Clothing Stories: Cobblers For Your Soul

To combat buzz words like “disposable,” “over-consumption,” “speed,” we have the Slow Movement, which advocates, well…slowing down! By focusing on process rather than product alone, on quality of life, and on an awareness of how we consume, the Slow Movement helps create an alternative to our more common disposable-obsessed, over consuming culture. The Slow Movement is as much a philosophy as it is a lifestyle and people dedicated to living a slow lifestyle are living their philosophy. While most people associate the Slow Movement with food, it’s also prevalent in fashion and always has been. Mending, using traditional production techniques, as well as recycling clothes, are all key to slow fashion.

20111215-150822.jpg

Even grandma’s embroidery hoops can be transformed into a fashion accessory! VOILA! SLOW FASHION!

In this age of shoe obsession it seems like quantity reigns supreme. With buy-one-get-one-free PVC leather shoes and boots and other quantity not quality options, cobblers have gradually been overlooked. But with the rise in popularity of various Slow Movements these skilled tradesmen are making a comeback!

20111215-124856.jpg

Yes. I will repair your shoes! Daniel Day Lewis is also a skilled cobbler. Truth.

To get the most out of your cobbler experience, there are certain things you do need to know. First of all, check to see what your shoe is made of. If the shoe is leather and the foot is small, then it can be stretched about a ½ to one full size. With the upper portion of a shoe and with boots, there is more flexibility and more room for adjustments. If you have larger calves like I do, you know the woes of trying to find beautiful leather boots. Happily, your cobbler can put an extra panel of stretch fabric into the top of the boot to allow it to fit over your muscular Adonis calves!

20111215-143136.jpg

Arnold must have had a hell of a time finding leather knee high boots that fit.

Ottawa is a fairly small city and has a reputation for being quiet and dull. People seem to be perpetually complaining about finding clothing and good shopping places. But the key to living here is being resourceful and asking for recommendations. Tony was my cobbler and I always recommended him.

20111215-143354.jpg

Tony outside his shop

He retired in his 70s after a long and fruitful career as a cobbler and leather repair man. Tony originally learned how to make shoes in Milan Italy at age 14 before immigrating to Canada and setting up shop just down the road from my old office. He took over an old apothecary to set up his shoe repair shop who’s interior was made entirely of dark stained wood. One wall held rows and rows of shelves filled only with shoe boxes. Some of the shoe boxes themselves had been there since tony first set up shop.The boxes functioned as a sort of shoe library and each one had a paper tag with a number.

When you arrived at the shop Tony would take your shoes, sign them into their box, and give you a slip with your information written on it. In his thick Italian accent he would give you the prognosis: “Your shoes are in desperate need of a new sole,” or a simple “These are-a no good”.

20111215-144505.jpg

This is Tony’s high tech business organization. Note the beginning of the Shoebox Library to the right.

I began going to Tony over one specific pair of boots. I acquired these boots from a co-worker of mine who came in one day and announced “I got these at Value Village on their half price day!” Unfortunately, she bought them thinking she could cram her foot into a boot that was a size and a half too small. Since she’s not into foot binding, she realized that they just wouldn’t work. And THAT is how I inherited a pair of brick brown calf skin leather riding boots, with wooden heels and small gold fasteners.

The boots were not without their problems. When I brought them in to Tony he looked at them, with their cracked heel, and broken zipper, shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said “Eh! I make them better than new!” Sure enough he did. He repaired the chipped heel, put in new zippers, new stretch panels, and polished them to look better than new. Finally, he said that that the shoes were altogether too slippery and dangerous so he put in a thin rubber tread on the front.

20111215-145541.jpg

On your left are the brick brown boots, on your right are my cowboy boots (and my mom’s dress that she made by hand in the 1970s… but that is a different story)

Tony has fixed cowboy boots for me, he’s repaired zippers, and has replaced countless heels. A friend of mine does 19th Century war re-enactments and Tony fixed his antique shoes using the specific techniques that would have been available at the time the shoes were made, keeping with the required authenticity.

Over the course of 2 years Tony has fixed roughly 10 different pairs of shoes for me. At one point I brought in a pair of women’s heels. The heel of the stiletto had disintegrated, leaving only a metal nub. When I brought them in Tony smiled with approval. Proud of me for getting them fixed instead of throwing them away, he launched into his philosophy about life and shoes.

In his opinion the problem with people these days is that they don’t even bother getting good things. They don’t bother fixing what they have. Everything is disposable and gets thrown away. And that is why he likes fixing shoes, he’s proving people wrong, and fighting against the demon of “disposable.”

20111215-145838.jpg

A heel down to the metal nub: completely replaceable

So in his own way, Tony was perpetuating an art form that has been lost to many people. The cobbler’s trade is slower and more time consuming, but it’s a trade that carries with it a certain nobility, not only in showing resourcefulness in extending the use of an object, but also in maintaining beauty. Tony Caracciolo‘s retirement has brought an end to a cobbling era in Ottawa.

About olexpruchnicky

The biggest problem in my life is trying to decide on one particular area, one particular part of life to focus on, to totally immerse myself in. So I've decided not to fight it, and like a whole lot of everything. I become interested when there is creativity, innovation, a bit of controversy, and a deep passion. A little bit of the random crazy and more than anything something that will raise or furrow my brow. Lines on my forehead... worth it. I work in politics, visual arts, music, and photography.

2 comments

  1. I’m really excited about this post because I’ve been thinking about cobblers and bespoke shoemakers a lot this year.

    In the major city where I live (in Texas), there’s been a dearth of cobblers in the last few years and I am in the process of trying to find someone to repair/update a few of my nicer/vintage pairs of shoes and boots.

    This piece is nicely done. Great survey on the subject. (Your peewee cowboy boots rock, btw!)

  2. What a great story! It really is a shame that people like Tony, who have such wonderful skill to fix almost every possible problem, are pushed away from their business by cheap chain stores. People rather buy a cheap but brand new pair of shoes (with a life span of less than two seasons) than pay the same price to have their old boots fixed up.

    The things in your wardrobe keep stacking up and you are definitely facing a day when you need to throw all this away, because you are not using it anyway!

    I have many local family-owned businesses where I regularly buy/repair my things. You know they make sure the quality is top and you get a friendly chat at the same time.

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: