Insiders | Chanel Metiers D’Arts – Massaro
— April 20, 2011 —
The Insiders is a column written by Kin Woo, presenting integral, but often hidden figures within the fashion industry
Photography by Alfredo PiolaIf haute couture is seen as the ultimate in self-indulgence; then a couture shoe, conceived in intimate collaboration between client and artisan, must represent the ultimate fetish. In a tiny jewel of an atelier on Rue de la Paix, a few steps away from the Chanel flagship on Rue Cambon is the house of Massaro, the custom shoe-makers which make up one of the seven ateliers that Chanel purchased in 2002, as part of Paraffection. Remarkably, the atelier is the same one that Massaro built back in 1894, to supply boots, mules, pumps and court shoes to its patrons which over the years have boasted the likes of Mona Bismark, Elizabeth Taylor, the Duchess of Windsor right the way through to Daphne Guinness (who, on the day of our visit, has two pairs of her trademark heelless shoes awaiting final touches.) And while the house’s owner, the third-generation cobbler, Raymond Massaro has worked with couture greats such as Mugler, Lacroix and Galliano; it was his work with Coco Chanel in creating the iconic two-tone pump that established his credentials and which remains a bestseller to this day. Following Massaro’s retirement in 2008, he anointed as general director, Phillippe Atienza who has introduced a men’s ready-to-wear line and talks enthusiastically about the future of the company, “We will continue to maintain our relationship with top luxury brands like Chanel but at the same time, keep striving for our atelier to become more and more creative.”
We meet head of atelier, Tom Chardin whose years of experience belie his young age and voluble, chatty manner. Eager to show us the steps to make a couture shoe, we are led through the maze of different departments of the workshop. The process of custom work has remained unchanged for 115 – starting off with sculpting a beechwood form for the client, from which a sample is made out of pieces of scrap leather before a definitive pattern is agreed on between client and cobbler. “Massaro remembered every client’s size and preference”, marvels Chardin – no mean feat when you consider that over 10,000 individual wooden lasts are stored in the cellar of the atelier. It can take more than three fittings and over 40 hours of work to create one shoe, echoing Karl Lagerfeld’s own sentiments that “a really well made shoe is the path to luxury.” The intricate detailing on the ornate carved heels of Chanel’s 2009 Paris-Shanghai collection – made to resemble Chinese furniture – presented a challenge to the team, but as Chardin tells me with a conspiratorial wink, “Anything is possible.” Indeed whether working with exotic fabrics and the finest, rarest skins (crocodile, alligator or stingray), to constructing a thigh-high boot that ends in trousers, no flight of fancy seems impossible for these indefatigable craftsmen. Chardin enthuses about his time working with Massaro – “From him I learnt how to always keep pushing myself to be the best and how much I love to continue making things with my hands.” Massaro may be gone, but the fairytale and romance of his shoes continues.
AnOther's next Chanel Metiers D'Arts instalment will be posted next Wednesday.
Special thanks to Marilyn Smith
See more of Insiders here and Menswear Insiders here.