As I get older, it’s amusing to recognize that so many of the pithy quips and sayings I have derive from a small set of catchy past readings, however shallow my culture. Case in point: I thought of beginning this piece with “I’m a profane man,” a self-hating declaration inspired by my high school assignments in Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground (“I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man.”). One of the many ways in which I am profane occurs when I find something, some article of clothing or tool that suits me so perfectly and improves my quality of my life that I’m tempted to use Jude Law’s slightly unnerving ejaculation as Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr Ripley, “I could f**k this I love it so much.”
Dickie was getting passionate about his refrigerator, a new purchase that allowed him to have cold beer in southern Italy. While I’m lucky enough to live in an age and place where refrigeration is taken for granted, I find myself echoing that sentiment in my head when, say, I find a pair of jeans with the right cut, denim and fit, or, more recently, the ideal pair of slippers – durable, beautiful, tactile, reasonable, perfectly fitting and insanely comfortable.
I’m not one of those people who insists everyone take off his or her shoes at the house. I take mine off, though, since it’s generally more comfortable to walk around without shoes on, and in summer far cooler to do so. As a teenager, I used to wear Chinese slippers, which had the advantage of being dirt cheap and available in precise sizes. Of course, they wore out quickly, and because I kept shoving my foot in, the backs got trodden down. After all, I’m not fanatical enough to use a shoe horn to put slippers on. I found a delightful pair of pointy suede babouches at the Entreprises Artisanales in Marrakech, the government-sponsored crafts market outside the souk, which were both handsome and reasonably well made. After those wore out I tried to replace them remotely by ordering a similar-looking pair from a merchant online, but they came apart almost immediately. As those gave up the ghost I tried suede slippers from one of my Paris haberdashers, which were light but rather old-mannish, and expensive for what they were. I finally dug through my #steez stash and found glorious relief in velvet furlane, otherwise known as gondolier’s slippers.
The story goes that furlane originally were made by convicts on one of the islands of the Venetian lagoons using what otherwise would have been refuse: discarded bicycle tires were made into the soles, while the uppers were made out of offcuts of the velvets and brocades Venice had become famous for producing. The front ends in a little curved point up the instep like a Persian slipper, and the upper is bordered in grosgrain, while the edge of the sole is trimmed with a handsome roped braid. I do query at what point these became the footwear for gondoliers, since they’ve been plying their trade in the lagoon for centuries, while the bicycle’s been with us for less than two. Historicity aside, they fit wonderfully and come in precise sizes, while the cloth forgivingly grips any width of foot. While they’re also made with backs, I prefer mine backless, resembling a far sleeker version of the custom cloth slippers that John Lobb of St James will make up custom for around a thousand pounds, which come with the ineluctable odor of burning money. Even though not custom, my backless furlane still fit well (none of the heel-slapping that comes with slippers that are too long in back, and cost a few percent of Lobb’s delusional price, meaning they’re relatively affordable, even if I am now scouting replacements to set aside.
I’ve been surprised to find almost no sources for them online. At best, one or two sites ask potential customers to email to see what’s available. Even Etsy, the world’s handicrafts gar(b)age sale, turned up empty. How can it sell handmade Spider-Man panties (don’t ask) and not have furlane? I’ve thus started asking my Svengalis to consider selling them. Watch this space… til I profane it again.