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The Parisian Shoemaker Behind Chanel's Spectacular Footwear

Picture of India Doyle
Updated: 13 March 2018
Forget Dior and I, The September Issue or Valentino: The Last Emperor, if there’s a fashion documentary you should be watching in 2018 it’s this: Culture Trip goes inside Chanel’s footwear atelier, Massaro, to discover shoemaker’s rich history, design process and the power of preserving a legacy.

Even the most untrained eye can pluck out a Chanel two-toned pump from the crowd, such is the iconic nature of the French brand’s shoe. While most of the house’s genius can be attributed to either the original founder Coco Chanel or her successor and current creative director Karl Lagerfeld, there is a third and lesser known player behind Chanel footwear: Massaro.

Founded in 1894, the bespoke Parisian shoemaker has created myriad pieces for a range of clients, although Chanel is one of the longest-standing relationships – joining the Chanel brand in 2002. The house became renowned for creating one-off pieces as well as on-trend capsule collections, and made shoes for major Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and French politicians including the former Prime Minister René Coty.

Almost 50 years into her career as a fashion pioneer and with an established, thriving business to her name, it was in 1957 that Gabrielle Chanel came to Massaro with a request for new kind of shoe. The agreed design was provocative and unexpected, going against the 6-cm heel of the moment. Originally made from beige calfskin and a satin toe-cap, the first Massaro model for Chanel laid the basis for one of the most famous designs in fashion. Few luxury labels have expanded and created such a strong visual language as Chanel, who in creating this new shoe moved beyond logos to establish an easily recognisable aesthetic canon. Preserving the quality and continuing to innovate within an established lexicon is not only testament to Karl Lagerfeld’s vision, but to Massaro who have continued to uphold the original values of design in a modern era.

In today’s fashion which features fast, transient production and style, the continued precision and focus with which the Massaro team works with is notable. The production of a single pair of shoes can take between 30 and 50 hours, depending on whether it is men’s or women’s footwear. Put together in stages, each process has its own rich heritage with the practices carefully preserved throughout the generations of makers. Starting with the Last-Maker, the creation moves through five main stages before becoming one whole shoe. As such, each pair embodies a narrative and sense of community, the final result of hours of teamwork and shared knowledge.

Alongside designing for Chanel, the house continues to work on custom orders today. Naturally, bespoke orders for weddings are a regular occurrence, while Massaro’s orthopaedic department also proves a powerful draw for customers – who wouldn’t want a perfectly fitting shoe to make running around the city that much more comfortable, especially when the modern alternatives seem only to come in thick, undefined and squishy shapes.

Embrace a side of luxury design that often goes uncelebrated, and immerse yourself in the world of Massaro. And if you get really inspired, you can always learn how to make your own shoes here.