Innovation by Italy's young shoemakers

Luminosity Italia

To the discerning, Italy is not only a boot, but also a luxury shoe. Today the country produces 30 percent of the finest shoes in the world, with brands well-known to the well-heeled and some that have become famous as the preferred choice of the renowned and even infamous.

Tycoons, presidents and stars often strut their stuff in Italian shoes, finding talking common points over which Italian footwear maestro is truly the best. But in some ways the modern Italian shoemaking tradition did start with a boot. After Napoleon's forces captured Milan in 1796, the little general needed his cavalry boots replaced.
Handmade Italian elevator shoes
Italian footwear brand GuidoMaggi opened the world's first elevator shoe showroom on Dec. 1 in the historic Brera area of Milan.

Napoleon is said to have ordered a new pair from highly regarded Milanese shoemaker Anselmo Ronchetti, who measured the French emperor’s foot at a glance and 48 hours later delivered a brand new pair to Milan’s Palazzo Reale where the future emperor was resting. Bonaparte was so happy he paid Ronchetti 40 luigi and named him his official shoemaker.

That commitment to refined craftsmanship continued through the centuries and earned Italian shoemakers the reputation as the world's best. But now younger Italian artisans are adding their own touches to meet the needs of the modern world.

Unlike Napoleon, the vertically challenged of today don't need to conquer continents to compensate. They have a classy solution with Guido Maggi's elegant, intelligent shoes that use concealed lifts. Emanuele Briganti, founder and owner of Guido Maggi, discreetly adds up to more than 4 inches in height to men from 80 countries across the world, completing and enhancing their whole look.

Briganti, a former model, started making elevator shoes five years ago. His brand continues a prestigious family tradition that began with his great-grandfather Guido Maggi making shoes for the Savoia Royal House.

“When I was modeling, I could never get the catwalks I wanted due to my small stature. I know how it feels for a man,” he explains. “I used lift shoes I found on the market, but they didn't look cool. That's why I wanted to specialize in this niche market that lacked stylish shoes combining luxury with comfort. My shoes are really handmade one-by-one. Every pair has a unique story,” he says.

With more than 300 models of dress shoes, wingtips, boots and sandals, each comfy Guido Maggi pair is handcrafted by artisans in the Salento footwear district of Lecce, Puglia. “We give customers shoes that are custom-made for them and our designers are constantly engage in research and tap into creativity as design evolves,” Briganti says.

Guido Maggi has found his business elevated to the point he opened a new boutique in the exclusive Brera district of Milan on Dec. 1.

Another modern take on tradition is offered by by DIS (Design Italian Shoes), a startup from Recanati in Le Marche, where artisanal meets high-tech through innovative software. DIS allows consumers from around the world to design their own high-quality Italian shoes built to order.

Software for shoe design
Software by startup DIS allows consumers from around the world to design their own high-quality Italian shoes built to order.

“Our mission is to democratize luxury footwear for the modern man and also respond to the challenge of sustainability,” says Francesco Carpineti, creative force and founder of DIS together with his brother Andrea and Michele Luconi. “We know the value of letting customers create their own unique pair of shoes that will be handcrafted by Le Marche shoemakers and sold at competitive prices,” he says.

Once the shoe is designed online by the client through a 3D configurator developed by Luconi, it takes local artisans four weeks to complete the order.

“An American businessman can connect to our website, choose from various styles such as moc, tassel, wingtip or squared toe, and be creative with his shoe's anatomy. We offer 50 million combinations based on a palette of 100 colors, details and types of leather,” Francesco says. DIS is also bringing its digital technology to retail stores and soon will extend it to women's high heels, themselves another truly Italian invention.

The first woman to wear high heel shoes was the amazing Caterina de' Medici from the famed Florentine family. One of the best-educated women of her time, she eventually became queen of France, but apparently felt her short stature did not do justice to her high status. To make a grand entrance on the occasion of her marriage in 1533, she commissioned a local artisan to make a pair of a spool heeled shoes that caused quite a stir at the royal wedding ceremony.

A symbol of femininity, stilettos hold a place in the hearts and wardrobes of women. The first examples were produced in Vigevano in 1953 and at Palazzo Spini Feroni in Florence, where Salvatore Ferragamo created the sexy 4-inch tacchi a spillo so perfectly reflective of Marilyn Monroe's persona they turn each woman into a diva.