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Red shoes made to order as signature for pope

Stefanelli cobbling pontifical footwear for over a decade

22 February, 14:22
Red shoes made to order as signature for pope (ANSA) - Rome, February 22 - Like the tall, golden mitre on his head, and his flowing white cassock, the pope's soft red leather shoes have become an immediately recognizable part of the papal ensemble.

And those shoes have become one of the trademarks of Italian craftsman Adriano Stefanelli, who is now saying goodbye to the second pope he is proud to have created shoes for.

Though controversial, the pope's red shoes have also made him something of a fashion leader, even appearing in the pages of Esquire men's magazine in the United States as an "accessory of the year".

Stefanelli, who works in the northern city of Novara near Milan, first came to the Vatican's attention in 2002, when he sent a pair of his handmade red shoes to Pope John Paul II.

That pope, who died in 2005 and was replaced by Pope Benedict XVI, was so impressed by the craftsmanship that he became a customer of Stefanelli.

That added further lustre to the list of Stefanelli's most famous clients, which includes US President Barack Obama, former American president George W. Bush, Polish president and human rights activist Lech Walesa, and Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo.

Stefanelli even specially designed a pair of shoes boasting the AC Milan soccer team's crest for ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, who is president of the soccer club.

Stefanelli, who works with Italian leather, calls himself an "ambassador to the world of the 'Made in Italy' trademark".

Stefanelli recalls his first contact with the ailing Pope John Paul II, who the shoemaker saw collapse during a televised walk following the Way of the Cross. "It all began during a Via Crucis, where Pope John Paul II almost fainted on live TV, and then I asked what I could do to alleviate his suffering," recalls Stefanelli.

"I decided to give him a pair of shoes and the Vatican asked me to continue the collaboration with Benedict XVI".

Stefanelli says he has made a total of five pairs of shoes during the reign of the present pope, Benedict XVI, who has announced his retirement effective February 28.

The last pair of shoes for Benedict were delivered last August to the pope's summer residence just south of Rome at Castel Gandolfo, "and for me it was a special feeling," said Stefanelli. He was even called in last year to replace shoes that had been affixed to the remains of Pope Pius IX, who died in 1878.

His footwear had been destroyed in flooding in a Vatican crypt.

"The company that took care of the restoration work asked me to make a pair of shoes similar to the original," and so Stefanelli created a pair of burgundy velvet brogues.