Next time you are in London in search of an incomparable pair of shoes, make a beeline to Oliver Sweeney at 10 Henrietta Street (Covent Garden). The store specializes in men’s ware and also has a limited, yet elegant, selection for women. The atmosphere is seductive — luxurious sofas, dramatic lighting, appropriate music, offers of drinks (Champagne, anyone?). What makes this store unique, however, is another kind of proposal no one could refuse.
Strolling around London recently, my husband, Gaetano Castelli, was captivated by a window full of shoes, especially by a pair of penny loafers (moccasins, as Italians call them). His had seen much better days and needed to be replaced. As we entered, we noticed a woman in the back of the shop, seated in front of a work smith’s table and wearing a heavy-duty leather apron, surrounded by instruments. As she rubbed and buffed some shoes, we still wondered what she was doing there? Was she a modern-day cobbler?
Gaetano bought a pair and then we found out her role — as in-house tattoo artist. That’s right! She personalizes your purchases by branding one or both of your shoes with whatever you fancy. Anything from your name (in Arabic or any type of script) to your favorite sports symbol to Shakespearean quotes, if you like. I immediately thought of a paintbrush. He is an artist, after all, but he preferred his surname. So we joined forces and with the ingenuity of Sarah Cooper, tattoo-artist-in-chief, Castelli, written in graceful cursive followed by a floating paintbrush dotting the i, was born.
Their tattooing started when Selfridges, the London department store powerhouse, asked its shoe vendors to compete for the best sales pitch. When Oliver Sweeney announced how it intended to snag customers, it won hands down and set up shop in the middle of the men’s shoe department for a month. And the rest, as they say, is history.
They have no shops outside of Great Britain although they sell shoes in department stores worldwide. The tattoo service, however, is available only in England. (Comes in handy if your suitcases ever get lost. “By the way, I have tattooed shoes in my bag.”) Hard to duplicate that, no?