Bruno and Simone Peron’s workshop is situated in one of Bologna’s most charming spots.

The window of the atelier looks out on the imposing Basilica of San Francesco and the sepulchral monuments dedicated to the Glossators, interpreters of Roman law at the Alma Mater, Europe’s most ancient university. History pervades every corner of the square facing the shoemaker’s workshop and, from without, it reaches into the atelier, permeated with the scent of leather and wood given off by the handmade moulds that are treasured in its ancient furnishings.

The workshop is a true museum of art; it was founded more than forty years ago, under the protection of another saint, Crispino, a shoemaker himself in his earthly life. Like Bruno, the “old” father, and Simone, the “not so young” son, who are among the last remaining custodians of this great Bolognese heritage. The workshop is very popular, not only with the local clientele, composed of demanding aficionados, but also with the lovers of bespoke products from all over Italy and abroad. Visitors to Bologna know exactly where to go for a pair of made-to-measure men’s shoes, of which they can choose materials, style and construction: Peron e Peron is the destination of their “pilgrimage”. To begin with, the foot is accurately measured, in order to make the “last”, the mould, which is the staring point of every shoe. Only top-quality leather is used in this workshop: crocodile, stingray, first-choice calfskin and Cordovan, the famous North American horsehide that becomes more beautiful with time and wear. Each pair is unique, entirely handmade. At the back of the shop is the cordwainer’s “den”. This is where Simone, as a boy, slowly and stubbornly learned the secrets of his father’s trade.

We must give our clients 100% of what they want. We must build a special relationship, to understand the way our clients live, their needs.

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I believe in the concept of the Renaissance workshop, situated in the city centre, because tradition and historic centres have always gone hand-in-hand.

Where did you learn the secrets of shoemaking?

I started when I was seventeen. At school, I could not get along with one of my professors, and I had to repeat a class. So my father said: no one in this house sits at home doing nothing, tomorrow morning you will get up at six and come to work with me. My father is a master craftsman, which also means that he is a “master of life”. For this reason, he entrusted my training to his craftsmen, making sure I was not treated as the son of the owner, but just as an apprentice. Everything I know I learned from Pietro Draghetti, a master shoemaker who was awarded the Lesina d’Oro title in 1947. As soon as I understood that he was the man that could teach me all the secrets of the trade, I diligently dedicated myself to learning, leaving the girlfriend I was dating and reducing to a minimum the time I spent with my friends. I had to work untiringly for a year and a half, before I could see the first results.
From eight o’clock in the morning to the middle of the night, seven days a week. Then I had to go through another three and a half years of “real” training until, after a five-year apprenticeship, Draghetti gave me “his” diploma telling me: the pupil has finally become the master. That’s when my father changed the name of the shop into “Peron e Peron”, pointing out that he is the Peron on the top, that I am the Peron on the bottom, and that my mother rightfully deserves the conjunction “e”.

What are the secrets of the shoemaking art?

We must be innovative without forgetting tradition. We must give our clients 100% of what they want. We must build a special relationship, to understand the way our clients live, their needs. In order to give the best advice and always find the solution that will make them feel at ease and gratified. Technically it requires very high manual skills and imagination: we have to be able to visualise the shoe in its becoming, in order to obtain a product that is not only beautiful but also comfortable. Because comfort represents the added value of a made-to-measure pair of shoes. We also have to be humble, because every shoemaker knows that learning is a process that continues with every new pair of shoes he makes.
The result is always unpredictable, as it depends on the materials – every type of leather is different – and on the last, which is created expressly for each client. In the past, the schools were responsible for the preservation and transmission of these rules.... Nowadays the schools have disappeared, and only a handful of cordwainers, like my father, still possess the necessary skills to master a craft to such a degree that they can overcome any type of difficulty. On top of this, I believe that there is some confusion over the meaning of “artisan workmanship”.
Many big brands that use this term do not know the rules behind it, but they were smart at creating their own rules, “comforted” by their marketing.

Among the different shoe constructions - Tirolese, Bologna, Goodyear, Norwegian... - which is the most difficult to make by hand?

Until last October, I would have answered that the most difficult is the triple stitching on a thin “single hide” (author’s note: a shoe upper that is obtained from a whole piece of hide, not from bonded leather). The thinner the leather, the more precise you have to be. That same month I was invited to an event promoted by the cordwainers of Parma, where I met the man I consider the real genius of shoemaking, Kota Kishi from Japan. Together we worked on a construction that was so complicated that neither of us would have been able to do it on his own.
We used a whole piece of hide to make a pair of ankle boots, with a technique based on a 1954 model made by an unidentified English cordswainer. I had come across this model in the footwear museum in Tokyo, where it is preserved like a holy relic. That particular stitching does not have a name, because it is the result of an artistic creation that develops “askew”: two parallel rows of stitches that run along the shoe like a scar, and intersect on the upper part. It sounds easy, but it isn’t.... In the one and a half years it took me to reproduce the technique without defects and without breaking the thread, I had managed to make just one shoe, not even the whole pair. Together with Kota, we succeeded in obtaining the result we were aiming at. Today, that construction is the most difficult I can think of. Tomorrow, who knows... If I lose my passion, I will probably continue to give the same answer even in the future.
But if I continue to learn and advance, I know I will always get carried away into another crazy adventure!

What future do you envisage for your workshop?

This crisis – which is also due to a period of excesses that have escalated to the point of saturation – has made the “pure” stronger. The “pure” are those who are not scared of the recession, who are willing to fight and to measure their production against that of others. The “pure” are not obsessed with finding a new location or renewing their image.
I believe in the concept of the Renaissance workshop, situated in the city centre, because tradition and historic centres have always gone hand-in-hand.
Whoever is willing to be the custodian of this tradition has a bright future ahead.