Dec 7, 2008
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Hand-crafted Italian shoes kick financial crisis

Dec 7, 2008

ROME, Dec 7, 2008 (AFP) - If you have to ask, you can't afford it, and the well-heeled still go for hand-crafted Italian shoes, whatever the price, even in dire economic times.

Photo : Christophe Simon/AFP

Dal Co', with a list of illustrious past and present loyal clients including Rita Hayworth and Sofia Loren, has yet to see sales fall off, and its python and crocodile models find ready takers among the rich and famous.

"We're not really having any problems yet, even if the Americans who usually order from us might think twice now," said Silvia Petrucci Dal Co'.

In the heart of Rome's luxury shopping district, Petrucci Dal Co' welcomes her customers to a boutique where dozens of dream shoes share the limelight with models designed decades ago by her grandfather Alberto Dal Co', who founded the business as World War II was ending.

"In the 1960s and '70s, our clients were mainly from the world of entertainment or Cinecitta actresses like Sofia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Brigitte Bardot and Rita Hayworth," Petrucci Dal Co' told AFP.

"Over time the clientele has changed, and now we work for example for the wives of Greek shipping magnates, the Agnelli family or Princess Haya of Jordan," said the pretty, dark-haired woman of about 40.

"One of our most loyal customers is Nancy Kissinger," she said, referring to the wife of former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

Ordering her shoes by fax, "she takes only flats, which she also gives to her friends as Christmas presents," Petrucci Dal Co' said.

-- We don't have the craftsmen of the old days --


In the nearby workshop, time seems to stand still as six craftsmen ply their trade, meticulously cobbling the hand-sewn shoes amid rolls of leather and a jumble of heels, watched over by portraits of the late pope John Paul II and Alberto Dal Co'.

Every regular customer has a wooden or plastic last (foot form) stored in a small room nicknamed the "cemetery."

"Once a style has been chosen, we use the last to make a paper pattern, from which we cut the various pieces of leather," said one of the cobblers, Emilio.

"We build the shoes and the customer tries them, and if necessary we make alterations," he added.

"Customers are looking for the unique, for creativity, for something special that they won't see on other women's feet, like Chanels or Pradas," Petrucci Dal Co' said, adding that orders can be filled in five days.

Dal Co' creates about 30 new models each season, most carrying a woman's name such as Demetra, Nausicaa, Calliope or Amanda.

Other names are more surprising, such as the "Paparazzo" (1953) with spurs mounted on both the heel and toe "to use against intrusive photographers," according to the company's website.

For those who do have to ask, the starting price for a Dal Co' creation is 400 euros (500 dollars), Petrucci Dal Co' said.

"After that, it depends on the styles and the materials used, and the time it takes to create them. All of course is 100 percent Made in Italy."

The company currently has about 2,000 clients around the world, she said, while preferring not to give an idea of the family-run company's turnover.

If there is a crisis, it is not related to the collapse of the US mortgage market that brought down several US Wall Street titans in September and led to an abrupt economic slowdown and rising unemployment across Europe.

It is rather that the craft of making fine shoes is dying out, said Bruno, who began working at Dal Co' 17 years ago.

"We don't have the craftsmen of the old days, and hardly anyone is learning to do what we do anymore," he said, turning back to work on an exquisite pair of black suede boots.by Katia Dolmadjian

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