Your shoes don’t impress Emmanuel Farre. “When you look at what you have [for] the standard shoes, it’s pretty boring—brown, dark brown, blue,” he says. So he turned to an all-knowing deity and asked for help.
Google showed him how to repaint shoes. Now he adds a unique patina, colouring or dyeing, to footwear. He starts by stripping the old patina from your shoe. Then he repaints them by hand. He applies eight to 12 coats until he transforms your shoes into something that commands attention. Even if that attentions arrives in the washroom of a U.S. casino.
“There was a man washing the toilet,” Farre says. “He looked at my shoes and said, ‘Wow, what wonderful shoes you have!’ And [so] I explained to him [how I did it]. He was not only impressed, but he appreciate [it].”
When Farre speaks, the parts he accentuates tell you he’s from France. But he crafts his patinas at Loding Shirts & Shoes’ Avenue Road location. Inside, the walls are lined with dark wood cabinets and the green carpeted floors feature a simple dot pattern. Jazz warbles from the speakers. It feels very old world. It’s a perfect fit for a man who prefers his clothes vintage.
Despite Loding’s vintage decor, they sell modern menswear with consistent pricing. All their shirts are $95. Their cashmere sweaters are $245 and all their shoes are $330. For $550, you can have a new pair of Loding shoes hand-painted by Farre. Servicing an old pair costs $250 and he doesn’t discriminate: You can have a non-Loding pair painted.
It’s somewhere around this time that I look down at my own feet. Glaring back at me are a pair of hiking sneakers with stains from salt kisses. I shift my eyes to Farre’s feet and see spots. “This one is my second pair,” Farre says. “When I wipe out the colour, I have a really yellow toe. I have in my mind to do something wild like animal.” He settled on a Cheetah print for the toe cap.
But Farre’s not crazy. He won’t give you Cheetah spots unless you ask for it. For you, he’ll start the process with a conversation. He’ll survey his canvas and determine what you want. Then he’ll determine what colours to blend. Eventually he plop your shoes on an antique desk, surrounded by his dyes, polishes, brushes, and creams.
Tied around Farre’s index and middle fingers is a cloth stained with various dyes. It takes two to three days for him to finish a pair. “I cannot spend the entire day on one pair of shoes because my eyes cannot focus and I will do probably some mistake. So I like to work on several pairs.” He’s rewarded when he unveils the finished product for his patrons but distances himself from the art scene.
“I don’t like the world of artists but I’m acting like an artist,” says Farre. “Just open your eyes. I can be inspired by an old wood door, some clothing or even an old car. Inspiration is around us.”
And that’s the beauty of what Farre does. The end result is as unique as he is. He knows the sun’s rays will alter his patinas, blended with many different colours. Age and shoe creams will do the same. But he also knows his shoes look like no one else’s. I ask if it’s possible to make the same version twice.
“Even if I want I cannot do the exact same colour,” he says. “I’m not machine, I’m a man.”
Pierre Hamilton is a freelance writer from Toronto, where some of his best friends describe him as an acquired taste. He enjoys bourbon and scotch, but craves craft beer, overproof Jamaican rum and great non-fiction. He has a very limited style knowledge but knows what he likes. He also produces a monthly music podcast called Sound Considerations. Follow him, but not too closely, on Twitter.