Sandwiched between England and Italy, France is often overlooked when it comes to footwear. Indeed, thanks to the influence of both its own neighbours as well as its own innovations, France is a prominent shoe-making country.
In this guide, we’ve created a top 10 list of the Best Men’s French Shoe Brands:
- JM Weston
- John Lobb
- Maison Corthay
- Stéphane Jimenez
- Philippe Atienza
- La Botte Gardiane
- Jacques & Démétier
- Bonus Mention: Gérard Thibaud
You can use the links to jump ahead or scroll down to read more. You can also learn more about the history of shoe-making in France.
What Are The Best French Shoe Brands For Men?
After the menus below, we’ll explore the top 10 best French shoe brands. Each of them were carefully researched, contacted, and tested when possible. Furthermore, please take note that the brands aren’t necessarily featured in any particular order of preference.
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Despite its anglophone name, JM Weston is one of France’s most influential shoemakers. In 1891, Édouard Blanchard established his factory in Limoges, a town best known for its porcelaine. However, it was his son, Eugène, who revolutionised the brand following a trip to the USA in 1904.
During his three-year visit, Eugène discovered the benefits of Goodyear welting. On his return, he imported the machinery and renamed the brand “JM Weston” after the Massachusetts town where he stayed.
Seeking quality over quantity, he reduced production from 600 to 80 pairs of shoes a day and its first Parisian store opened in 1922. In 1960, the brand released its celebrated 180 Penny Loafer.
The 180 is still in production and cemented its American-influenced dandyism for which the brand is known today.
Founded in 1935, Aubercy is the last independent shoemaker in Paris and was recently recognised as a “Living Heritage Company” by the French government. The family business is today run by the founders’ grandson, Xavier. However, his parents Odette and Philippe, still play a role in the business’ daily operations.
Each of their shoes are crafted in their Parisian workshop using a hand-sewn welt. For this reason, their ready-to-wear collection is available in limited quantities. Meanwhile, they also offer their “commande spéciale” made-to-order and “sur mesure” made-to-measure lines.
After a brief hiatus, Aubercy have also reinstated their fully bespoke “grande mesure” service with prices starting at $5,550. You’ll now find the renowned renowned Yasuhiro “Yasu” Shiota working tirelessly in their workshop to produce their elegant shoes.
In 1976, Hermès acquired the reputed London shoemaker’s Parisian boutique and workshop with permission to keep using the name. Today, the John Lobb in London and the one in Paris only share the name but are otherwise entirely independent of one another.
Over the years France’s John Lobb has grown with new boutiques all around the world. While their ready-to-wear shoes are actually crafted using a Goodyear welt in Northampton, all of their custom footwear is entirely hand-made from within their Parisian workshop.
Therefore, if you were to ask for a made-to-order shoe based on a Northampton model, it will have an entirely hand-sewn construction rather than a Goodyear welt. Given that a made-to-order version of their ready-to-wear shoes only costs a 208€ supplement, it’s well worth the additional cost.
Furthermore, only their exotic skins are ordered through Hermès. Interestingly, John Lobb otherwise uses its own private references for sourcing leather.
Following his CAP diploma, Pierre Corthay undertook a Campagnons du Devoir apprenticeship 1979. Following a period of seven years spent touring France to learn more about the craft, he discovered an old workshop that was built in 1947. He took it over in 1990 and set up his own Parisian boutique.
Starting as a bespoke shoemaker, he soon began to also include ready-to-wear shoes from his Beaupréau workshop. By 2008, Pierre Corthay was awarded the title of Master of Art by the French Ministry of Culture.
All of Corthay’s premium shoes are hand-made from their small workshop in Western France. As is quite common among the French approach to shoe-making, there are a dizzying array of hand finished patina options available to add a touch of identity to the shoes.
Stéphane Jimenez has enjoyed a dynamic and celebrated career as a shoemaker. Trained through the Compagnons de Devoir, he worked many years for John Lobb’s atelier and supervised Stefano Bremer’s Florentine workshop until 2000.
