#TBT – New conditions old traditions

#TBT – New conditions old traditions.

Re-discover our favourite stories once again, each week will bring you a new episode.

Espadrilles have been around for centuries. The Archaeological Museum of Granada owns a pair that is estimated to be about 4,000 years old. Then how, one might wonder, has it evolved from being a historical artefact to becoming a fashionable must-have?

The answer lies in a small Catalonian village called Banyoles, where in 1776, Rafael Castañer was born. He was the first espadrille-maker of a family that would become one of the pioneering brands in the fabrication of espadrilles. It was only later, in 1927, that Luis Castañer and his cousin Tomàs Serra founded the brand’s first workshop, supplying mainly to farmers and countrymen. And then history happened. The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, forcing the company to be nationalized by the Republican government. In that specific context, espadrilles were regarded as a product of military interest. And so the soldiers were sent to fight at the front wearing “seven-ribbon espadrilles.”

 

After the war, the company was once more privatized and owned by the Castañer family; but times were hard. The industrialization of Spain meant that there were fewer countrymen in need of espadrilles as their jobs had shifted from rural to urban. In the mid-1960s, however, Lorenzo Castañer and his wife Isabel took over the firm and decided to refocus the business. Colours and designs were added, attracting the psychedelic eyes of happy hippies in Mallorca and Ibiza. The Castañer espadrille was becoming popular in the Mediterranean scene. And then a chance encounter happened… In the early 1970s, the couple travelled to Paris for a trade fair where they set-up a small stand with their espadrilles. A young man approached them, inquiring about their product and manufacturing techniques. That man was Yves Saint Laurent. He asked them if they could make a wedge espadrille, to which Lorenzo replied: “If Yves Saint Laurent wanted a wedge espadrille, a wedge espadrille he would have!” This catapulted the espadrille at the top of the fashion world and made Castañer the go-to brand for every luxury house in need of a well-crafted espadrille. As Rafael Castañer (the son of Lorenzo and Isabel and a designer for the house) says in the interview: « We took the espadrille from the countryside and put it on Park Avenue. » Since then, many luxury houses have approached the Catalonian company to place orders for their upcoming collections. Designers include Tom Ford, Jean Paul Gaultier, Chanel and many more. But the family prides itself on discretion, never officially stating with whom they work with. You might wonder what makes Castañer so unique compared to other brands. Well for starters the authenticity and craftsmanship of the product,
which are growing rarer in an age of globalisation and mass production. Every shoe is 100% hand-stitched and made in Spain, which is refreshing seeing as we’ve now grown accustomed to ‘Made in China’ labels. Surviving as local artisans in a financial crisis where brands are swallowed by luxury conglomerates is rather exceptional, which begs the question, “Will it last?” As Rafael says: “I don’t like to say that the espadrille is a fashionable shoe… It is a classic.” And as we all know, classics never fade. In terms of his and hers, there is of course a greater demand for women’s espadrilles, especially since the whole wedge fever. However, Rafael began designing entire collections for men 9 years ago as it has become a symbol of casual elegance. Now you might think you’re not the espadrille-wearing type, but let’s look at your summer options, shall we? Sandals for example. They’re okay for men like Jesus and Plato, but let’s be honest, you’re neither a religious icon nor a Greek philosopher. Then there are flips flops, which are fine for American jocks downing beers on Spring Break or well-sculpted Capoeira dancers chilling on Copacabana beach… But do you really fit into these categories? When it’s hot and you want a stylish and comfortable shoe to hide your Shrek-like toes, then the espadrille is the way to go. In retrospect, the espadrille is a true symbol of style. Men like Cary Grant and JFK wore them, not to mention artistic geniuses like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. And then let’s not forget about Crockett and Tubbs from “Miami Vice”… Now they were men! When I asked Rafael Castañer to define the espadrille using three words, he answered: “Mediterranean, artisanal and elegant.” What more do you want?

PHOTOGRAPHY: NACHO ALEGRE. WORDS: BÉRÉNICE MAGISTRETTI