dobbiamo seriamente implicarci per dare un senso ai nostri dati. Mi piace dire che i dati possono essere uno stato d’animo, che possono essere un atteggiamento più che una questione di competenze e di strumenti, e da ultimo che i dati possono aiutarci a diventare più umani e connetterci con noi stessi a un livello più profondo, se indossiamo le lenti giuste per vederli.

Qual è il ruolo dell’arte nel tuo lavoro? Come puoi combinate un tocco artistico e poetico con i freddi dati?
Personalmente vedo la visualizzazione dei dati come una combinazione del mio lato “artistico” (o, per meglio dire, emozionale!) e del mio lato razionale e scientifico. Ho una formazione in architettura e la mia mente ha bisogno di strutturare e di organizzare le informazioni, ma i miei occhi e i mio spirito hanno bisogno di vedere e di inventare delle visualizzazioni inattese in ogni momento, credo. Mi piace disegnare artefatti visivi che hanno un senso logico e strutturale. Non provo piacere dal produrre design grafici fini a se stessi, al contrario, mi piace formare modi visivi di rappresentare i rigorosi parametri quantitativi. Ciò che mi spinge in quello che faccio è la sovrapposizione dell’analisi e dell’intuizione, tra logica e bellezza, tra numeri ed immagini.

Se fossi un’insegnante, cosa insegneresti?
La matematica dell’arte o l’arte della matematica.

Milan Design Week 2016: interview with Sou Fujimoto

large_MDW_Sou_Fujimoto_COS_Forest_hero.jpg

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto (perhaps best-known for his Serpentine Gallery Pavilion) joined forces with Swedish fashion retailer COS for Salone de Mobileduring this year’s Milan Design Week 2016. The result is quite spectacular. The installation “Forest of Light” is a fascinating and immersive exploration of light and perspective. In a completely dark space, towering cones of light seem to respond magically to the presence of people in attendance. Sounds, mirrors and a subtle fog unite to create an imaginary forest which is nothing short of a feast for the senses. After spending time in the space, we met with Fujimoto and talked about how the installation was born, its meaning and the technology behind it.

“We were requested by COS to interpret the deep philosophy of the brand,” Fujimoto tells us. “We had to give the shape of an experience to that, to translate it into a space. That was, of course, a big challenge because we are architects and they are fashion. In a sense it all relates to our daily life—to human behavior and interactions. Both fashion and architecture are about sharing something, but at the same time they’re quite far, since materials are different, softness is different, heaviness is different.” In order to create a through-line between architecture and fashion, Fujimoto decided on light, “Light is essential for architecture and using light as a material is quite a beautiful challenge, I think. At the same time, a spotlight is a fashion thing. Light as a material is quite simple, but it helps us with creating an interesting complexity.”

After deciding on light as a material, the installation began to take form as a forest—thanks to Fujimoto’s memories and the city of Tokyo. He says, while it relates to his childhood self playing in a forest literally, the Japanese capital also has the sense of being one. He explains, “Tokyo is artificial, but the feeling is like a forest in a sense—an artificial forest, where you can feel really cozy, since you are surrounded by such small artificial pieces. Through that kind of thinking, of forest and light, we connected the elements and we created the experience.”

Technology, of course, is a key (albeit invisible) factor in the installation, as sensors placed around the space mean that visitors can change the installation in various ways. Depending on where one stands, the space gets lighter or darker; the more people present, the more changes. The same goes for the sounds: there is a constant soundtrack of real forest sounds, but when a sensor picks up movement in the space, “artificial sounds react together with the change of the brightness.” The outcome is enchanting, and because it changes constantly, entirely enthralling.

Fujimoto tells us, ultimately, the installation was intended to surprise and intrigue visitors. It was a subtle experience not overly tied to a brand, but rather was about creating a special experience. “We’ve tried to create an unexpected feeling,” he says. “You feel like your movement is causing something, but you do not precisely understand what it is.”

OXYDO + Clémence Seilles Sunglasses

large_OXYDO_Clemence_Seilles_02.jpg

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Italian eyewear brand OXYDO has joined forces with French artist Clémence Seillesfor a super-daring and brightly colored collection of sunglasses. The OXYDO Lab SS16 collection features six styles—simple in shapes but extreme in colors and materials.

“OXYDO was looking to collaborate with a sculpture artist exploring materials… Indeed one aspect of my work is imbued with material research and their process of fabrication,” she tells us. Seilles was so excited about the eyewear brand approaching her that she jumped in her car and drove from Bolzano to Padova right away. She says, “I was really inspired and excited about the brief. I have been interested in designing glasses for some time, producing in the past years small crafted series as wearable sculptures. So from customizing OXYDO lines, we went to develop my own drawings, with Marco [Nicolé, the brand’s in-house designer] who did an amazing job supporting translating the drawings into production.”

