History of made-to-measure footwear and the craftsmanship of the bootmaker

At Chamberlan, all of our bespoke shoes are made in our workshops by our specialized craftsmen. Shoes for every day or bridal shoes , Chamberlan creates the pair of shoes of your dreams.

It is difficult to imagine the number of operations required to manufacture a shoe. Whether it is from the reflection of the stylist or the designer until the placing in the store of the finished products, this process sees the intervention of a multitude of know-how as well as a close collaboration between the workshop and many suppliers. . The creation of a shoe is done in several steps that we will present to you in this article, but before, we will present the history of the shoe.

How was leather tanning invented?

Between 5000 BC and the Christian era, the tannery took off rapidly. In Egypt, the use of scrapers and knives is widespread. Tanners also know how to exploit certain tanning fruits such as acacia drops for example as well as alum (aluminum) salts. The first leathers dyed with natural vegetable dyes appeared.

In Assyria, the practice of tanning is known. In Pergamum, the first parchments appear, they are composed of dry and untanned skin, the importance of which is well known since they will serve as the first support for writing.

In antiquity, shoes could be classified into two species: those which consisted of a sole connected to the foot by links and those which completely covered the foot, as do modern shoes.

In China, mineral salts have been used for several millennia when, for their part, the American Indians were probably the first to know how to use the brains and fat of certain animals, including deer and fallow deer, as a tanning agent. From this very soft leather they make their famous moccasin.

The first Greeks used acacia bark and gall nuts which is a plant growth very rich in tannin and which is due to the bite of an oak parasitic insect. He made helmet visors and covered their shields with leather. Homer sells the quality of the boots and Hesiod advises the use of leather shoes stuffed inside.

However, although justly famous, the Greeks could never match the Romans. The Romans obtained excellent leathers, whose reputation was worldwide. They are the first to tan on a large scale; they use the barks, the leaves of sumac and the alum. They already know how to use round vats and certain instruments, traces of which can be found in several excavations.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, part of the leather manufacturing techniques disappeared. Only the Byzantines and the Arabs kept their traditions, and it was precisely in Turkey and North Africa that the tannery industry reappeared, between the 5th and 8th centuries. Red leathers are then made from vegetable tanning materials and white leathers from alum. These techniques will reappear little by little at the beginning of the Middle Ages, in southern Europe.

Around 1100, the first corporations of workshops working leather were born, grouped according to their type of activity:

  • Those tanning with bark, in particular of oak, called tan, take the name of tanners.
  • Those working the skins (mainly of sheep and goats) with alum, the mixture of which with ashes is called mégis , take the name of tanners.
  • A third corporation was created, bringing together the workshops that worked the leathers after tanning to soften them, coat them with grease and flatten them. This corporation takes the name of currier; the word would find its origin in the Latin name coriarius , meaning “leather worker”.
Leather tanning

What were shoes like in ancient Greece?

Greek shoes were most often military shoes leaving the toes completely free: a simple sole fixed by a single link going around the instep, such were the solo (Roman soldier’s sandal), the crepido, the sandalia , on the contrary, the calculations , the pero , cothurne, etc., were of full leather.

The coarse boots of the Franks and Gauls were succeeded by the elegant Gallo-Roman boots, which the Crusaders changed to the hooked slippers of the Orientals. From there, derive the famous poulaine shoes.

shoe history

What were shoes like during the Renaissance?

History of the shoe

Towards the end of the 15th century, the so-called bear-foot, horse-foot, cane-beak, flat and camus shoes were adopted. Under Henri III appeared the long forms; under Henri IV, square ends. Shoes and boots never had heels.

The heel adorns the shoes of the 16th century and very quickly we arrive at the excess of the genre, of which the arched shoes of Louis XIV give us examples. Towards the end of the reign of Louis XV we return to flat shoes, an English fashion, followed only by courtiers. We keep the fashions of the 18th century under Napoleon I, but the military influence made that the men booted themselves more than reason. This was the case until the Restoration, when the uncovered shoe with an English heel regained the advantage.

How has the tanning of leather for footwear evolved over the centuries?

During the Renaissance, the tannery underwent a great revival in Spain, particularly in Cordoba, Granada and Barcelona, in Italy with the schools of Venice and Florence which honored the manufacture of golden and silver leather.

In France, mainly in Châteaudun, Orléans, Paris and in the Lyon region, the leather trades took on considerable importance and the profession was very prosperous in the 16th and 17th centuries.

However, the transformation processes remain empirical, and the tools rudimentary (scrapers, knives, etc.). In France, the number of tanning workshops is estimated at around 5,000, employing 30,000 to 40,000 people. Each city or town then had one or more tan mills attached to a tannery. Around 1710, Colbert commissioned a census which was to be the origin of the establishment by Louis XV of professional statutes around 1734.

