A Peek Inside Capezio’s Pointe Shoe Factory
By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.
When Salvatore Capezio opened his pointe shoe store near the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in 1887, I wonder if he envisioned the sheer size and scope of his company today?
Now, 127 years later, Capezio is the world leader in dance and theatrical shoes with a U.S. domestic facility where “in excess of millions of shoes have been made,” said Paul Plesh, Capezio's Senior Product Line Manager, to Dance Informa.
Although manufacturing techniques and materials have progressed since 1887, Capezio has continued Salvatore’s handcrafted tradition to present day, with every pointe shoe handmade in this facility.
“We manufacture orders 52 weeks a year. The factory does not stop!” Plesh said. “There are teams of people who are responsible for the handcrafting of the shoes; there are teams from cutting, to stitching, to lasting - all the different departments that support making a pointe shoe. There’s a lot involved.”
“The manufacturing process and the concept is still the same from the beginning. It’s a traditional art form,” explained Plesh, with all Capezio pointe shoes made of pristine satin and perfectly balanced. “But the technical aspects have advanced. Shanks have gotten stronger and broader, and the platform itself has broadened and has a more reliable base so that ballerinas can do 32 fouettés, sustained balances and the different things en pointe that weren’t done 100 years ago. And not only has the shoe advanced but the body, the muscles and the elite athleticism of the dancer has improved, therefore the shoe design has had to match the evolving art form, but all the while we have still held onto basically the same traditional manufacturing techniques.”
These techniques are an art form for the shoemakers themselves, Plesh explains. “These people are craftsmen, they are artists in a different sense to a performer, but they work in pursuit of supporting the dancer. They express themselves with their hands, whether at the sewing machine, cutting, or with a hammer. The shoemakers really have to use their eye, just like a dancer using their eye to see if they are inline or looking in the mirror to see if their legs are all the same. They also have to have strong hand-eye coordination.”
Capezio has a talented and loyal team of cobblers, with several employees serving the company in excess of 30 years. “We have retained employees up to 35 years and we have a group of workers who have been creating in this facility for 35, 30, 25 and 20 years. I think it says a lot about Capezio that we have retained people for that long.”
One shoemaker even felt so at home in Capezio’s factory that he asked for his ashes to remain there. “Mr. Bacicci’s ashes are in my office. He worked with Salvatore as a shoemaker. He asked for his ashes to remain in the factory and they are behind my desk. Sometimes I look over and say, ‘Bacicci, help me here!’ if fabric is delayed or there are any issues. I don’t know if it does anything. I don’t think I’m superstitious, but he’s there and I’m there and sometimes we’re the only two people in the room.”
Tools from Salvatore’s era are also at the factory, serving as inspiration for the team.
This season, two new shoes have been designed and created in the factory: the Studio 1121 and Studio 1122. This new style is built to be quieter and to last longer with the hardest toe box that Capezio makes to date. It also features a revolutionary elasticized binding that enhances fit and prevents gapping.
Not only are millions of stock and custom pointe shoes made in the Capezio factory, but custom theatrical shoes of all types are also created. “This factory also houses the Theatrical Division that makes all sorts of theatrical shoes that range from Lady Gaga and Madonna to The Rockettes or Cirque du Soleil, to many, many Broadway shows,” shared Plesh.
Capezio has designed everything from tap shoes with microphones in them to amplify the sound for the new Michael Jackson tour, to six-inch-high platform boots for Lady Gaga, to furry shoes for the cast of Cats.
Capezio’s Theatrical Division has a lot of fun creating shoes for its varied clients. “The unique thing with the Theatrical department is everything is possible. You never know what the designer is going to request. It could be anything from a sandal to boots up to the thigh. It could be animal materials or it could be vegan. It could be stiletto heels or it could be flats. The custom theatrical shoemaking is very enjoyable because it’s always fresh for the shoemakers and it’s always challenging,” added Plesh.
Plant Manager Sue Hani has worked in the Capezio Factory for over 30 years and has seen the many unique shoes created.
“A large percentage of the shoes created over the years have been tap shoes. We’ve created phenomenal shoes of different colors and variations – just beautiful shoes,” she shared.
“We’ve made shoes for the Metropolitan Opera, Elf the movie, Mary Poppins the musical, Wicked, After Midnight, Mama Mia,” and the impressive list goes on… “We’ve made everything from American Ballet Theatre’s character shoes to footwear for the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls and New Jersey Nets cheerleaders.”
Capezio’s Pointe Shoe Factory is definitely an exciting hub of creativity, consistency and commitment, all in support of the dancer and performer!
To see a selection of the theatrical shoes made by Capezio, visit Capezio’s 51st Street and Broadway store in New York City, where a selection of historical shoes are displayed. At the same time, make sure to check out Capezio’s extensive pointe shoe range and the new Studio Pointe Shoe styles. Also, see www.capezio.com/women/shoes/pointe-shoes where you can view the full pointe shoe range and buy online.