We travelled to Paris to shoot a series of films for an English fashion brand called &Sons. Working around the Montmartre area for several days we captured the true craftsmanship of Jerome Voisin’s shop Atelier Constance.
Jérôme Voisin gave up a career in the music business to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a traditional ‘cordonnier’ – the French word for a cobbler – with his own artisan studio in the celebrated Bohemian quarter of Paris, Montmartre.
Traditional shoe-mending and shoe-making runs in Jérôme’s family. His father was (and still is) a cobbler – or ‘cordonnier’ to give this ancient profession its more elegant-sounding French name – and Jérôme learnt many of his specialist skills at an early age by working at his father’s side.
“When I was small my father explained to me that if I wanted some pocket money then I needed to work for it. I was at school during the week but on Saturdays I spent the day working alongside my father and that’s how I earned my pocket money and gained an appreciation of the shoemaking craft.”
Before becoming a full-time ‘cordonnier’, Jérôme, who is a law school graduate, pursued a career in music as a producer and editor. He decided to leave the music industry six years ago as he’d begun to feel frustrated and creatively unfulfilled.
“I’d lost interest in the music business. The thing I’d enjoyed most was developing the artists but I felt I no longer had enough control over the quality of those artists. That’s when I started to look around for something else to do.
“As a youngster I’d learnt about shoemaking and I’d never lost my passion for shoes so it was perhaps a natural step. I began searching for a studio near where I lived in Montmartre, found one I liked and bought it at once. That was four years ago now.”
In recent years, much of the original quality of shoe-making and repairing has declined. Jérôme knows that many of today’s quick-fix shoe repairers are using inferior materials and he’s always been keen to reverse that trend.
Jérôme’s idea behind becoming a ‘cordonnier’ was to return to the fundamentals he’d learnt as a child. He already knew how important it was to work with the best materials and, naturally, the most important element for traditional shoes is the leather.
“I immediately decided to concentrate on producing the finest quality work. I source my shoe leather from an excellent French tannery and I work in a very traditional way. I use old tools including items that many cobblers no longer use. And I tend to use a mix of specialist shoe-making and boot-making tools to get the best results.”
As well as repairing shoes to an extremely high standard, Jérôme designs his own shoes. He selects the finest French leather and then sends his designs to be made up in Spain using traditional shoe-making techniques, thereby ensuring a keen price for his clients.
Although Jérôme speaks in his native French for most of the interview he shifts into charmingly-accented English to speak about his love of Montmartre where he lives and where his cobbler’s studio is located.
“I live in Montmartre, not Paris! That’s very important. It’s a small village and the people are very cool and nice here, which is not the case in all Paris. Here you have poor guys and very rich guys all living in the same area. My customers are fantastic. Not angry people like you can find in other parts of Paris – it’s totally different. Montmartre is not Paris. It’s in Paris but it’s not Paris.”
Jérôme’s family name Voisin means ‘neighbour’ in French and now his neighbours in Montmartre can enjoy the finest shoe repairs on their doorstep. He’s also enjoying a growing international reputation with people posting their shoes to him for repairs!