RUPERT SANDERSON

RUPERT SANDERSON

THE TRIP TO ITALY

Shoe designer Rupert Sanderson remembers an inspirational visit to “The Boot.”

Sandals at Florence’s leather market, photograph by Emily Pearce

I traveled to Italy for the first time in 1999, at the tender age of 33, when I was enrolled in a two-year shoemaking course at a technical college in East London.

I made plans to ride my friend’s Triumph Thunderbird motorbike through the northern cities — Milan, Parabiago, Bologna, Florence, Santa Croce, Arezzo, and Vermezzo — to see factories, specialists, and tanneries… pretty much as many people, places, and things associated with shoes [as possible].

An Italian classmate helped me create an itinerary using a way out-of-date directory of factories I found in the college library. He contacted the factories on my behalf, so I just assumed they were waiting for me, but it turned out that none of them actually expected me to visit.

Leather drying at a Tuscan tannery

Looking back, the arrangements were sketchy, but each place was very welcoming.

It took about a month to hit all the stops — including the most extraordinary concert of my life, Tom Waits, whose performance at an opera house in Florence blew me away.

Gaining a technical understanding of the vivid and visceral process that real shoemakers practice helped me realize my dream of becoming a designer that creates, rather than simply designs.

It was a life-changing trip.

— as told to The Thick

Did you see? Stylist Deborah Afshani gets “the call” from Vogue Italia’s Franca Sozzani, model David Alexander Flinn takes The Thick Questionnaire.

An Italian cobbler at work, photograph by Jorge Royan