If you ask anyone who works in the trade, they’ll tell you that shoe shine isn’t just a craft—It’s really something akin to an art. It’s a process that has remained largely unchanged since it was popularized in the early 20th century. Just ask Joe Rocco, who runs Jim’s Shoe repair, an 82-year-old New York institution started by his Italian grandfather. “The process and the products haven’t really changed since we opened”.
Discovering the appeal of the gentleman‘s craft – shoe shine
Jack Zatikan inherited his father’s decades-old business at Progressive Shoe Shop in Los Angeles, and has built a reputation with celebrities as the go-to cobbler to the stars, proving that this time-honored craft has generational and au courant appeal.
Below, the top shoe shiners around the globe, from London to Paris, Los Angeles and New York City, share their thoughts on taking care of your shoes, why the craft of the shine is so beloved and what makes a truly great shoe shine.
Jim’s Shoe Repair: “Pride in our work, great craftsmanship and great customer service. Our customers range in age from 25 to 85. The young guys were probably told by their fathers to go get a shoeshine; or they work in an office where they see the guys all have a nice shine on their shoes. They look good everyday, and they think to themselves, ‘I better do that,’—it rubs off.”
What sets your service apart from the rest?
Steven Skippen: “I have evolved shoeshine to levels not seen in Europe and also patina (recolour shoes using permanent dyes) this skill is an extra arrow in my bow which other shoeshiners cannot do.
Many are copying my style but what they don’t realise is it took years to learn by hand method and cannot be copied as it has all to do with lightest of touches – each finger is a different tool.”
What is it like to work with celebrities? Is there more pressure?
Progressive Shoe Shop: “Last year for the Oscars, Lady Gaga’s assistant showed up at about 5 p.m. the day before the ceremony, asking me to make two pairs of 10-inch platform shoes—one for the awards show and one for the after parties. My father and I worked all night and they were ready at around 11 a.m. the next morning, in time for her to walk the red carpet. It was a lot of fun, but so much pressure! They loved the shoes though!”