May 2009


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One of the 20th century’s most mysterious master shoemakers, Pietro Yantorny (born 1874, died 1936) designed and made these splendid embroidered red velvet shoes by hand. (1) It is but one of the 8 exquisite pairs that are in the Bata Shoe Museum’s fashion collection.

Yantorny was born in Calabria, Italy and began shoemaking at the age of 12, he worked steadily over the next decade toward his goal of moving to Paris and opening his own shop, after many diversions he eventually established a shop on Place Vendôme. To attract the elite clientele he sought, he posted a sign in the shop window that claimed he was “the most expensive shoemaker in the world”. Not long after that, the wealthiest women from around the world, but specifically clients from France, Russia and the United States began to take notice. Among them was Rita de Acosta Lydig a socialite from New York City who came to own 300 pairs of Yantorny’s custom made shoes with matching shoetrees.

There are many myths surrounding Yantorny and his shoes and it is an image that he, as an eccentric, cultivated. It has been reported that he was a curator at the Musée Cluny where he fell in love with historic textiles, and for many years it was stated that he created his beautiful shoe trees from the bodies of old Stradivarius violins. Neither of these is true but it is interesting to note that his image was as complex and exotic as many of his shoes. What is true and is equally interesting to note is that he remained illiterate throughout his life although he spoke Italian, French and English fluently and his exceptional, exclusive shoes took years to create and hundreds of dollars to own. He promised a perfect, individualized fit with sumptuous new and historic materials that reflected the personality of the wearer. He was obsessively committed to achieving the perfect fit for each person’s foot and has been quoted as saying that “shoes should fit like a silk stocking”.

This particular pair of shoes was made in the 1920s and was donated to the museum by Mrs. Eric Weinmann. Both her mother, Countess Andre de Limur and her maternal grandmother Mrs. William H. Crocker were clients of Yantorny’s. These shoes as you can see, are striking from toe to heel; what is easily noted first is the deep, blood red colour of the velvet, offset with the luxurious gold thread embroidery and the paste buckle at the throat, but I’d also like to draw your attention to the silhouette of the shoes, they are sinuous and elegant without being fussy. From the gently sloping and waisted heel (2) to the tongue that is shaped like a minaret (3), they are a subtle combination of East and West. I can only imagine the rest of the outfit that would have accompanied these shoes; I am sure it would have been stately and elegant with just a hint of the exotic.

Yantorny saw shoemaking as an art. In fact the last entry in his journal, held in the collection of the Musée de la Chaussurein Romans, France, transcribed by his companion, describes a pair of exquisite feathered shoes that took him six months to make. In the translated journal, Yantorny is quoted as saying: “I didn’t make it with the intention of selling it, only as an art object and to show just how far I could push the envelope of shoemaking….My only aim is to leave something to a museum of the shoe that future generations could admire….”. Thank you Mr. Yantorny, you’ve done exactly that. (4)