A winding staircase behind the heavy wooden door at très chic 2 rue de la Paix leads to a warren of small, cluttered rooms. The modest cobblers’ workshop behind the door that reads simply “Massaro” seems out of place amidst its glamorous Parisian neighbours. Yet the traditional artisans labouring here make footwear worn by celebs and world leaders, by VIPs and politicos. Supermodel Claudia Schiffer’s sexy stiletto pumps, former French president Jacques Chirac’s sturdy brogues, and the shoes of many other dignitaries all come from this nonpareil second-floor shop.
The Massaro family of Italian shoemakers started crafting handmade shoes in this atelier in 1894. The grey-haired, mustachioed, bespoke bootmaker Raymond Massaro carried on the family tradition from 1947 until he retired in 2008. The new director, Philippe Atienza, vows to continue the tradition of quality and style. Little will change, he says, as the shop will continue to produce fine footwear for private customers as well as for Chanel, which purchased the company in 2002.
This establishment is perhaps the world’s most exclusive shoe store, and it sells its products to a select clientele for a minimum of €3,000 a pair. In the shop, rows of footwear of all types line the wall-to-wall shelves. There are ladies and men’s shoes, boots, slippers, dress and sport shoes, some outrageous, most conservative.
Clients come from Europe, the United States, Morocco, the Middle East, Asia—all over the world. Massaro’s customers have included numerous “personalities”, although he is coy about who they are. (Photos hanging on the wall give some clients away—Naomi Campbell, French rock star Johnny Hallyday, and other luminaries.)
As well as designing for private customers, Massaro has made shoes for Chanel for more than 50 years; the relationship goes back to when Raymond Massaro’s father worked with Coco. Massaro himself has worked with Karl Lagerfeld, who is also a loyal customer of the shop, for more than 25 years, making new collections for the legendary designer each season. “Personally, I am for impeccable shoes, so having the opportunity to work with the Massaro House for haute couture allows us to do very, very refined shoes,” says Lagerfeld.
The shop’s methods have changed little over the past century, and Massaro takes pride in the traditions of his craft. The company sees clients only by appointment, which must be booked 10 days in advance. The average customer spends about an hour in the shop getting measured and picking out the style and material. The first step, once the customer has decided on a style of shoe, is to take the measurement and an imprint of their foot. Employees then sculpt lasts, wooden models of the clients’ feet.
While Massaro’s father had 300 regular customers, the shop now has about 3,000. And yet they make fewer shoes than he did. Material and workmanship are important, as all shoes are handmade, with all the work done in this shop by 10 craftsmen. It takes about 40 hours of patient labour to make a pair of Massaro shoes. Customers need two or three fittings, and sometimes the shop makes several pairs until they get it right. The process normally takes five weeks.
Fashion has changed considerably during the past half century. Once, aesthetics determined the choice of footwear. Now, comfort comes first. This change has come about over the past 20 years as people have become more practical, a shop spokesman says. Most shoes are made from leather: baby calf, suede, tweed, and kid (especially popular because it is so soft). More exotic materials include ostrich, lizard, crocodile, Brazilian toad, shark, and python.
Customers sometimes bring in their own designs, or they can pick models from shoes on display. The shop makes a lot of moccasins, and boots are also popular now. “Men’s styles change more slowly. They are static,” says Massaro, pointing out a pair of British-style brogues.
Customers buying a pair of Massaro shoes want something that will last. The company has had some customers come back who have had their shoes for 20 years. When clients leave Massaro and head down the winding stairs, they are certain they are stepping out in the world’s finest footwear.