Cobbled Together

Me and the shoemaker

One aimless afternoon, shortly after graduating from university, I came across an old magazine article about Daniel Day-Lewis and the ten months the famed actor spent in Florence apprenticing as a shoemaker. The pages included enchanting pictures of leather, cork, and flame-melted wax, accompanied by handsome men using antique tools to turn suede and cordovan into masterpiece footwear for the likes of Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone, Richard Gere — even Madonna. The more I read about the shoemaker to the stars, the more my imagination filled with sepia-coloured daydreams: labouring in a warmly lit bottega, richly perfumed from the turpentine of polish, to the symphony of scissors cutting hide and hammers thudding heels.

It all happened very fast: I put the article away and compiled a list of twenty Italian ateliers. On my first call, to Mannina Firenze, I reached a young shoemaker named Giovanni...