French Shoe-Making History
While England’s shoe-making history is relatively simple to explore, France’s heritage is considerably less structured and quite complex. Unlike England’s relationship with Northampton, the there were a number of regions throughout France that were reputed to craft their own unique styles and identities.
Interestingly, the distinction between someone who repairs and someone who makes shoes is historically blurred in France. In England, these are respectively referred to as a cobbler and cordwainer, which were two individual crafts with their own regulatory guilds.
Meanwhile, the French term “cordonnier” has the same Spanish etymology as “cordwainer” but tends to refer to both trades. Furthermore, Charles IX released an edict during the 16th Century that permitted all master cordonniers the right to make and sell types of shoe that corresponded with their physical state.
This complicated the market and made it difficult to specialise outside of what was expected of them. As it was believed that shoe-making was dirty work, a general shoemaker wouldn’t be approached for making delicate and clean shoes for women.
Meanwhile, a “bottier” was considered to have strong and bulky hands as he would work with tougher and thicker leather. While he was respected for creating robust and reliable footwear, it was unlikely that he would make complex shoes.
Finally, the “soulier” would be associated with more refined and supple leathers as well as elegant quality.
However, this attempt at enforcing the definition of different shoemaker classes only succeeded within Paris itself. In the rest of the country, shoemakers were expected to be able to make any type of shoe according to the needs of their local clientele.