Texas Roots for Italian BootsFeb 01, 2018 ● By Amy Richmond
The story starts in Palermo, the coastal capital of Sicily, on February 24, 1868, when the future founder of Lucchese, Salvatore Lucchese, was born. His father, Gaetono Lucchese, was a well-known shoemaker, and helped Salvatore cultivate a strong appreciation for Italian culture, opera and fine craftsmanship.
In 1882, Salvatore and his brother, Joseph, immigrated to the U.S., reportedly landing in Galveston, Texas. Within a year, they established a boot-making shop at Fort Sam Houston, a U.S. Cavalry School in San Antonio. From there, Lucchese begins to make a name for its high-quality boots.
Perhaps spurned by Salvatore’s purchase of and connections through the Teatro Zaragoza, a Mexican-American theater in San Antonio, or by his daughter’s rise to fame in the operatic scene (Josephine Lucchese was known in Europe as “America’s Nightingale”), but Lucchese boots soon became coveted by celebrities, which was the best form of advertising for its day.
Some adoring celebrities included Robert J. Kleberg Sr. of the King Ranch in South Texas (the largest ranch in the world), the world-famous photographer and cinematographer Henrik Sartov, General Frank Purdy Lahm, who was known as “the father of Air Force flight training,” and actress Josephine Hutchinson who had successfully transitioned from silent movies to “talkies.”
As the years progressed, Bing Crosby, Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jimmy Dean, Caroline Kennedy, Texas “Tex” Schramm, Sandra Dee, Jimmy Stewart and others added themselves to the Lucchese wall of fame, sealing the popularity of the boot brand worldwide.
Today, the boot is just as popular with well-known names. John Thompson is the general manager of the new store location at The Star in Frisco. He says, “What is not love? It is an iconic brand that has existed here in Texas for more than 130 years. We also have the best customers in the world. Frisco is no longer up-and-coming — it has arrived, with more to come. We are the official boot of the Dallas Cowboys — a relationship that was set in motion years ago by Tex Schramm and thrives to this very day. We offer the same services as our other stores, we just happen to have a selection of Dallas Cowboys boots, including the boot worn by our beloved cheerleaders.”
The Lucchese brand prides itself on its old-world attention to fine details and its esteemed selection of leather. Their high-end, exotic collection ranges from python, royal calf, goat, snake, ostrich, buffalo, lizard, alligator, stingray, boar skin and crocodile. Only the durable Nile and Caiman crocodile leathers are acquired, and either smooth belly leather or the tough horn back leather can be used. The skins are carefully inspected to ensure they meet quality standards and will work for the style of boot intended. For example, two separate crocodile skins are needed to make a pair of Lucchese crocodile boots. Up to 30 different skins are analyzed for their hue, texture, tile size, patterns and unique markings until a match is found. If horn back leather is being used, horns from different skins must be compared to ensure they match in size. This process can take days just for one pair of boots. And then, the intricate hand-crafting begins.
The selected leather is further studied to determine the precise location for cutting, to work around any scars or imperfections in the leather and to ensure the two boots couple well. Once the exact location is determined, steel-cut dies and 20 pounds of pressure administer a perfect cut. Artisans use steel tools and can spend up to weeks creating intricate, multi-dimensional designs on some of the boots. “Each boot takes more than 21 days to make and each pair is touched more than 300 times by human hands. We have more quality leathers and exotic skins than anyone in the world,” Mr. Thompson shares.
Every stitch made in a Lucchese boot is hand-guided, with some artisans choosing to remain “old school” using antique machines from the 1800s.
The great fit of Lucchese boots is attributed to their proprietary twisted cone last and the time-honored hand-placing process, where the upper leather is secured to the sole. Once the upper leather has been wet with water, an artisan carefully pulls it over the last, and securely tacks it by hand. The famed fit can also be attributed to the fastidious talent of the pattern makers. With no standard of measurement in the western boot industry, each brand of boot fits differently. Lucchese pattern makers weave variables of the leather, dies, lasts and markings together into a well-fit mosaic.
Every component of the process is a time-honored tradition, all the way down to the 45 lemonwood pegs used in every boot, which surpass common-place brass nails. Lemonwood has the unique property of expanding and contracting at an almost identical rate as leather. When exposed to water or moisture, brass nails begin to protrude from the sole. Lucchese maintains the old-world and high-quality practice of hand-placing and hammering lemonwood pegs in the outsole of each boot.
“It is amazing what can happen when you set out to make a superior product. It will take you from San Antonio to military bases, to the cinema, to the state house, to the White House and all over the world. When I think about the fact that I have a customer in Australia looking forward to receiving his boots in a couple of months, that is exciting and humbling at the same time,” Mr. Thompson shares.
Lucchese believes the boot’s name is the final stamp on the creative process and every Lucchese name carries meaning. In one collection of boots, the creative team focused on historic military installations and old ghost towns. The Terlingua Boot paid homage to a West Texas mining town and the Bodie Boot was a monument to the reportedly best-preserved ghost town in the country.
In 2008, Lucchese produced 125 pairs of its 125th Anniversary Boot, and Texas Governor Rick Perry and Arnold Schwarzenegger were two celebrities who paid the $12,500 price tag. Many U.S. presidents are proud owners of Lucchese boots. Prince Harry of Wales is a former leader of the Lucchese Polo Team, several universities have Lucchese Collegiate Boots and it should come as no surprise that it is the official boot of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Mr. Thompson says, “We are not just a brand to Texans. Texans have a relationship with our brand. I spend most of my day sharing the story of our brand. In turn, the customer shares their stories of their Lucchese boots, their parents’ Luccheses, their grandparents’ Luccheses, the guy in the office that wears Lucchese, etc.”
Now displayed in store cases like rare jewels, Lucchese boots have come a long way from their humble beginning in San Antonio at the hands of a meticulous Italian craftsman. If you choose to join the ranks of those who have worn Lucchese boots, your history will meld with a century of those who have walked before you, carrying on the age-old Italian tradition of fine footwear — Texas style. Mr. Thompson says, “You just have to try them for yourself. Come on in!”