Bespoke shoes, Ital­ian-style, made in China

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE - By GAN TIAN gan­tian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

An ea­ger young woman is stand­ing on a piece of white pa­per in her bare feet. Gian­luigi Colombo is on his knees next to her, star­ing and mut­ter­ing. His as­sis­tant, also kneel­ing, is draw­ing on a piece of pa­per and tak­ing notes.

Colombo, 69, is a shoe­maker from Italy and he now works in Chengdu where he has been re­tained by lo­cal shoe brand Sheme, founded in 2009.

When Sheme opened its Bei­jing bou­tique at the World Trade Cen­ter Tower 3, Colombo flew in spe­cially to give clients that made-to-mea­sure spe­cial ser­vice.

The room is quiet and cozy, and shoes from Sheme are the ma­jor high­lights in the space. Out­side, dozens of well­dressed ladies are pa­tiently wait­ing their turn to be mea­sured.

“It usu­ally takes more than 30 to 40 min­utes to mea­sure a client’s feet,” Colombo says, and to­day, he will be look­ing at more than 60 pairs of feet.

He has to be metic­u­lous, he says, be­cause clients may have a big­ger foot and a smaller one. The dif­fer­ence is so slight that they may not even re­al­ize it them­selves, so he has to make sure that ev­ery cast he makes is “per­sonal”.

The shoe mas­ter also mea­sures the calves and the curve of the an­kles, be­cause some­times he will make boots for his client.

When he is done with the mea­sure­ments, the data will go into the com­puter, and Colombo will make a wooden cast and for fu­ture or­ders, his clients can have shoes made to fit ex­actly.

Mag­gie Zhang, Sheme’s man­ager, says it is the “haute couture” ap­proach in shoe­mak­ing in­dus­try.

“When we are talk­ing about ‘haute couture’, it is usu­ally about clothes. But with shoes, we seem to take it for granted that we have to buy them di­rect from the shops.

“When we in­vited Colombo to join our com­pany, we wanted to in­tro­duce this bespoke ser­vice to China.”

Zhang, who lived in Switzer­land for sev­eral years, joined Sheme not long ago. While she was fa­mil­iar with “haute couture” shoe­mak­ing abroad, she had yet to see it at home, and she is pos­i­tive it will take off.

Colombo is now based in Chengdu, Sichuan prov­ince’s cap­i­tal, where Sheme had opened its first bou­tique. Al­though he has worked with many A-list fash­ion brands in­clud­ing Chanel and Bally, he en­joys work­ing in China very much.

He says the most mem­o­rable pair of shoes he has ever mea­sured be­longs to Jin Xing, the fa­mous dancer and chore­og­ra­pher.

“She is a size 39, which is very rare among our cus­tomers. At the same time, be­cause she dances a lot, her bones are very big, and there are many old in­juries, so we have to be very care­ful,” Colombo re­calls.

Jin had cho­sen a pair of sim­ple high-heels with a bam­boo pat­tern, shoes spe­cially de­signed for her.

Though “haute couture” shoe­mak­ing is just at its in­fancy here, Colombo be­lieves more Chi­nese cus­tomers will spend money on it, and he wants to make sure he can in­tro­duce the pro­fes­sional bench­marks here.

Chi­nese ele­ments are high­lighted in Sheme’s shoes, like this one with a bam­boo pat­tern.

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