Long the favored brand of luxury cowboy boot among western icons like John Wayne and Johnny Cash, Lucchese is stepping out into designer footwear.
Lucchese has been excelling at luxury for a long, long time — since 1883, in fact, the year after two Sicilian shoemakers arrived in the land of opportunity with little more than the skill for leatherwork and good business sense they’d inherited from their father and established their first storefront in San Antonio. Since then, the brand has built a Texas-size reputation as the best in Western bootmaking, and more than 130 years later, the name Lucchese remains legendary in the Western lifestyle.
“We like to say that Lucchese was born in Italy and bred in Texas,” says William Zeitz, the iconic boot company’s creative director and executive vice-president of marketing. “The brand was based on Lucchese’s old-world bootmaking techniques and forged by the values of the American West, like hard work and optimism, that people find so inspiring and attractive.”
Long the byword for luxury among fans of Westernwear, Lucchese recently stepped out into the wider luxury market with a collection of designer footwear. Some fashion industry experts liken the rebranding to the evolution of Hermès, the French high-fashion house that began as a maker of fine harnesses and bridles in the mid-1800s and has become synonymous with luxury lifestyle goods. Zeitz appreciates the analogy, but he makes an important distinction: Lucchese footwear, be it boots or high heels, he notes, is all distinctly American. “[Lucchese] is an authentic American luxury brand of craftsmanship, which is more rare today than ever.”
It’s a uniquely American success story. Salvatore (Sam) Lucchese, the future founder of the company, was a mere 14 years old when he boarded a ship with his brother, Joseph, in their native Palermo, Italy, and sailed for America. Most likely arriving at the port of Galveston, Texas, in late 1882, the brothers quickly moved to San Antonio to set up shop.
The 1901 Spindletop gusher that would usher in the oil boom was almost two decades off, and Texas was still the Wild West. The Luccheses found themselves in a world that ran not on oil but on cattle — and boot-wearing cowboys and cavalry. The fledgling bootmakers saw an opportunity and within a year, the family’s first boot shop opened at Fort Sam Houston, making handcrafted boots for military officers, as well as for area ranchers. As the cavalry rode across the West, patrolling the turbulent frontier, they spread the word of Lucchese’s superior craftsmanship. The humble shop was on its way to becoming the premier bootmaker in the country.
The reputation made its way to Hollywood, where stars stocked their closets. John Wayne was such a loyal customer that he came to consider Sam Lucchese Jr., who took over the family business in the early ’60s, a close friend. The two even did a photo shoot together in 1976 for an Esquire profile titled “Boots Fit for a Duke.” In December of the following year, after finding a new pair of custom boots under his tree, Wayne wrote, “I guess I know where my best Christmas present came from — Sam Lucchese.”
The classic cowboy boots have been worn and loved by A-list actors, rodeo champions, country singers, rock stars, athletes, and U.S. presidents alike — from Gary Cooper and Johnny Cash to George W. Bush and Miranda Lambert. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were said to have climbed San Juan Hill in them.
So when the boot company so well-versed in “cowboy couture” stepped out beyond well-trodden Western territory and onto Salvatore Ferragamo and Manolo Blahnik turf with a new collection of premier designer shoes, it was on terra firma. Not surprisingly, the transition to high fashion has been seamless: Lucchese, after all, knows luxury. Its meticulous process of handcrafting custom boots involves skilled artisans working with exotic skins and fine leathers for up to 18 days on a single pair; a human hand touches each pair more than 300 times. “The core of Lucchese’s past is our artistry,” Zeitz says. “Everything in the new collection has been inspired by our past and interpreted in a fresh way.”
Now in its second season after making its debut in March, the new Lucchese Collection is a diverse mix of upscale urban footwear — stacked-heel sandals, suede driving shoes, and stiletto pumps — that has the fashion world abuzz. The chic designs uphold the historic boot company’s signature style and proud Western heritage. The Franca oxford, for instance, boasts a beautiful buffalo leather dyed a deep shade of royal blue as an homage to Lucchese’s official line of 1800s U.S. Cavalry uniforms. And then there’s the Carolina, an American alligator leather sling-back styled with a Western motif overlay and silver toecap.
They’re the kinds of shoes you might see strutting down Madison Avenue or the Champs-Élysées, but the spirit of the American West still shines through.
“Lucchese really does have this amazing past,” Zeitz says. “And it’s like the legend continues now. It never stops.”
The Lucchese Collection is available in select stores across the country, including Lucchese Nashville, San Antonio, and Santa Fe; Tootsies in Houston; and Kemo Sabe in Aspen and Vail, Colorado, and Las Vegas. A new flagship store in Houston is scheduled to open in 2015. For more information, visit www.lucchese.com.
From the November/December 2014 issue.