Corthay – Paris

Corthay, Paris: Among the world’s leading craft brands in menswear, there are countless personalities and unique perspectives, which all result in a common outcome, that being the creation of a product which is among the very best in a given niche.


There are those whose passion is heavily influenced by technical excellence, such as GianFrancesco Musella-Dembech of Musella Dembech in Milan. His commitment to understanding the elements which lead to perfecting the fit of a jacket, along with the technical details, (how to sew it) to ensure it moves the way it should, is a rare thing to see.


Then you have those like Salva’ at Ambrosi in Naples who is the embodiment of Italy’s well known love affair with style and this comes out in the trousers he that and his family make.

And then you have the artists. Those who are driven by an artistic passion which manifests itself through an unconventional medium, in this instance menswear. Interestingly, I’ve found this trait to be much more prolific among French makers than anywhere else. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise, given France’s historical and cultural love for art, as it so pervades their culture.


Jean-Francois Bardinon of Chapal is very much in the camp of “artist” and he has brought art to be a central theme of the Chapal brand. Steven Bonnet of Maison Bonnet (article coming soon) moves in a flurry, casting a critical eye over every glasses frame a client tries on, stepping back and questioning what’s before him, before rapidly diving back in and exchanging the frames for the next option which may better tell the story of the face of the individual before him. It’s all but identical to an artist studying a canvas, before applying another brush stroke.


Which brings us to Pierre Corthay of “Corthay”, Paris. Pierre is the very rare combination of two attributes which, when they come together, create something very unique; an individual who is passionately driven to create art, matched with the commitment of a craftsman.


Pierre began his shoe-making at 16 in a craft guild which saw him travelling throughout France to learn a number of the key skills which would eventually lead to his success is shoe-making. He worked for John Lobb and Berluti before going out in his own and opening Corthay in the early 90’s and today it is among the most esteemed shoemakers in the world, particularly among those for whom quality and craftsmanship matter.


Pierre’s commitment to craft and authenticity (quality production techniques and a refusal to take shortcuts) is palpable. Corthay shoes are made in Beaupreau, near Chollet in the west of France (with ready to wear starting at 1220Euro) and bespoke being made exclusively in their Parisian atelier (starting at 5300Euro).


His designs are unique and are heavily influenced by art, which the shoes themselves have become, whether it be a unique style of lacing, toe box shape or the use of colour. Corthay’s patinating and burnishing style and techniques are legendary (and remain a secret recipe) meaning it isn’t uncommon to see a fiery orange, sky blue or sunflower yellow shoe sitting in their small store on rue Volney in Paris (one of now several Corthay stores around the world, which has come about more swiftly in recent years, due to Pierre taking on outside investment to help grow the business. These decisions can be risky, depending on who it is who invests, as the founder can risk losing control of the brand to corporate’s who are in it for very different reasons {i.e. capital gain}, but so far, Corthay retains the feel of a boutique craft maker and hopefully that won’t change any time soon).


The Corthay aesthetic, at least in terms of last shapes is typically French; a lighter, slender shoe with an elongated toe and fine detailing. This is in contrast to the more robust aesthetic of most British shoemakers. That said, Corthay do carry and make more rounded styles as well, such as their Wilfred shoe, or any of their shoes on their Odeon last (which is more my style as I’ve never felt comfortable with the look of an elongated shoe on myself, although it does suit others). My friend and encyclopedia of shoe knowledge Justin Fitzpatrick of The Shoe Snob describes the Wilfred as the shoe he appreciates most out of any shoe in the world.


Pierre’s commitment to creating art through his shoes has been rewarded with him receiving the title of Maitre d’Art (Master of Art) by the French Government, a rare and highly regarded award for those who have demonstrated exceptional expertise in their field and who also pass on that knowledge to others.


At it’s current rate, Corthay should continue to grow strongly through the years ahead. It’s this rare combination of artist and craftsman that makes Pierre such a unique treasure in the world of menswear and he thoroughly deserves the success he’s earned.

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