The Moreschis Grow Great

pag 240-241 Francesco Gianbeppe Mario e Stefano Moreschi

“To describe the Moreschi style,” writes author Cristina Morozzi in The Italian Art of Shoemaking (Rizzoli), a publication depicting the Moreschi footwear family, “it is necessary to study the pre-boxed shoes leaving the production line, and to get to know them.” The passage that contains these words runs for several pages of tight text, one of the early clues that, at least within the world of visual fashion tomes, this is intended to be a significant and weighty work. Other clues: There are entire sections dedicated the origins of leathers and animal hides, and (in an act of incredible self promotion or confidence) the book includes what feel like press releases on items such as its bottled water and limited-edition bikes. And then there is its title: The Italian Art of Shoemaking: Works of Art In Leather.

But for its first half (and, of course, for the beauty of the shoes), it comes close to justifying all that. Accompanied by family photographs and the artful shots of Giò Martorana, Morozzi introduces us to a young Mario Moreschi, a textile worker who took no shortscuts when it came to crafting his footwear.

Mostly, the language describing the production is ludicrously ornate—“Nothing is left to chance; rather, every step is the fruit of a tradition cultivated with passion and skill.” Likewise, there are some lengthy detours about the technical aspects of shoemaking. Still, if you really expected a tour around the house of Moreschi today without obsessive enthusiasms and extravagances, this is probably not the book or shoe brand for you.

Though some passages are unbearably obtuse (and feel lost in the translation from Italian to English), for the most part Morozzi tells—and tells well—a compelling tale of Mario Moreschi, a self-taught shoemaker with ambitions to become one of Italy’s best artisans. Also in these years are surprises. Through conversations with Mario’s son GianBeppe, we learn that Mario passed away before he could see his company—then named Morres—prosper. In a moment that is both distressing and heartfelt, GianBeppe remembers his father’s passing. “He died suddenly on Saturday, November 9, 1957, in my arms. His heart had given way under the strain of years of hard work, stress, and worry.”

Throughout the book, GianBeppe speaks fondly of his family life, and how he fit in. He recalls shadowing his father when he was 20, helping with the sales, and lists off his memories of Mario to the author. “He remembers his father’s entrepreneurialism, his firm commitment to quality production, the successes, and the strains. He remembers him sitting at his desk, head in hands, thinking of work, of commitments undertaken, and of how to pay his employees at the end of the month.”

As the pages turn, and time passes, you can really feel GianBeppe searching for new ways to honor his father, working out innovative strategies to keep the business going while still abiding by his father’s morals. “He left to his sons a small company,” GianBeppe declares, “but one that was theirs only, a respected name, and a product that was gaining recognition.”

Soon after his father’s passing, a man named Angelo Gabriele Fronzoni enters GianBeppe’s life. The two meet at the Vigevano International Shoe Fair, and Fronzoni suggests that GianBeppe rename Morres. (What is your name?” asks Fronzoni. “Moreschi,” GianBeppe answers. “That will be your new name.”) But, Fronzoni advises, changing the business name is not enough to spur sales and help international markets identify the brand. So he comes up with an idea for a logo, a figurative “M” formed by two men’s shoes placed side by side. “Black on white,” recalls GianBeppe, “because, as [Fronzoni] stated, ‘they were the truest, most indelible colors.’” 

Morozzi, the author, is at her very best when she conveys what is was for GianBeppe, now in his eighties, to be a young man searching for ways to honor his father’s name. She also writes as though she has a clear sense that GianBeppe, no matter the hurdles, would provide for his family and his workers and artisans. And that’s exactly how she should write, for one of the many reasons the Moreschi name lives on today is because of GianBeppe’s faith and loyalty.

Later in the book, we meet GianBeppe’s son Mario, who manages the company today with his brothers, Stefano and Francesco. Like his brothers, Mario has a deep appreciation for the shoes his grandfather created. But the book’s true beauty is surely the way it captures the bond of this family—“I feel like a child of leather and skin,” says Mario. “I still feel excitement whenever I enter the safe where we age the leather.”