It takes as many as four days to make a single pair

From his little workshop in Pieve a Nievole, in the province of Pistoia, Lucio Picone has taken the world by storm. His shoes, which are strictly handmade to measure, one by one, are donned the world over by managers, lawyers, actors, sportspeople and chefs. Take any European country, or any country in the world for that matter, and you’re bound to find a pair of shoes made by this craftsman, a self-made man who worked long and hard to get where he is and who is still moved when he tells the story of how he started out.

The Italian Shoes team met Lucio Picone at the last MICAM. He was there with his little workbench, demonstrating his skills, and we interviewed him.


When I worked in a shoe factory, I asked my boss if I could stay in the factory in the evening to learn something new, until I’d learned how to make the entire shoe.

How did it all start?

I come from Frasso Telesino, a small village in the province of Benevento, in the south of Italy’s Campania region. I was born in 1960. It was a very humble place back then. I myself come from a farming family. My mother farmed the land and my father would go and work in Switzerland to bring home a bit of extra money.
We had family in Tuscany, in Monsummano Terme, near Pistoia, at the heart of one of Italy’s most important footwear districts. There was plenty of work there and they advised us to move there. The year was 1970 and I was 10. At the age of 15 I started working in a shoe factory — Morini Renzo — where I would remain for 30 years.

How come you then decided to go it alone?

I learnt a great deal in those 30 years, about all the stages of shoe production. I really loved the job. I studied what the older workers were doing. I wasn’t one of those who couldn’t wait to go home: I would even ask my boss if I could stay in the factory in the evening to learn something new, until I’d learned how to make the entire shoe.


It was a calling.

That’s right. Somewhere along the line I became a head of department. Then something suddenly clicked inside and I realised I wanted something else, so I resigned at the age of 45. Many people said I was crazy, because I had a good salary and held a position of responsibility, but I wanted to embark on my own path: I wanted to be a craftsman, I wanted to make made-to-measure shoes, entirely by hand.
My “guru” was Salvatore Ferragamo. Of course, I’m perfectly aware of the fact that I’m no Ferragamo, but he was from Campania too, and he’d also worked long and hard to achieve what he did.

Handmade shoes are a huge step up from industrial footwear.

I was lucky enough to have a great teacher, Tobaldo Bruno, known as Johnny. He’s now 81. Back then he’d just retired and he saw how utterly determined I was. It was he who helped me bridge the gap in quality, by teaching me techniques such as Goodyear and Norwegian stitching.

I have customers all over the world: in the USA, Europe, Russia and the East. A London-based tailor sends my way any customers wanting made-to-measure shoes.

Who is your typical customer?

My customers are the elite: lawyers, doctors, executives.
And many are famous too, such as the chef Gianfranco Vissani, who is now a friend of mine and who took me on the popular TV programme Linea Verde. Then there’s footballer Fabio Galante, Marcello Lippi, when he was coach of the World Cup-winning Italian team, as well as Fabrizio Frizzi, Cristiana Capotondi, Massimo D’Alema and Fausto Bertinotti.
I have customers all over the world: in the USA, Europe, Russia and the East. A London-based tailor sends my way any customers wanting made-to-measure shoes.

Do international customers come to you or do you take orders remotely?

No, they all come into the store. Because I have to measure their feet, shape the shoes as required by the customer, make the style, carry out the fitting…
For the colours, too: I hand-dye, starting from the crust hide, creating the different shades with aniline and cream. All the materials are of premium quality, personally selected by me.
When a customer arrives, we set about trying to understand what they’re after and what’s best for them. Even if they want something they’ve seen in the window, we can change it completely, even its design.

You have to be a bit of a “psychologist”, too, don’t you?

Yes. I usually see people on an appointment basis, so I can give customers all my time and my undivided attention. Whether or not they will then go on to buy something, I take care of them, I “spoil” them. I have my little workbench in the store and they see how I work, too.

Basically, the so-called “experience” is an important part of the work.
How long does each pair take you?

The time depends on the construction. Even as long as four days.

You’ve invented a variation of the Norwegian construction. Have you also patented it?

Yes, I had some leather trim and I had the idea of braiding it with a white cord to give a special effect. I’m not interested in patenting it, because if someone knows how to do it, then they should go ahead and do it. It’s the same for a painter: you don’t copy a painter – everyone has their own hand.


A shoe artisan is like a painter: you don't copy a painter - everyone has their own hand.

Is there anyone in your family who can take the business into the future?

Unfortunately not. I have a 25-year-old daughter but she’s got other plans. I’m now retired but I’m still in business, because, like we said, it’s a calling. When I get up in the morning, I don’t go to work, I go to have fun.
I’m campaigning a lot for the chance to teach and, as I learned, to put my experience and knowledge at someone else’s disposal. It would be a pity if artisanal know-how like this were to go to waste. We craftsmen are the ones who have given Italian-made products their prestige.