Bespoke shoes, Italian-style, made in China
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.