It is these encounters that change the destiny of brands as well as people. In the small factory manufacturing Castañer espadrilles in Banyoles, in the heart of Catalonia, a series of sketches ofYves Saint Laurent. Sketches of silhouettes, slender, colorful, perched on shoes that no one had imagined until then. It is these vertiginous heels in rope sole, and these laces tied at the ankle, imagined by the Frenchman, which still make the world famous of the brand of Catalan espadrilles today.
During her visit to Madrid, the American first lady, Jill Biden, raided the Castañer store, to the point of triggering a wave of purchases across the Atlantic. Queen Letizia or kate, the Princess of Wales, are loyal customers and open the pages of people magazines to the brand. In Cannes, Castañer espadrilles have been regulars on the red carpet, since the Spanish star Penelope Cruz popularized them on the big screen in the 1980s. They will wear the beautiful Margot Robbie, who plays Barbie in the film about the American doll. “The production made two very special requests to us: a heel height that we had never produced and a totally vegan shoe, without animal skin”laughs Rafael Castañer, one of the three brothers at the head of the family business, registered in the commercial register of the municipality of Banyoles since 1776.
Dalí, Garcia Lorca and Picasso
Before becoming a glamorous accessory, espardenyas in Catalan, alpargatas in Spanish, espadrilles in French were the traditional footwear of Spanish peasants. From the 1930s, Castañer was to have fans of his sandals: the most whimsical of Catalans, Salvador Dalí, his friend the poet Federico García Lorca and the great Pablo Picasso, followers of a rather elegant version with a black ribbon. . It is she who will catch the eye of Yves Saint Laurent during a visit to a Parisian trade show dedicated to footwear, in which the Castañers took part. The stylist then asks the Catalans if they can make taller ones. Espadrilles with wedge heels appeared on the catwalk of Yves Saint Laurent fashion shows in the early 1970s, never to come down again. Even today, the Banyoles factory produces models made for the most famous fashion brands. Rafael Castañer and his two brothers are bound by discretion. “More than 90% of the big names in luxury work with us “, he comments soberly, surrounded by boxes with the Hermès or Chanel logo.
In recent years, the hippie chic trend has given a boost to the espadrilles that Castañer explores from every angle. Each collection is an opportunity to use new materials: satin, Lurex, raffia… The models are designed and manufactured in Banyoles, 120 kilometers north of Barcelona. The shoe maker still uses timeless machines, such as these Jacquard looms to weave the ankle pads, which ensure the support of the espadrille at the foot. He makes his rubber soles from natural gum and above all weaves his rope soles by hand. “All our fabrics, leathers or suedes come from Spain. Only jute is bought in Bangladesh »says Rafael Castañer.
This summer, he teamed up with New York designer Diane von Fürstenberg for the 2023 edition of the capsule collection he regularly launches, with pairs selling for more than 200 euros. After a first collaboration with the prince of high-end shoes Manolo Blahnik, the Catalan continued with Missoni, Paul Smith, or Altuzzara. “It’s an excellent way to position ourselves in the world of luxury”, believes the industrialist. It already exports 80% of its production of 300,000 pairs per year to its own stores, such as the one in Milan, which opened this year, to department stores such as Le Bon Marché in Paris or Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. and at multi-brand retailers. Expanding its network, developing its men’s range, its winter collection, online sales, offer it solid sources of growth. Rafael Castañer prefers to talk about the values of the brand, recently redefined with the employees: “artisanal”, ” authentic “, “timeless”, “Mediterranean”. “The concept of slow-fashion suits us very well”he summarizes.