Between 1762 and 1764, de Lalande had his work “L’Art du Tanneur” published. Diderot’s encyclopedia evokes the profession from 1790 in his encyclopedia.

At that time, leather was mainly used for footwear, bookbinding and for horses.

In the 18th century The Revolution, which needed leather for the armies of the North and which could only note the slowness of the manufacture of leather (about 18 months), asked Mr. Seguin, a renowned chemist to find a faster method. . He thus developed a process by extraction of the tannin contained in the bark, the first of its kind. But the leathers produced are of poor quality and Seguin barely saves his head. It is only a century later that the extraction processes will be perfectly mastered!

Some chronicles dating from 1793 recount attempts at tanning human skin which, of course, had no follow-up, although the thing caused a sensation at the time.

In the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, chrome tanning was discovered in 1850 by the German chemist Knapp, but it was not applied until 1883, according to the experience of the American chemist A. Schulz. His discovery served as the basis for chrome tanning. The industrial development of tanning with trivalent chromium sulphate enabled the development of an industry considered strategic, in the very first half of the 20th century.

The first vegetable tanning extracts were industrially produced in France from 1870.

The first machines to facilitate work appeared between 1880 and 1890.

At the start of the 20th century, the French leather industry was considered the third largest industry, after metallurgy and textiles.

In 1905, the tannery alone brought together nearly 1,500 companies employing 25 to 30,000 people. It should be noted that raw skins have been purchased since 1859 at public auctions, whose statutes are still in effect. Between 1910 and 1945, there were certainly technical improvements and the creation of new machines, but progress was very limited. The manufacturing cycle remains long, from 6 to 18 months, and the tanners must have a lot of capital to build up the essential stocks.

From 1950, modern processes associated with machines gradually supplanted the old methods with the corollary of an increase in productivity and the diversity of the leathers produced. Great upheavals intervene which completely modify the traditional aspect of the companies. Abandoning the artisanal sector, the majority of companies actually integrate the industrial sector, characterized by large production volumes, perfectly adapted machines and better and better controlled processes.

The development of chemistry allows the use of new processes and to obtain an increasingly wide range of leathers. The leather industry thus took advantage of the appearance of synthetic polymers to develop finishing techniques. It can then follow fashion and provide leathers with increasingly varied aspects:

  • Natural,
  • Wax
  • Modern with iridescent reflections
  • Metallics
  • Pearly

We also tan new types of skins:

  • reptiles
  • Birds
  • Pisces.

Parallel to the development of chemistry (tannins, dyes, polymers), it is necessary to announce the considerable progress made in the material of tannery. The industrial era is revolutionizing this “craft”. Tanning which was static, in the pit, becomes dynamic and much faster with the appearance of the fuller (large horizontal cylinder rotating on its axis).

At the same time, consideration of the environment intensified, particularly from the 1970s.

In a few decades, the age-old preponderance of vegetable tanning diminished and, for leather uppers (shoe uppers) for example, the new chrome tanning method almost completely replaced the old process.

The uses of leather are changing, with in particular the sharp reduction in leather for industrial use (belts, gaskets, etc.). The French tannery specializes in the manufacture of leather for shoe uppers and no longer just sole leather, then more recently (from the 1980s) has turned towards the manufacture of leather for leather goods, mainly high-end.

What are the different parts that make up the shoe?

The shoe is made up of different parts. A shoe consists of three main parts: The upper, the sole and the heel.

The stem is formed by:

  • The vamp, sometimes called vamp
  • The stem proper or quarter.
  • The end

At the end of the vamp is the toe at the other end, we notice the heel piece, which connects the vamp and the upper. The end is reported by sewing. In some shoes, the edge of the quarter is reinforced with the guarantor, which is intended to hold the eyelets.

The inside of the upper is lined with a good quality canvas. On the lining, the borders are fixed: the under-guarantor, the top of the rod which is sometimes ornamented, the slide.

It is on the top of the stem that the mark of origin or factory is printed. A tongue, stitched to the slap, is used to protect the stocking or the sock and to prevent it from appearing, either through the eyelets, or by the imperfect junction of the two sides of the cork.

French shoe manufacturing

What conditions must a comfortable and rational shoe meet?

It must be wide enough not to make the foot bear painful pressure and be flexible enough to lend itself to deformations of the foot during walking.

Bespoke shoes are those that are made by hand. They fit each individual, according to their particular measurements, taking into account, if necessary, the deformations of the foot. The shoemaking of the made-to-measure shoe has not been modified by progress, as far as its attributions are concerned. The creation of made-to-measure shoes remains very common for special occasions such as weddings. At Chamberlan we specialize in comfortable bridal shoes and bespoke wedding shoes.

How are made-to-measure shoes made?