The Shoemaker's Pursuit


by Wade Beauchamp

The most famous pair of high heels in the world have gone missing.

In 1952 a young Italian shoemaker named Paolo DeLuca fell in love with the daughter of a widow and hand-crafted for her a gift: a pair of high heels. The girl would not wear the scandalous shoes. But her mother would. Those heels would inspire the most famous shoe of the 20th Century, what fashion critics would dub the Ray-Ban Wayfarer of footwear: the DeLuca Rampa. And then, the shoes were lost.

Hollywood icons and waitresses, rock stars and architects, thrift shop owners and prostitutes all walk a mile in these shoes over the next half-century as Paolo tries to track them down. We’ll strut across the silver screen with a Blonde Bombshell who became a legend in the shoes. We’ll risk it all with a wife who decides that fantasy and reality lie too far apart. We’ll be a fly on the wall as the shoes guest-star on one of the biggest hits of the MTV era, among the other lives the shoes touch between their creation on DeLuca’s workbench to their final resting place.

The Shoemaker’s Pursuit is a collection of eleven interconnected tales following the path of the most famous pair of shoes ever made. Let’s take a walk on the wild side.


The Shoemaker and the Widow


Turin, Italy

February 2020


Paolo DeLuca opened his eyes at seven o’clock in the morning, like he had every morning since he was twenty years old. He shaved and slipped into a Giorgio Armani virgin wool suit, the only designer he had worn in half a century. He carefully knotted his Mulberry silk necktie around the collar of his 100% Egyptian cotton dress shirt. He clasped a gleaming 18K gold Bulgari watch around his left wrist and then dipped his toes into a 38-year-old pair of frayed and scuffed leather slip-on dress shoes with holes in the soles.

Paolo stepped out of his thirty-one-bedroom villa into the Piemonte sun. He was eighty-six years old. Gimlet eyes glinted behind black Armani sunglasses. Platinum hair was slicked straight back, the continuance of a line that started with his aquiline nose and carried through his prominent forehead. His skin was tanned and creased. In his driveway, a black Maserati Levante sat idling with its driver.

After a commute of twenty-three minutes, the city of Turin, Italy, came into view, with its maze of narrow, ancient streets, rows of terracotta-tiled roofs, and the spire of the Mole Antonelliana jutting into the August sky. The air was hot and swirled with the smell of bread from the stone ovens of a hundred bakeries. As always, Paolo insisted on being let out of the Maserati on the corner of Via Santo Crispino da Viterbo and Via Marco Polo, twelve blocks from his studio on Corso San Maurizio.

The city teemed with men and women wearing shoes that bore his name, yet Paolo DeLuca walked exactly one mile every morning in Vittorio Canale’s shoes—or rather, the final pair of shoes Canale made before his death. Paolo had worn the shoes every day since, refusing to allow other hands to repair, and thusly alter, Canale’s craftsmanship. Canale had been DeLuca’s mentor, and Paolo still worked out of the shop where the elder cordwainer had given him his first apprenticeship.

On the first floor of the two-story stone structure was the showroom, no larger than a two-car garage, where the likes of Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, and Monica Bellucci had all been fitted for their own pair of DeLuca Rampas over the years. Paolo still kept an office to the side, with a simple wooden desk and well-worn leather chair, and walls tiled with photographs of himself in the embrace of the most famously stylish people from the second half of the 20th Century.

He climbed a stairwell to the second floor, to his studio. The space fit him as comfortably as the fabric of his suit. Every pair of shoes Paolo DeLuca had designed over the last five decades had been given life in this room. But one pair had towered above all the others and stood astride the world of designer shoes like a colossus. It was in this room, on a Sunday evening in 1952, that Paolo DeLuca designed the high heel that would come to be known as the Ray-Ban Wayfarer of footwear and earn Paolo the nickname “the Enzo Ferrari of shoes”: The DeLuca Rampa.

Per Paolo himself in the multiple interviews he’s given over the years about the genesis of the most famous high heels in history, the design was inspired by the curves of Fede and Speranza, the twin bells in the tower at the Parrocchia San Giovanni Battista, a church he once attended as a youth. Most observers assumed the name “Rampa” came from the Italian word for “flight”, as in the flight of the stairs that climbed the bell tower. Others would say it was because the heels made their wearers look like they were ascending a flight of stairs even as they walked on level ground. Paolo neither confirmed nor denied either hypothesis.

Design critic Bail Stephens once described the Rampa as “the most iconic shoe of the 1950s, if not the century. The distinctive swell of its heel and its ankle strap, ever-so-slightly thinner than the legions of pretenders that would follow, are instantly recognizable. The throat line speaks a non-verbal language that hinted at danger, but danger most inviting. What the little black dress is to Coco Chanel, and the Daytona to Rolex, the Rampa is to DeLuca.”

By the late 1960s, the trademarked name DeLuca Rampa had become so ingrained in popular culture that its name had become an eponym for sexy high heels, the way Coke was a stand-in for any cola and Kleenex meant facial tissue. Many a husband has been harangued for having his head turned by a woman strutting down the sidewalk “in her DeLucas”, even if they were very rarely genuine DeLucas.

From his 2nd-floor studio, Paolo had seen his most famous creation make his name synonymous with high heels and the company he founded one of the most successful brands in the world. Wherever there were city streets, there were feet in shoes with his name on them. DeLuca had turned down licensing deals on everything from glasses to nail lacquers to parfums, steadfastly refusing to allow the brand to become diluted. And while the company would eventually produce leather handbags, purses, and men’s shoes, it was the original DeLuca Rampas that the public would forever associate with the man and his company.

