When you think of high-quality, high-end shoes for men, you think of shoes made in England or Italy, thanks in part to brands such as Alfred Sargent, Trickers, Loakes, Santoni and Bontoni. French brands don’t get that much mindshare, even though the French shoemakers hold their own against their European peers.
The venerable John Lobb brand is owned by Hermes, but there is more to French shoes than Lobb. J. M. Weston, for instance makes great loafers and is preferred shoe of choice for many French politicians. There is Berluti, the Bentley of shoes, that has its roots both in Italy and France. There is Marc Guyot, an artist among shoemakers. Other names Aubercy, another high-end bookmaker. However, I have been a big fan of the creations of Pierre Corthay, who along with his brother Christophe head up his Paris-based shoe company, Corthay.
I was first introduced to Corthay’s by Steven Taffel the owner of arguably what is the best men’s shoe store in the United States – Leffot. Every time I visit New York, I spend time at Leffot, just to study shoes. I know… some people have stamps, cars, paintings and I have shoes. I guess it is because I have flat feet and odd shaped feet that makes buying a shoe that fits well into an ordeal. I have had to learn a lot about shoes in the process and still am learning. Regardless, I was drawn to Corthay shoes, like a moth is to flame. They are colorful. They are handsome and yet light. But most importantly, they are for folks who have normal feet (aka not me.) They are narrower in shape as most European shoes tend to be.
In the beginning
Pierre trained at both John Lobb and Berluti before striking out on his own in 1990. He was making shoes for French luxe-brand Lanvin and in 1995, an article by Suzy Menkes in the International Herald Tribune led to an order of 150 pairs from Sultan of Brunei. And with that Pierre was on his way. With stores in London Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai and Paris, the company has come a long way. And yet they are not as well known as say some of the more commercial brands owned by fashion giants such as LVMH.
That said, they are no cheaper than any of those fashion brands. The prices will most certainly give you a 220-volt sticker shock. Of course, they do prove the dictum, best things in life are not cheap. Their shoes are simply sublime. From the choice of leather, to the colors to the stitching, Corthay for me are an elite and a real aspirational brand. Not because some magazine says so, but because they just make great shoes and treat each pair like a work of art. Corthay shoes are simply a class apart.
Last month when I was in Paris and needed a break from the tech-world, I walked over to Maison Corthay on rue Volney, which is what we would call a side street here in San Francisco. You would miss the store if you were not looking hard enough for a small window with a shoe display. To enter the store you need to be buzzed in and that is when you enter the shoe wonderland.
The store is pretty small, especially by American standards. About the size of a living room, the space is divided into four room. You enter the shop and are greeted by the store manager – in my case a gentleman named Nasir. This is a small room for conducting business. To his left is small stock room full of shoes. The main shop is divided into two rooms: one reserved for their ready to wear line of shoes and another one for their bespoke products. That’s it. But the space is beautiful – a blend of colors and wood, a mix of tradition and modernism. Across the hall is a small (nee tiny) workshop where some of the bespoke magic happens. The company makes its ready-to-wear shoes somewhere else in Paris.
Instead of talking about the shoe store, here is a visual journey through Corthay’s Paris store.