I might be a walking talking cliché, but I really love shoes. They are a completely level playing field in the fashion world. It doesn’t matter your height, weight, age or anything else – cute shoes are just cute shoes. One man behind beautiful shoes is the legendary Franco Sarto. Sitting in his 60’s Sarto has designed shoes for four decades after mastering the craft growing up in Italy. His moderately priced shoe collections are found on a global scale and has spent his life doing something I greatly respect – prettying up feet.
I arrived at Nordstrom, where he was doing a public appearance for shoe fanatics, and was whisked into a back room for my introduction to Sarto and developed an instant crush. I don’t care that he is twice my age, that I am a Goliath in heels and that he probably doesn’t remember me; I was a total smitten kitten. I mean he was wearing a gingham blazer and speaking Italian! Both of those will get you far in my book.
After his charming introduction, it did hit me like a truck that he only spoke Italian and I only speak English (and a hint of Japanese, not helpful here). So our interview would be through a translator, which was a first for me and kind of an interesting feat to overcome. For every answer question you see from me and then Sarto’s following answer you must understand there was 5 full minutes of fast Italian, sweeping hand gestures, smiling, direct eye contact while I tried to will myself to instantly understand and then 15 seconds of the translator. Someone get me a Rosetta Stone for Christmas, I need to get busy.
(Introductions and pleasantries)
Eden Dawn: I know that you have been designing a long time, how do you continue to find inspirations?
Franco Sarto: (excitedly spoke and waved his hands for 5 full minutes) I find my best inspiration in the streets or in the cities. When I walk around Italy or New York. They are different styles of the times, in the morning or the evening or in a restaurant. So that is where I find my inspiration. Directly from the public, and that is how I get my inspirations. Today the fashion is more of a mixture. People may have an old jacket from two years ago and a new skirt. It’s very personal. The street makes the fashion today.
E.D: I like that (laughs). Is that part of the reason you continue to do store tours? To experience the new cities?
F.S: For me it’s very important to look around and see the United States. There is always so much to see. For example I got to New York or to Paris or to Milan and I look at people and there all different fashion styles. I sketch in my mind. It’s important to me to see how they dress and to see the moods. And then I give my own interpretation of what I see.
There are many ideas around, it is important to correct them.
E.D: You started out as a cobbler and became a shoe designer. Can you tell me a little bit about difference between the two?
F.S: The cobbler is now a very old fashion word. They don’t really exist anymore, they just repair shoes. On the other hand a designer creates a product but when he creates a product he also needs to know the technique. It’s important when I have an idea or creation to do something I know the techniques of how to do it. It’s important that one person can do both.
This is very important, because many people you interview will not be able to do both. It is easier to be a designer, but to build it is more difficult. You have to know the leather, the materials; to make a shoe is more complicated than a coat or pants. With a coat or pair of pants you can just have a larger size. With shoes you have to be very precise. You have to know the material like leather or wood and it will react. Sometimes it is a matter of millimeters for a comfortable shoe. I do the research, I do everything, sketch it, everything.
E.D: My first pair of “grown-up” heels were Franco Sarto shoes. I remember them. Little green suede kitten-heel shoes.
F.S: (seems very happy with this tid bit) The greatest success and satisfaction for a designer is to make a shoe that you can wear as a teen or at sixty. If one can do that, one is a true designer. An experienced one. That’s why I don’t want to be super high fashion level. I want something more accessible for all people to wear. Something that works well for people from thirty, forty to sixty. This is very important for me. I would like to underline this. The accessibility.
E.D: If you were forced to pick one shoe to sum up spring, what would that be?
F.S: Platform! That’s what people like. It’s hard to pick one. (laughs) If you want one, that’s the one. (Hands me his spring Ambrosia shoe, ideal for a summer day) This is perfect for your readers. If you want only one recommendation that is it. If you go into a restaurant and a man is eating and you are wearing these shoes he will stop eating and look at you in these shoes.
E.D: (laughing) I’m sold! I’m sold! I do have one other question. Do you plan on retiring?
F.S: The more I am around the shoe and the more I love them. I always say to be a professional in any field you must be in love with the product and have a good time. And you don’t have to listen about getting old. The time goes fast. If you just did it out of duty, it becomes heavy. It gets easier now that I have my own line. Because I can experience and that makes it easier. Everything is easier now, than when I was younger. The more I can see how the work works. The work is unified it’s globalized. I don’t want to stop working.
E.D: Would you ever let any other designers design under your name? Do you have other designers now?
F.S: Yes, My son works for me and other young people work with me.
E.D: Did you train him on all the technical ways behind shoemaking?
F.S: Yes, I showed him the techniques. But you never know if your son will like the same things as you. It’s like a DNA thing kind of thing. You can hope that your son has it and becomes better than you, but it’s not necessarily his path. It’s like a football player, number 1 in his field; it doesn’t mean his son will be.
E.D: My family builds nursing homes! And I’m a fashion editor.
(Big laughs all around)
And with that, our happy time was over. But before I went Franco signed a sketch of the Ambrosia shoe for me and it sits in my living room reminding me to pick my shoes wisely.