Paolo had never lied about his inspiration for the shoe’s design. But he had never told the whole truth, either. The bells of the Parrocchia San Giovanni Battista were part of the story, to be sure. But the DeLucas were designed with one very specific pair of feet in mind: those of one Signorina Giulia Fallarino. And, if Paolo was being completely honest, the shoes weren’t really designed for her feet. They were designed for her ass.

Giulia had perfectly arched feet and slender, graceful ankles. She had long legs and full hips that swung perilously when she walked. And for the first twenty-four hours that he knew her, she had the most beautiful ass he had ever seen. She was also, for exactly one week in 1952, Paolo’s girlfriend.

Giulia was nineteen years old when Paolo first saw her. She had entered Vittorio Canale’s shoe shop on Corso San Maurizio on a Saturday afternoon to buy a new pair of flats to wear to church. Young Paolo had attentively sized her feet, both of them, consigning their form to memory before matching her with a pair of burgundy leather ballet flats that he had made with his own hands under Canale’s strict tutelage. And, after the transaction had been completed, Paolo accepted, perhaps a bit too eagerly, Giulia’s invitation to Mass the following morning at San Giovanni Battista. It was at that ritual, where the bread and wine become body and blood, that Paolo would lay his eyes on the ass that would immediately and forevermore dethrone Giulia’s as the most beautiful he had ever seen.

Paolo took his seat on the wooden pew next to Giulia and bashfully ran a hand through his black hair, pressing it to his scalp. Before he could formulate what to say to his host, a woman entered the sanctuary and began walking toward the pulpit. Assuredly she stepped down the wide center aisle, every head in the church craning to see the source of the sharp, metronomic report of high heels echoing between the stone columns. She parted the sea of pews with her strides, the faces of every member of the congregation following her like Tuscan poppies tracking the sun. She ignored them all, head held high, the faintest of smiles on her face as if she, too, were an amazed witness to her own beauty and sexuality.

She was in a slim-fitting pencil dress, the bodice tailored, fitted, and nipped at the waist; scooped neckline. The skirt of it was a tight sheath, tapered to mid-calf, clinging to her thighs like the grapevines to the trellises at the vigneto where Paolo had spent his youth. A black pillbox hat was bobby-pinned to her bone-straight raven hair that swayed in counterpoint to hips that pitched like a boat on a storm-tossed Lago di Garda. Even though it was the hottest summer in recent memory, she wore a pair of short gloves of black kid-leather, a single, elegant button on each wrist. Paolo watched her helplessly, hypnotized by every footfall, each one striking the marble floor precisely on the centerline of the aisle. The heels of her shoes were as slender and sharp as an M.V.S.N. dagger, black patent leather agleam in the Sunday morning sunlight that streamed in crepuscular rays through the sanctuary’s clerestory.

The woman moved slowly, like time was dilating around her as she neared the pew where Paolo was seated. For the fleetest of moments, her gaze met Paolo’s as she passed by and glanced down at him. Her eyes were twin cups of caffè crema on porcelain saucers, deep and warm, and they almost kept Paolo from looking at anything else on her. But he simply could not help it. As beautiful as her eyes were, her hips insisted on being noticed. They swung like Fede and Speranza as she walked. Paolo thought of the taffy pulling machine at Moretti’s. He thought of the endlessly looping and dipping baton that Signora Russo conducted the choir with. He tried, futilely, to focus on just one hip, to decipher its locomotion, but the centrifugal force of each swing would slingshot his sightline to the other hip. Desperately he fixed his eyes on the geographic center, the very axis of her posterior, and watched that point trace a lemniscate of Bernoulli in the air every two steps.

Finally, the woman reached the pulpit, whispered something to Padre Serpieri, and then turned to stalk back up the aisle like a pantera nera. Paolo was snapped out of his stupor when the woman slid into his pew and sat next to him, sandwiching him between herself and Giulia.

“Paolo,” Giulia said. “This is mi madre, Maria Fallarino.”

He could feel his face instantly flush tomato red.

Paolo sheepishly introduced himself to Giulia’s mother and then inhaled deeply, the scent of the Femme Rochas dabbed on Signora Fallarino’s throat coiling into his flared nostrils. Before Padre Serpieri had begun the introductory rites, Giulia told Paolo that her father, Giacomo, had been a member of Stella Rossa during the occupation and was executed by Mussolini’s Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell'Antifascismo seven years earlier. Before the war, Giacomo had been Parrocchia San Giovanni Battista’s bell-ringer, a role he took particular pride in, summoning his neighbors every morning to come hear the word of God. In his absence, and as a memorial to him, his widow had assumed his duties, climbing the Scala per il Paradiso—the name given to the church’s bell tower stairs when it was still the tallest structure in the quartieri—every Sunday morning to ring Fede and Speranza.

Paolo dutifully marveled at the story, as much at mother and daughter’s emotional fortitude as at the physical strength it must take for Maria to activate the bell’s rope mechanism and start those big bells swinging. Her calves were a testament to it, Paolo thought. Then, with a great deal of effort, he forced his thoughts back to Giulia. She was Paolo’s best prospect yet for a girlfriend and he knew he needed a good showing here this morning if he intended to ask her on an actual date. There had been other girls, but none of them serious. Martina Marino in Liceo Classico school had been his first kiss. Then there was Sofia Gallo at Lake Orta in the summer of 1947, who, Paolo would realize after the fact, had invested considerable effort into convincing Paolo they should lose their virginity to one another. But at seventeen years old, he could discern the subtleties of “meet me behind the bathhouse” no more than he could translate the original Latin text of Naturalis Historia.

Paolo’s acute awareness of his sexual inexperience, if he was being honest with himself, was the main reason he had accepted Giulia’s invitation to church that morning. She was a girl, and as such, most certainly understood her body better than Paolo did. She could teach him.


"The Shoemaker's Pursuit" by Wade Beauchamp



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