After many years working for other renowned brands, Stéphane settled in Bordeaux to establish his workshop. At first, this included a cobbling service called the Bottier Bordelais. However, he handed this to Julien Yeghiazarian in 2015 so he could focus on bespoke shoe-making.
Today, Stéphane Jimenez represents one of France’s most well-known names in bespoke shoe-making. He’s active mostly on Instagram where he can be contacted for appointments and enquiries.
Another alumnus of the Compagnons du Devoir, Philippe Atienza operates from his beautiful duplex workshop sanctuary in Paris. Also a serene showroom, he both crafts his shoes and welcomes clients in the same open-space environment.
After his 8-year Tour de France as a Compagnon, Atienza worked at John Lobb as well as Massaro. When Massaro’s founder retired, Atienza took the brand over. However, he decided to establish his own workshop in 2015 after being voted “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (France’s Best Artisan) in 2011.
Philippe Atienza is also renowned for working with luxurious organic leathers, which is a relatively new concept in shoe-making. His services only consist of bespoke shoes for both men and women, which start at around $5,000.
A much younger brand compared to some of the others featured on this list, Caulaincourt was founded as recently as 2008 by Alexis Lafont. A shoe designer by vocation, Lafont sought to create a brand that offered the experience that he would have enjoyed as a client.
The shoes are crafted in the small western town of Cholet in the Pays de la Loire region. Furthermore, Caulaincourt offers their own customised made-to-order service, which starts at a 185€ supplement and includes shoe trees.
In this case, the shoes are delivered to the workshop as a blank slate in a clear vegetable tanned calfskin leather. They are then hand-painted with a unique patina from the boutique’s workshop.
In 1934, Eugène Heschung established his workshop in the small Alsace region town of Steinbourg. Specialising in Goodyear and Norwegian welting, his shoes quickly became recognised as the ideal companion for the cold weather conditions of the region.
Thanks to this reputation, Heschung developed Norwegian-welted leather ski boots, which were worn by French Olympic athletes during the 1960s. When Pierre Heschung took over the family business in 1990, he began to craft premium shoes that incorporated the resilience of the Norwegian and Goodyear welts.
Pierre continues to run the business today with his son, Romain, from their new manufacture in Dettwiller, the next town from Steinbourg.
A unique departure from the other brands in this list, La Botte Gardiane is a rich expression of French cultural heritage. With traditions dating back to the 16th Century, Gardians are France’s cowboys and a precursor to those associated with the Wild West.
Riding their iconic white horses, Gardians continue to herd cattle today across the marshland of the Camargue region. This beautiful landscape is also one of the few places you’ll naturally see flamingos in Europe.
Established in 1958, la Botte Gardiane handcrafts traditional French cowboy boots from within the Camargue region itself. A recognised Living Heritage Company, their Goodyear welted boots are made using leathers sourced from the Degermann tannery.
Furthermore, La Botte Gardiane produces handmade shoes, chukka boots, and sandals using the same techniques and leathers.
Like Caulaincourt, Jacques & Déméter crafts its shoes from the Pays de la Loire village of Cholet. Their shoes are crafted using a choice of Blake stitching, Goodyear welting, or Norwegian storm welts.
Meanwhile, their leathers are sourced from the celebrated Puy and Degermann tanneries, which also supply designer brands like Hermès and Ralph Lauren. As for their soles, they use 12-month aged vegetable-tanned leather from the Masure tannery.
During an apprenticeship with the Campagnons du Devoir over seven years, Gérard Thibaud worked with reputed shoemakers including France’s John Lobb and Eric Devos. In 2002, he established his workshop in the western town of Challans in 2002.
As a cobbler and cordwainer, Gérard only crafts fully bespoke shoes while also offering a repair service. In 2006, he hired an apprentice who took over shoe repairs entirely in 2008.
A recognised artisan, Gérard Thibaud was awarded the Main d’Or by the regional Chambers of Artisans in 2013.