With nods to the likes of Ettore Sottsass and Superstudio, the OXYDO Lab collection strongly references architecture. “The radical Italian architects of the ’70s are totally part of my education. Their understanding of design as a creation of situation is a guide for myself,” says Seilles. “Their statement is pretty essential—drawing from primordial simple forms and shifting from convention to surprise with a certain sense of humor.”

“Patterns we find in nature—but developed artificially by industry—were in my head for this OXYDO collection,” Seilles continues, “Imitation of nature with a shift—faking it with an acid eye is also a drive in general in my work. I think we found a good match of acetate patterns and arrangements.”

Also noteworthy is the interesting use of materials and textures. “Materials and surfaces are what you come to play with to translate a poetry in tangible forms. I mix material sources regardless of their origin: printed plastic foils, wood agglomerate, synthetic concrete, re-melted polyethylene, polyurethane resins, foams, marble powder, mixed resins, liquid wood.” It’s the intersection of all these beliefs—regarding inspiration, color, lines, materials and textures—that it’s clear Seilles is both an artist and an industrial designer.

“Glasses are a perfect product for sculptural purposes. The mask—for the sculptor and performance artist that I am—is an unavoidable component. The invitation from OXYDO to collaborate on two industrial collections, was an amazing opportunity for me to confront sculptural composition on a fashion accessory,” Seilles concludes. “In my mind, accessories are to be seen, and glasses are wearable sculptures.”

The OXYDO + Clémence Seilles collaboration collection is available at various retailers from Milan to Shanghai and Los Angeles.

Factory Visit: Christian Louboutin

large_christian_louboutin_factory_5.jpg

My latest article for Cool Hunting.

Since setting up his eponymous label in 1991, French designer Christian Louboutin’s shoes have become synonymous with power, prestige and class thanks to their sexy, edgy design and extreme creativity. Lesser known is the fact that Louboutin produces men’s footwear as well—something that should be on the radar of all shoe enthusiasts.

On a very hot day this July, we had the chance to visit a factory in Naples, Italy, where skilled artisans create these rare, esteemed objects. This area is already known around the world for the production of high-end footwear, continuing a tradition rooted in the 19th century that exploded culturally after Word War II. The production process behind Louboutin shoes is entirely led by hand and consists of a minimum 30 steps. Fine leathers and precious fabrics (like cashmere and grosgrain) are cut, sewn, shaped and combined—but everything starts with a drawing.

Louboutin and his staff’s sketches are fleshed out into shapes and turned into a tridimensional design. The pattern-maker obtains a series of flat pieces that will be used for prototyping and—once the final prototype is approved by the designer—for production. The cutting process is key and is also done by hand. Depending on the piece of leather, the single parts are carefully positioned and cut in order to leave as little scraps as possible. It takes almost 15 years of experience to become a professional cutter and it’s incredible to see how fast and precise their hands work.

Precision is of the utmost importance when it comes to working with precious materials such as alligator. In this specific case only one animal skin can be used per shoe. The leather is chosen very carefully in order to make the two shoes as similar as possible, since each animal is unique. Once again it is a matter of fine eyes and expertise. The pieces of leather are flat after cutting, but soon take the shape of the part of the foot they will hold. The curvature is obtained by using machinery that combines pressure and temperature.

Stitching takes place next. The different pieces that will form the upper unite meticulously. “One single upper can be made of 12 different materials,” reveals one of the production managers who took us through the production lines. The artisans focus on their sewing machines with intensity as each stitch is a matter of millimeters, especially with Louboutin’s complex designs.

A red sole acts as a declaration and Louboutin’s signature. Interestingly, this color is obtained not by tanning, but with a secret lacquering process. “This complicates the process quite a bit,” the production manager shares. The soles arrive to the factory from a different production facility and, to avoid scratches, they are protected by a transparent film. It is only removed before when the shoes are boxed.

One artisan spreads a special mix of cork and glue onto the interior of the sole before it’s joined to the insole and upper; this padding will make the shoe much more comfortable. This (also secret) blend is kept inside a yellow tin with the logo of a very famous French champagne house. We asked if the blend includes chopped champagne corks, but the Louboutin staff simply smiled without an answer. The phase of sewing the sole consists of making several tiny passes—also rather complex. The hands of the artisans seamlessly switch from cutters to brushes, from cogwheels to wax sticks. Their elegance recalls that of a skilled classical musician.

As soon as the shoes are fully assembled, it’s time to polish. Leather is carefully and repeatedly caressed with pure cotton cloths for almost one hour, using French polish and other potions. Alligator leather, however, comes to the Louboutin factory in white (these blank skins are called “crust”) and it’s not dyed until the shoe is complete. As a final step, the artisans imbue a cloth with the color and literally paint the white upper, very rapidly and with extreme precision. This process guarantees deep and intense shades of color, since the pigments have never been warmed up or even touched during production.

Before leaving the factory, the shoes are inspected and all the edges painted tone-on-tone with a marker, making the shoe sharp and visually uniform—the process comes full circle with more drawing. It’s a gesture that truly feels like a signature by the team of these Neapolitan artisans—and a bond with Paris and the creativity of Christian Louboutin.