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...and that's why they're called Weejuns

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
I had a look around the net, and found some of the Norwegian origins of the penny loafer: In the late 19th century, fishermen and farmers in Aurland and the Sognefjord area in Western Norway were known for making light shoes of the moccasin type, initially for their own use, but occasionally for sale – this developed into a cottage industry in the true sense of the word. In the second half of the 19th century, there was an influx of upper-class British sports salmon fishermen in the very good rivers of coastal Norway, particularly western Norway. The salmon season would start in mid-summer, and would last into early autumn. The “salmon lords”, as they were called locally, wanted a light shoe that could easily be slipped on and off during riverside fishing. Two villagers, Vebjørn S. Vangen og Andreas S. Vangen, started making and repairing shoes for the Brit fishermen, until production of the light moccasin became a full-time employment for them. Another villager, Nils Tveranger, was the first to start regular production of the model still known in Norway as the ”Aurland shoe”. It was exhibited at the Paris exposition in 1900. As other jet-setting salmon-fishers (Coco Chanel among them) watered out the British and German dominance of tourism and outdoor sport in Norway in the inter-war years, it seems that they brought the shoes back to their various homes. The Aurland shoe obtained its present form in the twenties. After WWII, production increased greatly, and in the fifties around 90 persons in the village were employed in shoe production, spread out on 12 different small workshops in the village, and a few others in the vicinity. This industry would have dominated the life of the entire village, just on the strength of employment numbers. The present firm called – no surprise here - “Aurlandsko” was established in the late forties. In the late sixties, a big hydro-electric power-plant was built close to Aurdal, and most people in the village found better-paid work connected to the power-plant. The factory presently has six employees, down from around 90 in its heyday. Production, which in the early years was mainly done in private homes and small shops, is today centralized in a modern locality. When production was at its peak in the 1940’s and 50’s, around 90 people were engaged, and the shoe was completely hand sown. Today there are about six people employed and work is partially done by machine. A sidenote: In 1947, the mayor of Aurdal received a letter from the Norwegian embassy to the US: The industrialist and at that time aide to the Secretary of the Treasury, Arthur Gardner, later US ambassador to Cuba, had bought a pair of Aurland shoes, one might guess while visiting in Norway before WWII, and wanted a few new pairs. He made a private request to the Norwegian ambassador, with a sketch of the “slippers”, as he called them, attached. Gardner had no idea where the shoes were made, but the embassy concluded that he referred to the Aurland shoes, after studying his sketch. After consultation with the village council, the local mayor had four pairs of shoes made, and after three months, four pairs of ”moccasins”, as they were called in the invoice, were sent to Washington by air mail. Link (The workshop doesn't have its own website; this is a local chamber-of-commerce-type page)
post #2 of 21
Thread Starter 
This is all cross-posted with The Other Places: A few more pics from the workshop: I spoke to the owner, Svein Vangen, yesterday. A pair of rubber-soled loafers will be NOK 740, and leather-soled NOK 790. (I strongly suggest springing for the leather-soled version, unless they've changed the rubber soles they used when I was a kid.) That's approx. $125 and 135. I would guess shipping would be another $30 or so. You could suggest declaring them as gifts to avoid duty, I don't know whether they'll do that, but it's always worth a try, I suppose. I haven't worn them since I was a kid, so I can't really say much about sizing. I would imagine that they would be fairly true to EU sizing, though, roughly along the lines of UK size 9 ~ US size 10 ~ EU size 42. The leather is quite stiff, and the soles are initially extremely hard. They need a good amount of wearing in, but on the other hand they reputedly last for a generation or two. The construction is fairly unsophisticated, but sturdy - these are trad peasant shoes. The workshop doesn't have a webpage or e-mail, neither does any of the employees, it seems. Fax is the suggested way of communication. Most Scandinavians speak English passably well, so I don't think language will pose any serious problems. Phone no: +47 57 63 32 12 Fax no: +47 57 63 33 85 (47 is the Norwegian country code)
post #3 of 21
Thread Starter 
Here are some photos from the workshop and the surroundings: The village of Aurland (In the photo, the shoe factory is just above the roof of the yellow house) : The shoe factory, with view: The medieval Vangen church, which is also pictured on the shoeboxes: Church details: This translates as "A Poor Wanderer" (from the churchyard): Displays in the shop: And the workshop (I've tried putting them in some logical sequence, but I simply don't know enough about shoe production...): Rubber soles, euro-size 9: I don't really know what this machine does (welting/stitching soles?), but it looks very impressive. A pair in sixe 2: They also make pleated belts to match:
post #4 of 21
Informative post, Luck Strike.

I love that box they use--it's so mid-century.
post #5 of 21
This is the origin of the "penny-loafer"?
post #6 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by caelte View Post
This is the origin of the "penny-loafer"?
Yessir.
post #7 of 21
Quite interesting post. Thank you for it. While I'm not a big pennyloafer fan I certainly appreciate learning the historical background of the shoes. Cheers.
post #8 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucky Strike View Post
Yessir.
I've always assumed the loafer evolved from the North American moccasin. Is there a connection? This is really fascinating, LS.
post #9 of 21
Excellent article Lucky Strike! I just learned something today. This deserves to get a free bump for 2009.
post #10 of 21
Good bump! Thanks for sharing!
post #11 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by caelte View Post
I've always assumed the loafer evolved from the North American moccasin.
Is there a connection?

I don't think there is any connection - at least, I haven't been able to find one.
post #12 of 21
Was there an original purpose for the slit in the instep band (...besides pennies :-)? or is it just a decorative element?

Beautiful Norwegian village.
post #13 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Parker View Post
Was there an original purpose for the slit in the instep band (...besides pennies :-)? or is it just a decorative element? Beautiful Norwegian village.
Missed this - it seems to me that the original purpose for the slit actually was inserting a coin for decoration. The traditional Sunday wear (the "bunad") of the Norwegian peasantry would typically include sterling-buckled shoes after the Continental late 18th C pattern, so the coins might also be a down-market version of the silver buckles. The modern bunad - a folkloristic costume along the lines of kilts or lederhosen, still very often has the buckled shoes. Putting coins in the slits would traditionally signify that one was "spoken for" or "going steady" with someone. My grandmother actually told me this, when I was a kid, and wore them. Black Aurland shoes were very often used as "dress" shoes for children. And yeah, this is one of the innermost corners of the Hardanger fjord, it's supposed to be one of the nicest areas in Norway.
post #14 of 21
More good stuff from the Norwegians!
post #15 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucky Strike View Post
Missed this - it seems to me that the original purpose for the slit actually was inserting a coin for decoration.

The traditional Sunday wear (the "bunad") of the Norwegian peasantry would typically include sterling-buckled shoes after the Continental late 18th C pattern, so the coins might also be a down-market version of the silver buckles. The modern bunad - a folkloristic costume along the lines of kilts or lederhosen, still very often has the buckled shoes.

Putting coins in the slits would traditionally signify that one was "spoken for" or "going steady" with someone. My grandmother actually told me this, when I was a kid, and wore them. Black Aurland shoes were very often used as "dress" shoes for children.

And yeah, this is one of the innermost corners of the Hardanger fjord, it's supposed to be one of the nicest areas in Norway.

Takk for en veldig fin fortelling. Jeg bodde i Stryn tidligere og visste ingenting om Hardangersko !
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