Furthermore, he crafts the shoes himself entirely by hand. A first pair will require 12 weeks to complete with three meetings. However, future orders will only require 5 weeks to produce. As for the lasts, these are made by Hervé Brunelle, a master craftsman with over 20 years’ experience.
French Shoe-Making History
While England’s shoe-making history is relatively simple to explore, France’s heritage is considerably less structured and quite complex. Unlike England’s relationship with Northampton, the there were a number of regions throughout France that were reputed to craft their own unique styles and identities.
Interestingly, the distinction between someone who repairs and someone who makes shoes is historically blurred in France. In England, these are respectively referred to as a cobbler and cordwainer, which were two individual crafts with their own regulatory guilds.
Meanwhile, the French term “cordonnier” has the same Spanish etymology as “cordwainer” but tends to refer to both trades. Furthermore, Charles IX released an edict during the 16th Century that permitted all master cordonniers the right to make and sell types of shoe that corresponded with their physical state.
This complicated the market and made it difficult to specialise outside of what was expected of them. As it was believed that shoe-making was dirty work, a general shoemaker wouldn’t be approached for making delicate and clean shoes for women.
Meanwhile, a “bottier” was considered to have strong and bulky hands as he would work with tougher and thicker leather. While he was respected for creating robust and reliable footwear, it was unlikely that he would make complex shoes.
Finally, the “soulier” would be associated with more refined and supple leathers as well as elegant quality.
However, this attempt at enforcing the definition of different shoemaker classes only succeeded within Paris itself. In the rest of the country, shoemakers were expected to be able to make any type of shoe according to the needs of their local clientele.
Men In Heels
Before the French Revolution, footwear enjoyed a privileged relationship with both royalty and the aristocracy. In Paris and Versailles, the regulations detailed above were in full force. As a result, elegant footwear was embraced by the nobility following the Renaissance’s Persian influence during the 17th Century.
Just a few select shoemakers would become favoured among the court. As a result, shoes became an ostentatious fashion statement as well as an expression of the wearer’s political status. For instance, Louis XIV was a renowned shoe collector. He was particularly fond of red heels that were 10 cm tall.
Because of his relatively short stature, he even issued an edict that only court members could wear red heels and limited their height below his.
Meanwhile, other regions such as the Pays de la Loire were well-known for producing more utilitarian footwear for the working classes. However, this radical albeit international contrast of shoe style faded at the dawn of the 18th Century.
The Enlightenment period placed a greater emphasis on educational values as opposed to privilege and extravagance. Consequently, the fashion for both clothes and shoes began to lean towards more practical styles.
French Shoes In The 19th Century
Following the Revolution, French fashion changed radically in favour of more modest styling with imperial and military influences. Nevertheless, the shoemaker had garnered a reputation as a noble craftsman and was often revered as an artist.
Although the industry was still in its infancy, the Parisian shoe-making community was extremely structured with a network of masters and workers. As rent was expensive even in this period, workshops were usually situated on the upper floors in a single room.
At the centre, the master would perform the cutting of the leather and distribute the work to his employees. Meanwhile, the tanneries could be found in the Eastern parts of Paris along the St Martin canal and their hides were be sold in Les Halles.
During this period, the most common method of shoe construction was hand-stitched welting. Similarly, the craft was largely workshop focused and wouldn’t begin to experience any noticeable industrialisation until after the second half of the century.
The mechanisation developed in the USA and England began to significantly transition to France throughout the last quarter of the century. Naturally, the industry flourished, particularly in the provincial regions.
However, this caused the craft in Paris to shrink with many older workshops unable to keep up with the stiff competition.
French Shoe-Making In The 20th Century
Few of the older shoemakers endured the turn of the century. As you may have noticed in the list above, only one was actually founded then and it would adopt Goodyear welting by 1907.
Those that did continue to pursue handmade shoes had to focus on providing bespoke services of exceptional quality. Only a handful would prosper and it wouldn’t be until the latter-half of the 20th Century that they would be embraced again.
