Sole Survivor

Lemisios' trend-stepping Capri and ballet
pumps charm through ages

By Cordelia Madden

SINCE 1912, Lemisios has been providing Athenian high society with lovingly hand-crafted heels and pumps. Nearly a century on, customers are still flocking for the classic shoe styles, quality workmanship and attentive service.

The concept A family-run, age-old cobblers shop selling classic handmade shoes, Lemisios is located in a small, glass-fronted corner shop in Kolonaki that - with its creaky floorboards and piles of dusty shoes - is as deliciously old­fashioned as is its courteous service and focus on lasting quality.

The goods Although the shop does have a selection of fashion­conscious models, Lemisios is justly famed for its more classic styles. Ever since Brigitte Bardot first popped on a pair of ballet slippers back in the 1950s, Lemisios has been making versions of the ageless leather pumps, which recently saw a surge in popularity after Kate Moss started slipping them on with skinny jeans or cropped pants. The shop's

second bestseller, the simple Capri T-thong sandal (another 50s favourite), also suddenly enjoyed a revival when Tom Ford showed them for Gucci a couple of summers ago. While Gucci binned the design the next year, though, at Lemisios customers who loved the chic simplicity of the sandal will be able to buy it for years to come. "It's something that our clients find very reassuring," says Costis Katsalis, the shop's manager. "If they like a design, they know they can come back the following year - or in ten years time -and still find it here." The shop also offers a made-to-order service: bring a photo or just describe the shoe you want, and the Lemisios craftsmen will try their best to recreate it.

Summer picks The gold or silver Capri sandals are a summer essential: slip them into your weekend holdall and you'll find they work just as well with a bikini and kaftan on the beach as with a frock or jeans and a dressy top for drinks and dinner. For chillier days, or for travelling, you can't beat a pair of ballerina pumps. Try one of the ice-cream pastel leather versions, or the caramelised-orange suede ones with crinkly edges.

Background In 1912, shoemaker Nicolaos Georgiou (Costis Katsalis' great-grandfather) arrived in Athens from Limassol, Cyprus, after an almighty row with this family. Cutting all ties, he decided to change his surname to Lemisios (ie 'The man from Limassol'). Despite starting from nothing, his neat workmanship and canny PR skills soon earned the cobbler a name among the higher echelons of Athens society. Before long, his shoes were gracing the blue-blooded feet of the Greek royal family.

The shop passed from generation to generation, and is now run by Katsalis and his mother Ismene. Katsalis' father Nikos and brother Marios, meanwhile, man the workshop.

Clientele During the heyday of Greek cinema (50s-60s), stars Aliki Vouyouklaki and Rena Vlahopoulou wore Lemisios shoes. Not content with supplying footwear for the Greek royal family, intrepid Nicolaos Lemisios also, his great­grandson recounts, tried to send a pair of heels to Britain's Queen Elizabeth on her wedding day (20 November 1947). Unfortunately for Her Majesty, the gift was refused by the British embassy in Athens. The current clientele is mainly the progeny of 'Lemisios' early customers. "Just as the shop passes from generation to generation," says Katsalis, "so does the customer base. Mothers bring their daughters, daughters bring their daughters." Weddings and christenings also bring a lot of custom for the made-to-order side of the business; as brides-to-be and family flock to get shoes made up in the same fabric as their dresses.

Why pay a visit? Obvious draws are the high-quality shoes in soft, durable leather, the wide range of models to choose from and the opportunity to order alterations for fit, colour, heel and toe - as well as size: Lemisios clients include ladies with larger or smaller than ordinary feet, who have trouble finding shoes in their size elsewhere. But it is, perhaps, the personal service more than any of the above that keeps clients coming back again and again. Ismene and Costis Katsalis are patently not just in the shop to sell shoes and make a tidy profit. They spend time with each customer, patiently helping her choose the right shoe, noting down any alterations and - in many cases - whisking the shoe away to the workshop and returning within a blink of an eye with a changed heel, slightly shortened strap or slip-proofed heel. They offer advice on how to care for the shoe and keep it pristine (when I bought a pair of Capri sandals last year - without which, by the by, I don't know how I managed before ­Katsalis told me, quite correctly, that I should clean any dirty patches off the wooden sole with a dab of acetone). If any repair work needs doing, there is a lifetime guarantee, no payment required. "I spent time at the workshop learning how to make the shoes before I came to work at the shop," says Katsalis. "If I hadn't, I wouldn't have been able to work here. It's not just 'Hello, size 38? Thank you, goodbye' here. We are here to help, to offer advice, to listen to customers' opinions. It's 'a personal service that cannot be offered unless you know what you are talking about."

Price-wise The Capri sandals and Sudan flip-flops (flat, African soles) cost from 70 euros; ballerina pumps from 110 euros; formal high-heels around 180 euros; handmade boots from 350 euros and made-to-order shoes from 145 euros.

Location Lemisios is at 6 Lykavittou St,
Kolonaki, tel 210-361-1161

(Posting date 25 July 2006)

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