From catwalks to urban sidewalks, the Mediterranean sandal, with its artisanal feel, vegetable tanned leather and stitched sole redolent of vacations spent in the Greek isles, Capri or the south of France is fast becoming a staple in shoe wardrobes everywhere; a part of the basic global footwear vernacular along with stilettos, platforms and wedges. But while once upon a time women in search of such a sandal had to travel – to small seaside villages where craftsmen had been plying their trade from a family shop front for generations – these days, increasingly, such styles are coming to them.
Francesca Carrillo and Anita Califano, for example, Italians who have lived in London for the past 15 years, recently launched The Sandal and the Craftsman with exactly this in mind. “Last year when we were on holiday on the Amalfi coast we filled our suitcases with sandals and tested them in Portobello and Spitalfields where the response was overwhelming despite the August rain,” says Califano. In urban areas of London such as Shoreditch, where this summer the pair have hosted pop-up stores, she uncovered an audience fascinated with handcrafted shoes, from the £60 “made for you” sandal to the £110 ready-made thong and T-bar crafted by an artisan in Sorrento.
Meanwhile, on Capri one family business that has been making sandals since 1946 out of a small shop on Via Camerelle is now available online from Club Monaco or via its website www.canfora.com. The founder, Amadeo Canfora, is known as the originator of the Capri Sandal, which was popular with Princess Margaret, Maria Callas and Grace Kelly; in 1962, he created the K sandal for Jackie Kennedy featuring a V-shaped front panel, stitched leather sole, and low 2.5cm heel. It’s still a bestseller today.
Then there’s French Riviera stalwart K Jacques, first offered by Jacques Keklikian and his wife in 1933 to customers such as Picasso, Bridget Bardot and, more recently, Kate Moss, which has branched out from its two St Tropez shops to a third in Paris’s Le Marais, where the Homère (€195), a Greco Roman-style sandal with five horizontal straps across the foot, remains the signature piece in a collection of some 60 styles.
Christina Martini left her role as senior shoe designer for Balenciaga in order to launch Ancient Greek Sandals in 2011. Today, the company operates “something between a workshop and a factory” in Athens that employs three to four locals. “I was scared to give up my job in Paris and go back to Greece given the crisis, but, on reflection, it was a good move,” she says. The ever-growing collection – which ranges from basic £105 sandals to ornate £420 gladiators produced for designer Marios Schwab – sells to more than 180 stockists in 40 countries. This summer the range has expanded to include 14 styles for men as well as three children’s styles for Caramel Baby & Child. Even Minorcan abarcas – the traditional Mediterranean sandal once worn by farmers but now sported by the Spanish royal family – is going global via websites and wholesalers with brands such as Riudavets and Varca by Marianne Pope.
Pope first popularised the style with her English friends after a Minorcan vacation. In 1999 she approached a Ferreries-based sandal maker to create her own version of the abarca, and has been trading in the style (from £38) ever since. In July Varca opened a pop-up shop in London that will sell sandals throughout the summer. Well, if the mountain won’t go to Mohammed ...
The rise of the man-sandal: Socks and the city
“Men are still very reluctant to show their feet,” says shoe maestro Pierre Hardy. “But I’ve always had sandals in my men’s collection. Always. I love them. I think they are sexy. Actually more than sexy; sensual – and very masculine. They remind me of the ancients, like Roman gladiators or Arcadian shepherds.”
Hardy is not the only one in love with man-sandals this summer, writes David Hayes. At the spring/summer 2013 runway shows sandals were the footwear of choice for power house labels from Burberry Prorsum to Dries van Noten, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Lanvin – and not always worn with beach shorts. Case in point: Lanvin, where menswear designer Lucas Ossendrijver paired chunky-soled two-strap numbers with everything from single-breasted city suits and ties to ... er, silver leather trenchcoats and matching short shorts.
“Sandals combined with tailoring is an incredibly fashion-forward aesthetic that braver guys are embracing,” says Richard Sanderson, buying manager at Selfridges. Fair enough, but for the rest of us, those who aren’t quite so brave?
“Outside of a beach context, sandals can look really refined. Worn with stone or beige chino shorts, a beautiful pair of mid-brown leather sandals is a fail-safe summer option,” says Sanderson, who believes sandals work as well with jeans. “Just be wary of length,” he adds. “Jeans need to be slightly cropped to make the look work.”
There has never been a greater choice of sandals for men. Aside from the big brands there are also sandals on offer from a host of artisan labels such as Ancient Greek Sandals (each style is named after a famous Greek, real or mythical, such as the Hermes winged sandals, £170) as well as specialist luxury brands such as Pierre Hardy (Spartiates, £206) and Jimmy Choo (Veston, £325), not to mention more affordable brands from Russell & Bromley (Bucklebury, £115) to Office (Caesar X Over, £36.99) and Camper (Itaca, £70).
“We are seeing increasingly that men are willing to take chances when it comes to summer footwear, which means we are designing not just for the beach, but also for other more urban environments as well,” says Kenny Sanders, men’s product manager at Spanish footwear label Camper. “As a result, the lifespan of this type of product is no longer limited to just high summer; it’s dependent on the weather.”
So could sandals be the new wear-anywhere alternative to trainers? “You can wear sneakers all year round, but it’s more complicated with sandals – even if you wear them with socks,” says Hardy.
Which neatly brings us to socks and sandals, that divisive issue. “Socks with sandals are a definite no-no – I don’t care who you are,” says Sandra Choi, creative director at Jimmy Choo.
“I’m against nothing,” says Hardy. “To be against this or that is very unmodern. These days you can do whatever you want, you can marry whatever you want with whatever you want, whoever you want. If you feel it, then it’s fine.”