June 19, 2007 / 11:34 PM / 12 years ago

Shoemaking craft lives on in Paris, $4,000 a pair

PARIS (Reuters) - For 60 years, Raymond Massaro has been living and breathing fashion.

A worker inspects a shoe at the Massaro shoemaker workshop in Paris in this June 7, 2007 file photo. Carrying on a family business started 114 years ago by his grandfather, the 78 year-old Parisian Raymond Massaro has been making shoes for the rich and famous, and collaborating with the prestigious fashion house Chanel. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen/Files

Carrying on a business started by his grandfather 114 years ago, the Parisian makes shoes for the rich and famous, as well as for fashion house Chanel.

Massaro, whose shoes fetch 3,000 euros ($4,000) a pair, takes pride in the traditions of his craft, even using the old pedal-operated sewing machines from his father’s era.

“Why am I still doing this? It’s not a question of money,” said Massaro, 78. “It’s a question of passion.”

But it hasn’t always been that way.

“When I was young, I didn’t want to be a shoemaker,” he said. “My father was a shoemaker, his three brothers were shoemakers and my grandfather was a shoemaker, I wanted to do something else. My father made me become a shoemaker, but I thank him every morning.”

Massaro had hoped to be a professor of French or history.

“But I am doing a kind of history. I’ve reconstructed the shoes of Napoleon. I’ve redone the shoes of Louis XIV and I’ve made a mould for Pope John Paul II. It’s a little bit of history. I do it my way.”

Massaro has maintained the standards that came before him.

“Everything is hand made,” he said, smoothing out the wrinkles of his white laboratory coat. “A shoemaker’s work is to achieve perfection.”

“We are really craftsmen. The business is only 10 people. Everything is done here,” he said pointing to the backroom where the workshop is located.

“The head of the workshop has been with us more than 30 years. Once someone starts working here, they don’t leave. It’s the guarantee of good work. We’re a tight-knit team.”

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF FOOTWEAR

Massaro’s staff turn out about 1,500 pairs of shoes a year, 150 of which are for Chanel. But with such craftsmanship that his 3,000 regular clients believe the price is well worth it.

While Massaro has made shoes for the Kennedy family, Elizabeth Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor, he said his biggest challenge was understanding why someone was willing to spend such a large sum of money on footwear.

“I have to understand their psychology and ask myself why are they coming here? Is it for a personal reason or to be more comfortable? Is it for a night out or for something in particular? That’s the hardest part of my job — knowing how to approach the client.”

Once the customer decides on a style of shoe, an imprint of their foot is taken and a mould is made. Making the shoes takes about 40 hours, Massaro explained.

With racks of carefully crafted men’s and women’s shoes behind him, Massaro holds up the famous two-tone Chanel sandal, an icon of the fashion industry.

“It has been copied a million times,” he said. “My father and I worked with Coco Chanel to create this sandal about 50 years ago.”

The sandal’s unique cut and use of color breathed life into an era when most women wore grey, Massaro said.

CREATIVE INSPIRATION

With no son to take over the family firm from him, Massaro has sold his company to the privately owned Chanel, ensuring his craft will continue beyond his long overdue retirement.

“If one day I retire, the business will still exist. This office will still exist,” he said, explaining that his father worked out of the space and that he had many memories there.

“Right now we are preparing this season’s collection to present at the beginning of July. Each year we make a new collection for Chanel, and we consult with (Chanel designer) Karl Lagerfeld.

“This is our 25th year working with Karl. He’s a workaholic and a genius who inspires us. He’s renovated Chanel, while keeping their look. I admire him greatly.”

Slideshow (7 Images)

Motioning excitedly at a beige pump with a jewel ball wrapped around the heel, he explains it was made for Marlene Dietrich.

Opening a case containing several pairs of shoes, he pauses, holding up a pair of elegant satin pumps he made for Barbara Hilton.

“All my shoes are my children,” he smiles. “I love them all.”

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