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Sandalmaker realises boyhood dream

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Dream come true: Vincenzo Della Valle makes a pair of sandals at his workstation in the newly opened Della Valle Sandals shop on Queen Street. (Photograph by Pierangelo Lanfranchi)

Sitting at the window of his new shop in Hamilton, Vincenzo Della Valle can be seen working on handmade sandals for customers.

The Queen Street business is a dream come for Mr Della Valle, who started out as a boy apprentice to sandalmaking masters on the Italian island of Capri.

The passion he discovered as he learnt how to make sandals as a nine-year-old never left him, and now in his forties, he has branched out and is making his own brand of footwear.

He is no stranger to the world of retail and fashion. Mr Della Valle’s connections with fashion include his involvement with the opening of Lusso in Bermuda ten years ago. He is a co-owner of City Cafe, opposite the bus terminal on Washington Street, and he has worked in restaurants on the island.

But the idea of opening a sandal shop, where he would custom-make footwear to customers’ requirements, is the culmination of a dream.

It is three years since the idea took hold again, and Mr Della Valle and his wife Belinda Barbieri worked to make it a reality.

Della Valle Sandals opened two weeks ago and business has been brisk with customers coming in to peruse the many designs of sandals and to have a pair custom-made in the shop.

It was many decades ago, on the island of Capri, known for its high-end shops and wealthy visitors, that Mr Della Valle was introduced to the art and skill of making sandals. At the time he was only nine, and coming from a big family he wanted to provide some household income. He was taken on as a young apprentice, learning from the masters, Antonio Viva and Vincenzi Ricci.

The joy and satisfaction of making quality sandals stayed with Mr Della Valle, and he always thought that one day he would make the craft his dream job.

When he came to Bermuda he worked in a variety of retail and restaurant enterprises, including the aforementioned Lusso and City Café, which he and his wife still own.

For the past few years the couple have been working towards opening the sandal-making business and shop.

“We saw that this was something that could work well in Bermuda,” said Ms Barbieri, who also has a background in fashion, having worked for Saks 5th Avenue, in Bal Harbour, Miami.

Mr Della Valle equipped himself with training and qualifications, and made return trips to Capri for advice and assistance from Mr Viva, the sandal-making master he originally learnt from 35 years ago.

The result is Della Valle Sandals. Passers-by walking along Queen Street can often see Mr Della Valle sitting inside the shop, next to the main window, making sandals at his workstation.

Ms Barbieri said: “People stop and watch Vincenzo working, and they have been coming in. People are excited, they are looking for something new and different, and these are custom-made for your feet in about two days.”

The sandals come in many designs, with a choice of four heels and decorative additions as required. They are made individually for each customer.

Della Valle Sandals caters for locals and visitors. If a tourist is only visiting the island for a very short time, Mr Della Valle will endeavour to make their sandals within a day.

Much attention is paid to detail. Customers’ feet are measured to ensure the resulting sandals are a perfect fit, even if the customer has one foot slightly bigger than the other.

When the customer comes back to pick up their sandals, final adjustments and tweaks are made before they take them away.

The sandals feature soft leather from the Tuscany region of Italy.

Ms Barbieri, who is head of marketing at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and previously worked for XL, said the business was perfect for Bermuda as sandals can be worn practically all year round on the island.

It also gives visitors an opportunity to buy something that is not mass produced overseas, but is handmade in Bermuda.

The shop has an eye-catching interior, with old pieces of cedar dotted around the walls, aged natural wood furnishings, and a classic Italian-made 1964 Vespa scooter in a prominent position.

At present the shop makes sandals for women and children, although there are plans further down the line to make sandals for men.

Since opening two weeks ago, Della Valle Sandals has attracted attention and word-of-mouth recommendations. Ms Barbieri said opening something new and different had created a lot of interest.

For Mr Della Valle, being able to fulfil a lifelong dream is the biggest reward.

“It is relaxing to work at the window, and I have always been a people-person,” he said.

“Looking at the past and looking at today, it is like a puzzle and now everything has come together. Now I understand what a gift it was to learn how to make sandals when I was a boy.”

Della Valle Sandals has a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/dvsandals

Ready to wear: Vincenzo Della Valle with one of his handmade sandals at the Della Valle Sandals shop on Queen Street (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Stylish shop: Della Valle Sandals shop on Queen Street (Photograph by Pierangelo Lanfranchi)
On display: Vincenzo Della Valle with some of his handmade sandals at the Della Valle Sandals shop on Queen Street (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Fashion statement: A model wears a pair of custom-made Della Valle Sandals at the shop on Queen Street (Photograph by Pierangelo Lanfranchi)
Finished item: Vincenzo Della Valle with some of handmade sandals at the Della Valle Sandals shop on Queen Street (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)