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Adorning dancers’ feet
Meet the shoemaker whose shoes have to continue looking good after hours of dancing.

Shoes to be seen in, and to survive

Rafael Padula doesn’t just make any shoes; he makes tango shoes. Shoes that not only have to look great and draw attention to dancers’ feet, but also have to be comfortable and strong enough to survive hours of intense use on the packed dancefloors of Buenos Aires’ milongas – the city’s events for social dancing.

“Dancing is not the same as walking in the street,” Rafael points out. “In the street, you’re not going to jump in 9cm heels. You’re not going to fall with all your weight on one heel. We use special nails and the shoes has to be more reinforced because it’s more exposed to traumas. They have to be comfortable to dance in all night. But they also have to be beautiful. In tango, the feet are what people look at most. You can wear the best suit or dress, but if you’re not wearing nice shoes it doesn’t say anything.”

 
 

How it should be done

Rafael realises the creations of designers Alicia Muñiz and Raquel Coltrinari for Comme il Faut, which since 2003 has become one of the leading names in tango shoes by revolutionising the shoes designs with open toes, materials like lace, satin and velvet, and bold contrasting colors and prints. Their showroom in the Retiro neighbourhood is often packed with dancers from all over the world trying on the shoes that Rafael makes with his team across town at the workshop in the Mataderos neighbourhood. The brand’s name comes from a classic tango written by Eduardo Arolas in 1918, which translates as “how it should be” in French, and this also informs Rafael’s work ethic.

“We have a responsibility to make the shoes well,” he says. “There are women who use our shoes professionally on stage. We have to make them well.”

Family history

Rafael was born into the profession. His grandfather, Antonio, his own factory in 1955 after migrating from Italy, and the profession was continued by Rafael’s father, Fortunato. “I grew up among leather, nails and lasts because my mother worked in the workshop too,” Rafael says. “So when they ask me how I learned, it’s difficult to say because since I had the use of reason, I was there every day working or seeing how the people worked.”

Above all, he’s proud to continue the tradition and to produce handcrafted shoes in Argentina. “I wouldn’t like to mass produce,” Rafael says. “I prefer not to lose the chance to be with our people – to sit and talk about life and work in the morning while drinking mate. When this contact is lost, the product is lost. This is particularly important for artisanal products because every day we have a challenge, whether it’s because a particular material has to be treated in a different way or because we have to use a different method because the leather has a certain characteristic. Argentine craftsmen are the best jigsaw solvers in the world!”

Comme il Faut, Arenales 1239, Rues des Artisans.
 

In Buenos Aires, work and passion often go hand in hand. Discover more Porteño professions.