Pietro Yantorny proudly proclaimed he made the most expensive shoes in the world. Without question, he was an accomplished craftsman utterly devoted to his chosen artistry. And it seems, his claim was probably true.
Born in Italy to Russian parents, Pietro became an apprentice shoemaker at the age of 12. In 1898 he went to Paris and worked as a master shoemaker for all the important fashion houses of the day. He continued his studies in London before returning to Paris.
In 1904 he opened his own shoe salon – Rue Vendome 26 in Paris. To attract clientele, Pietro posted a sign in the shop window proclaiming he was “the most expensive shoemaker in the world.” His statement soon became fact. Before long, the wealthiest women from around the world began to take notice.
Only a very select clientele could afford his services. Before he would even agree to add a woman to his list, he would demand a deposit of US$1,000. That’s the equivalent of over $135,000 in Aussie dollars today. He would take the cost of each pair of shoes from this payment.
Even after such an enormous financial outlay, he gave the women absolutely no say in the style, fabric or decoration of the shoes. Amazingly, he would not even reveal when they would be finished.
If he accepted the lady as a client, he would ask her to walk barefoot in front of him so he could study her gait, foot shape and movement. This was quite shocking as it was like asking these wealthy society women to parade nude. During this era, women’s extremities were always to be modestly covered. Quelle horreur! This saucy detail added even more intrigue to owning Pietro’s shoes.
The Pursuit of Perfection
Pietro would make a plaster model of each foot and create a mahogany last. Molding his materials with great care, he would work on them endlessly until they were perfect. Time was irrelevant. As a result, the shoes were as flexible as the finest silk stocking and fitted like a second skin.
To create his feather-light, unique shoes, Pietro used very old expensive materials. The shoes were crafted from 12th century velvets, Renaissance silks, gold and silver metal tissue, brocades and rare feathers.
The designer would often take two to three years to complete his wonderfully detailed shoes. He was obsessively committed to achieving a perfect, individualized fit. Pietro created sumptuous shoes that reflected the personality of the wearer.
His unusual business style worked. Many wealthy ladies were very keen to own the most expensive shoes in the world.
One famous client, New York socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig, commissioned several hundred pairs. Her shoe trees were crafted from antique violins for the featherweight quality of their wood. These delicate shoes were placed in trunks of Russian leather, closed with heavy locks and lined with rich cream velvet.
Pietro, Paolo or Pierre?
While he interacted with the highest echelons of society, Yantourny was illiterate. However, he was fluent in Spanish, French and Italian. This may explain why he is known by three names: Pietro , Paolo and Pierre. Whatever his first name, Yantourny cultivated a mysterious and eccentric image. He strove to be as complex and exotic as his sought after shoes. I think he succeeded.