An icon of chic and elegance, Kate Middleton no longer spends a summer without wedge espadrilles to complete her wardrobe of light floral dresses. The Princess of Wales’s favorite brand is Castaner, a century-old Spanish house that manufactures its shoes in the traditional way. The Englishwoman is not the only one to slip the Castaners into her summer wardrobe: Oprah Winfrey, Meghan Markle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Emily Ratajkowski, Jill Biden or Penelope Cruz do the same, following in the footsteps of Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall or Salvador Dali, stars in espadrilles. This summer, even Margot Robbie in Barbie is wearing them.
Castaner, in Banyoles, in the heart of Catalonia, has been the glamorous brand since Yves Saint Laurent put his stamp on it and imagined a version with a wedge heel. At the French couturier, the 2023 model costs 1,200 euros in tanned leather. In town and at the beach, the espadrille is a must have essential even with luxury brands, at high-end prices: the Dior Granville in embroidered cotton at 650 euros, the Gucci in natural raffia and leather at 595 euros, the Chanel in tweed and lambskin at 850 euros… We are far from the modest sandal in linen and braided hemp soles from the origins, which was worn by the Spanish infantrymen of the King of Aragon as well as miners and workers.
Asia slashes prices and quality
Archaeological digs date shoes with rope soles to around 4,000 years ago, but the espadrille we know today dates back to the 13th century. Modern espadrilles, symbols of summer relaxation, are both fashion accessories that fashionistas and celebrities love, but also a “basic” of the popular wardrobe, at more affordable prices – around ten euros.
The espadrille made in France is a flagship product of the Basque Country and Béarn, where manufacturers perpetuate the craftsmanship of its old-fashioned manufacture. In Soule, in Mauléon-Licharre, capital of the espadrille, several local brands have made a name for themselves in a very competitive market, where Asia cuts prices as well as quality, selling for mass distribution espadrilles as inexpensive as ephemera. Out of 100 pairs of espadrilles sold in France, between 70 and 80 are imported, the others come mainly from Mauléon. The production depends on the method of manufacture. At Espasoule, machine production allows the production of up to 2,400 pairs per day. But at Prodiso, the daily production does not exceed 120 pairs, because everything is hand-sewn.
From the Élysée to OM
The 100% French espadrille has it under the sole, thanks to the work of the designers on the prints and materials (canvas but also leather, nubuck and fur), on the design (there is a winter espadrille), and thanks to smart marketing. In tune with the times, Jules & Jenn manufacture in Mauléon a “slow fashion” espadrille, eco-designed, some models being in recycled or upcycled cotton. Prodiso only uses natural, ecological and biodegradable products. Ditto at Payote, which uses recycled cotton for the plain models, vegetable ink to dye the fabrics, natural rope for the insoles and recycled rubber for the outer part.
Collaborations add dynamism. Payote has teamed up with the Presidency of the Republic for a collection of Élysée tricolor espadrilles. The brand is also the official espadrilles supplier of the XV of France of rugby. Art of Soule, a French brand created in 2008, has designed special series of espadrilles for the Tour de France and even PSG. Still in Mauléon, Zatizz is the official supplier of espadrilles in the colors of Olympique de Marseille, a collection of four models.
At the gates of Bayonne, in Saint-Pierre-d’Irube, Pascale Douet and her seamstresses from L’Art de l’espadrille sew the models by hand, some of them unique or made to measure. It takes them between 45 minutes and two hours to make a pair of sneakers in their workshop. They even put on brides silk or linen espadrilles, adorned with lace, tulle, braid and satin ribbons. Ultra-sophisticated espadrilles, a far cry from the espadrilles that you quickly take off on the sand, at the beach, before taking a dip in the sea.