Luxury French footwear maison now uses camel leather from Abu Dhabi

In the remote French town of Beaupréau, the cutters, clickers, toe lasters and welt sewers of Maison Corthay work together to craft some of the world’s finest footwear – sculpting the supplest leathers into covetable shoes for the well-heeled man, using techniques passed down through the ages. But the material that they so lovingly mould hails from closer to home. For along with high-quality calf leather, suede, traditional Japanese denim and linen from northern France, Maison Corthay now incorporates camel leather, sourced straight from the UAE, into its designs.
This is perhaps unsurprising for a brand intent on melding traditional know-how with “creative, avant-garde design”. Pierre Corthay was first introduced to the art of shoemaking through Les Compagnons du Devoir, a French organisation of craftsmen and artisans that dates back to the Middle Ages. As part of their education, fledgling craftsmen (and, more recently, women) embark on the so-called Tour de France, where they carry out rigorous apprenticeships with masters in their chosen craft. Corthay excelled at the art of shoemaking and went on to become the only men’s shoemaker awarded with the title Maître d’Art, a distinction granted by the French ministry of culture to the country’s most skilled craftsmen.

He established Maison Corthay in 1990 at the age of 27 and was soon joined in the business by his younger brother, Christophe. Together, the duo began experimenting with increasingly “audacious shapes”, glazing them with subtle but unexpected patinas. The brand is now known for its fearless approach to colour, offering poetically named shades such as Lie de Vin, Vieux bois and Aubergine.

In 1991, the Arca was born – and has gone on to become the brand’s signature style. It’s a two-eyelet Derby, a style of men’s footwear that started its life as a sporting and hunting boot in the mid-19th century and by the 20th century had become the required footwear of every style-savvy man about town.

The Arca’s sleek lines and distinctive toe have made it a firm favourite with Maison Corthay customers around the world (which, incidentally, include such cool cats as Samuel L Jackson, Rafael Nadal, Matt Damon, Adrien Brody, Clive Owen and Kevin Spacey).

“The design of this two-eyelet Derby is quite emblematic, with its front inspired by a 1960s sports car or an eagle’s claw,” says Corthay. “The elegance is further enhanced by the inverted lacing, which is another special touch, and the Goodyear construction of the shoes ensures exceptional durability and complete water-resistance. The design, combined with the minimal use of assembly stitches, enables exceptional comfort for men. Also, the Arca comes in so many different colours and leathers that you can personalise, from the sole to the piping and laces.”

In 2013, when Maison Corthay decided to launch its first store in the Middle East in The Dubai Mall and began to acquaint itself with the region, it came across camel leather. On a constant quest for “lighter, softer, stronger” materials, the brand was intrigued by the idea of incorporating this relatively unknown and unused material into its product offering.

“Let’s get technical for a minute,” Corthay says. “Camel hide has about 10 times more fibres in its construction than bovine hide, making it appreciably stronger, despite it being very soft and supple. In the standard tearing test for respective leathers, cow hide ripped under a force of 240 Newtons, while a comparable sample of camel hide finally ripped under a force of 725 Newtons, making it three times as strong as cow leather.”

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