Inside the Louis Vuitton shoemaking headquarters in Fiesso d'Artico, Italy, there's now a change in the leather-infused air. It's here, on the unassuming banks of the Riviera del Brenta, about 30 kilometres from Venice, that every pair of Vuitton shoes is conceived and made.
Designed by architect Jean-Marc Sandrolini to replicate the shape of a shoebox, the massive space is a hive of activity as staff dart in and out of rooms housing enormous, whirring machinery. At one of the stations that dot the factory floor, a worker arranges a jigsaw of multi-coloured pieces of leather into what will soon become a unique pair of shoes designed to a client's precise specifications. This is the home of the Now Yours Run Away sneaker, LV's latest offering in bespoke luxury.
The rise of sneakers as expression of decadence and cult collectable can be attributed to various factors, from high-profile brands collaborating with streetwear labels to the increasing casualisation of dress codes. An example of just how serious the sneaker movement has become was seen at the most recent MICAM, Milan's legendary annual shoe fair, in February this year. The event typically favours more traditional leather footwear but a sneaker-focused area was trialled there for the first time. The fair's chief executive, Tommaso Cancellara, confessed the event "cannot ignore how important the sneaker industry has become for the whole shoe industry".
The Now Yours project ushers the sneaker even deeper into the inner circle of fashion's most elite statements. Using the classic Run Away silhouette as a base, sneaker-philes chasing the Holy Grail of one-of-a-kind shoes can devise a unique sneaker from scratch, right down to a colourway for the sole. For many clients, the journey begins in store, as they sit down to choose between the iconic LV initials or Damier prints, then from a multitude of colour options for each of the 13 individual parts that make up the upper and lower sections of the shoe.
But the process really starts in a small white office lined with wooden "feet" – known as "lasts" – just off the side of a particularly busy workroom. This is where Gigi, the 50-something master formier, works to design the invisible foot that every LV shoe will eventually grace. It's arguably the most important room in the entire building and, ironically, also one of the smallest.
Designing a sneaker whose production method mimics that of a classic leather shoe is one of the details that distinguish this project from other customisation offerings. It ensures that each shoe achieves a level of comfort available only in a bespoke pair. Sheets of brightly carved leather are cut both by hand and by laser, then moulded into the skeletal structure of each shoe. The most important goal? Comfort.
"The most difficult thing is to join style with comfort," an artisan at one of the work stations explains, while deftly cutting the shape of a side panel out of a piece of orange leather. In many ways, creating a Now Yours is even more complex than making an Oxford or brogue, thanks to the variety of materials and number of pieces that go into the final model. The price for such a personalised item? From $1810 for your standard, down-the-line design to an eye-watering $12,800 for a creation featuring more top-end materials.
The good news is, no one else on the planet is likely to own the same shoes as you. There are about 1 billion permutations of the Now Yours sneaker, with 300 different colour combinations for the outsole, 11 different styles of laces, four styles of canvas, and three options of material for the upper sections of the shoe (including canvas, calf and exotic leathers). These pieces pass through a staggering 30 pairs of hands over 29 individual steps.
The last station on our tour is a small table covered in crisp white tissue paper. On it sits a pair of finished Now Yours sneakers ready to be sent to their eagerly awaiting owner. With the precision of a surgeon, the attendant wraps each shoe and places it into the brand's signature saffron-coloured box. It's the final flourish in a process that preserves the oldest traditions of shoemaking while encouraging new methods of craftsmanship, and delivers one-of-a-kind luxury to a new audience: sneakerheads.
The writer travelled to Venice with Louis Vuitton.