PARIS — Couture shoemaker Raymond Massaro, the designer behind Chanel’s iconic beige and black slingback heels, has died at age 90, according to France’s Conseil National du Cuir, an industry association of leather workers.
The shoemaker filled made-to-measure orders to clients who were “as prestigious as they were demanding,” said Chanel in a statement. “Raymond Massaro transmitted his love of the metier and his unique know how to a solid team that pays homage to him today.”
The grandson of an Italian immigrant in France, Massaro was born in 1929, into a family of shoemakers.
Massaro initially planned to strike out into a different field — he was interested in engineering — but was instead drawn into the family business, discovering the lucrative task of delivering the house’s shoes in the Forties. Massaro earned a shoemaking diploma in 1947 with a specialization in Louis XV-era shoes for women and became an apprentice in the family’s namesake house on number 2 Rue de la Paix, established in 1894.
A figure in the French luxury fashion industry, Massaro was best known for the heeled, beige and black slingback he designed in 1957 for Coco Chanel, following her request for shoes that would elongate the leg while minimizing the foot.
“And above all, open in the back — don’t forget women’s feet can have a tendency to swell…so we left the back open to let the foot breath,” said Massaro, in an interview last year on French radio channel RTL, discussing his memoirs, “Secrets de Bottier,” or “Secrets of a bootmaker,” which features a preface by Inès de la Fressange.
“At the time, shoes were pink, like the dresses were pink, like the bags were pink; Chanel arrived on the scene, revolutionized everything and said ‘shoes in beige and black, beige and blue, beige and brown, beige and gold’— four pairs into the suitcase and off on a world tour,” recalled Massaro.
The family house in the Forties made an elastic and leather ballerina shoe for Madame Grès, worn by Brigitte Bardot in the Fifties, and becoming internationally recognized.
In addition to working with Chanel, and other well-known figures including King Hussein II of Morocco and Romy Schneider, over the years, Massaro worked with leading Paris couture houses and designers including John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, Karl Lagerfeld, Thierry Mugler and Azzedine Alaïa. The shoemaker retired in 2008, after selling his business to Chanel in 2002 where it now sits in the luxury group’s collection of Métiers d’Art alongside Goossens jewelry, Causse gloves and Lesage embroideries.
The late Lagerfeld was known to wear Massaro shoes exclusively, preferring tight-fitting suede boots with block heels.
In a Loïc Prigent documentary filmed in 2004 for Arte, called “Signed Chanel,” the shoemaker was shown shuttling between his workshop on Rue de la Paix and Chanel’s Rue Cambon offices to confer with Lagerfeld — equipped with a nondescript brown plastic bag of shoes.
“During the collections, one can make the trip two, three, four, five times a day, you see — I have my set route,” he explained at the time.
In his workshop, the documentary shows him with a heavily accessorized client — in a tweed suit with ample strings of pearls — trying out a pair of platform mules.
Waving at shelves packed with piles of leather in every color, Massaro explained:
“We also work for private clients, like Madame here, who want personalized models that no one else has. When a client visits, she musn’t leave — there is everything here — it’s the basis of the trade. We satisfy all whims immediately.”
A service will be held for Massaro on April 11 at the Notre Dame de Lorette Church in Paris at 10:30 a.m.