- Feb 10, 2009
- Reaction score
HESCHUNG SHOEMAKERS AT PITTI UOMO 86 (AND 85)
Words and pictures by Jasper L
Heschung isn’t exactly an unknown quantity. They’re an old, respected brand, they’ve done collaborations with forum darling Yuketen, and they’re carried by forum affiliate (and favorite) No Man Walks Alone. That’s great and everything, but I was sitting at my computer thinking “What the hell can I really say about Norwegian welts?” and at first, I was having trouble thinking of anything. Well, I can tell you that it’s a technique originally used for waterproofing heavy-duty mountain boots - which is, coincidentally, how Heschung got started, up in Alsace, which is currently in Northern France (this has not always been the case). But it’s probably more interesting and informative if you read about stuff like welting elsewhere - or maybe not, considering how dry people manage to make subjects like shoemaking.
Instead, let’s talk about linguistics. Heschung is from Alsace, where they speak (surprise!) Alsatian, which is (surprise!) in decline - even though a relatively large number of people still speak it - and French nationalism, linguistic and otherwise, is a prickly subject. Alsatian, like many other regional languages in France and elsewhere, has faced something of a crise over the last couple of centuries: globalization demands homogenization and modernization, and Heschung, to an extent, is a physical nod to those particular tensions: how do you stay true to your roots while ensuring your relevance?
Well, it’s a skill. Most of Heschung’s offerings comprise the “classic” shapes: a reverse welt, a heavy sole, and an upper made of leather tanned in France or Italy. The shoes are put together in France, with a few of the women’s models making their way into Tuscany for production. The end result is fairly removed from the ski boots that Heschung were making in the fifties and sixties, but the emphasis is still on utility - even when you’re looking at a shoe done up in pink suede. Largely, it’s the boots that I find most impressive. They’re certainly not for everyone - the classics would never be labeled “sleek” - but they have a real old-world charm that I’m not sure I would call “timeless” so much as “unapologetic.”
There’s a contemporary line of shoes as well, which shows off ideas like sneakers and the slim, modern boots to which I am very particular. I’m not entirely sure where they draw the line between “classic” and “contemporary,” which is probably a good thing - even if the new releases don’t have the reverse-welt of their classic forebears, they still use the same high-quality leather and they’re still blake-stitched. If the classic styles are the ones you’d wear to tromp through the Massif des Vosges, the contemporary shoes are what you might throw in your weekender if you’re headed to the Opera in Strasbourg.
To continue our tenuous linguistic metaphor, Heschung’s creations have a real sense of both fluency and fluidity to them. Mixed materials are common, and many models are inspired by outdoor gear that has been adapted for daily use. It’s that fluency - by which I mean ability to refashion yourself and communicate successfully in response to a linguistic otherness - that seems to define the collection. In fact, one suggestion for the etymology of “Alsace” is that it comes from the Old High German for “foreign domain.” In the case of Heschung, I like that particular theory. It seats the brand as something of an outsider - even if in today's linguistic landscape they are entirely French - forced to adapt itself to the language of the world around it, while holding onto its regional identity. Success? Ja.