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We are cordwainers
29 May 2020

What is a Cordwainer?

BY JULIA NEEL

What, Exactly, Is A Cordwainer?

A Cordwainer is a shoemaker; an artisan trained in the technical aspects of crafting a shoe from scratch. A formally trained Cordwainer will be skilled in all of the intricate processes involved in making a pair of shoes - from shaping a last (the mould that a shoe is fashioned around), to constructing the soles and fashioning the uppers. 

Etymologically speaking, the word Cordwainer is derived from the Old French word cordoanier, and originally referred to someone who worked with cordwain or cordovan, an equine leather that was historically produced in Medieval Córdoba, also known as Cordova in English. Traditionally, because cordovan leather was difficult and expensive to produce, it was only used for the highest quality shoes but Cordwainers used other leathers to make all types of footwear.

Malone Souliers Stories: What Is A Cordwainer?

How Is That Different To A Cobbler? Or A Shoe Designer?

Historically, Cordwainers were the only craftspeople permitted to create shoes from new leather. Traditionally, the cobblers and Cordwainers were differentiated by the storied London guilds, with cobblers restricted to the use of used leather, either in the mending or making of shoes from old leather recovered from discarded or repaired shoes.

A shoe designer, however, needs very little in the way of technical knowledge. A designer will develop the concept of a shoe but pass the responsibility of crafting it to a Cordwainer, whose technical expertise will bring the shoe to fruition. For mass-produced shoes, this is passed on to production lines and factories, where the meticulous techniques of traditional craftsmanship often are overlooked in favour of expedited production times to fulfil large orders.

Malone Souliers Stories: What Is A Cordwainer?

So, Mary Alice Malone Is A Cordwainer?

Malone Souliers' Founder and Creative Director Mary Alice Malone trained at the prestigious Cordwainer's course at the London College of Fashion, where she dedicated herself to mastering every facet of shoemaking. With a background in sculpture, welding and furniture-making from art school in Colorado, she turned her gift for structural forms to learning everything from shaping her own lasts and heels to leather-marking and pattern-cutting.

It is this specialised training that Mary Alice put to use in creating the signature ‘Maureen’ mule, with its distinctive strap detailing and wave-like curves that follow the arch of the foot.

Malone Souliers Stories: What Is A Cordwainer?

How Does Cordwaining Factor Into Malone Souliers now?

When Mary Alice was establishing the brand, she was determined that the production of Malone Souliers shoes be in the hands of skilled Cordwainers in Italy, which is now the home of luxury footwear manufacture. As she travelled around the factories of Northern Italy, she noticed that the vast majority of shoemakers were men and, while they could make beautiful shoes, they lacked a fundamental understanding of what it is like to wear a pair of 110mm heels.

Malone Souliers Stories: What Is A Cordwainer?

Mary Alice brought her belief that beauty and functionality should carry equal weight to bear in many lively debates with her team of Italian Cordwainers. With a persuasive argument born of first-hand experience, she convinced them to meet her exacting specifications - down to the last millimetre – for optimal balance, comfort and style.

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