In the 1930s, a number of manufacturers grouped together in order to establish the Fédération Française de la Chaussure, an organisation designed to support and promote the French craft.
Although France may occasionally be overlooked for its shoes, it is one of the most prestigious producers of leather in the world.
Similarly, the Conseil National du Cuir was founded in 1948. A confederacy that grouped together 20 other federations and unions, it brought together all those involved in crafting leather from the farmers to the distribution.
Today, the confederacy groups together nearly 10,000 businesses in France that represent both 25 billion euros and nearly 130,000 employees. After all, it includes distributors like Hermès as well as the Puy and Degermann tanneries.
Les Compagnons Du Devoir
In England, a strong guild system greatly helped to preserve the shoe-making craft. For instance, the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers prevented cobblers from working with new leather, which enabled shoemakers to specialise in making shoes.
Given that France didn’t quite have structured guild system, it instead adopted a unique organisation known as the Compagnons du Devoir. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the Compagnons is essentially a mentoring network for apprentices for a plethora of trades.
An apprentice would undertake what is known as a Tour de France (without the bicycle) in order to learn a trade. Over what could be a period of 7 years, and apprentice would spend between 6 months to a year with a craftsman before being required to change location and find a new master.
Craftmen’s guilds were banned in 1791 during the French Revolution’s Terror, which included the The Compagnons. However, this was repealed in 1864 and the guild continues to operate today.
Nowadays, the guild is considerably more structured with recognised mentors and certain qualifications required to apply. Indeed, a number of the shoemakers listed above even trained under a Compagnonnage.
Today’s French Shoe-Making Industry
Today, over 50% of France’s shoe-making industry is spread across the western side of the country in regions like the Pays de la Loire. Despite the challenges faced by the country’s industry, French production of footwear was recognised as an artistic craft in 2016.
According to the Fédération Française de la Chaussure, there are 99 shoe-making companies based in France, which produced a turnover of 828 million euros in 2017. Similarly, over 5,000 people are employed in the industry and craft 22 million pairs of shoes per year.
While the figure above is indeed enormous, France hosts a number of factory brands that produce a variety of footwear. For instance, 29% of footwear made in France are slippers. Meanwhile, 35% of footwear made in France are crafted with leather uppers.
Furthermore, the Fédération Française de la Chaussure continues to play a pivotal role in the country’s shoe-making industry. Open to manufacturers of all configurations, it acts as France’s shoe-making ambassador by supporting its interests through lobbying as well as legal, social, and marketing services.
Similarly, the Regional Union of Pays de la Loire Shoes is a union that consists of 24 shoe-making companies. It was founded to preserve over 3,000 jobs and 400 million euros worth of income to the region.
Why Buy French Shoes?
While France is still often regarded as the capital of fashion, its reputation for shoes didn’t quite survive the French revolution. Indeed, France tends to be overlooked by its English and Italian neighbours these day.
However, France hosts a rich and captivating shoe culture that shouldn’t be ignored. With a vibrant quality culture, France offers magnificent specimens of quality shoe-making.
France has also developed its unique shoe identity by drawing inspiration from its neighbours as well as its own heritage. Furthermore, it’s simultaneous appreciation of artisanal craftsmanship and regional history has given birth to an original artisanal shoe-making culture.
From Italian-style hand-painted patinas and shapes to the quintessentially robust construction of English shoes, France has succeeded in combining hallmarks of both to develop an interesting compromise.
As a result, France offers the perfect balance with stylish yet formal shoes that are both durable and timelessly elegant.
Now that you have read about the best French shoe brands and their history, feel free to explore our other related guides:
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- Top 10 English Shoes To Buy Online
- Best Custom Shoes To Buy Online
- Most Comfortable Dress Shoes For Men
- Bespoke Unit Shoe Homepage
"A Really fun and informative read. I didn't expect such a detailed history lesson in this guide! I really enjoyed learning about these brands and their history."Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★