Bozo the Clown’s shoes, big as canoe paddles, sit on a shelf in Pasquale Fabrizio’s shop on San Vicente Boulevard. He’s making copies of the floppy soles for a movie. Afterward, the originals will go to a museum for safekeeping.
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Coffee and cigarette heels: Pasquale Fabrizio, cobbler and cappuccino maestro
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Slipper wizard: From the Smithsonian to Fabrizio, Dorothy's ruby soles restored
There’s plenty of amazing stuff lying around Pasquale’s Shoe Repair. Draped casually over a hook, with one of its leather handles coming apart, is a hobo purse.
“You’re probably looking at twenty grand,” Fabrizio says of the Bottega Veneta bag.
The purse’s owner said to Fabrizio’s wife, Lina, “Lina, can you believe it? I love this bag more than my life.”
“Do you mean that?” Lina asked.
The woman thought for a while. “No. I love my son more.”
Purses and shoes you could barter for family members are commonplace at Pasquale’s. A $45,000 Chanel croc bag breezed through recently. He’s seen more celebrity feet than a Beverly Hills podiatrist. Fabrizio, master cobbler to the stars — to anyone, really, who appreciates a well-kept shoe — is a fixer of ailing soles. And souls.
People often have their hearts broken by shoes and accessories. They come to Fabrizio looking for a fix. One woman had fallen in love with her J. Crew leather flip-flops. Alas, they had been discontinued. She asked Fabrizio to make more. Could it be done?
“Understand one thing,” he said, “anything can be done.”
He once built a three-legged monster costume for two 300-pound wrestlers. He fashioned a steel brace for the shared third leg, so that one wrestler standing inside the suit wouldn’t crush the other’s foot. He built up the calves of Angelina Jolie’s Jimmy Choo boots in Mr. & Mrs. Smith to make them thigh-high, and he swapped out the heels — 80 pairs at a time — so she could run around comfortably during stunts. He duplicated Muhammad Ali’s Everlasts — down to the tassels — for Will Smith, then, as Smith wore out their rubber soles from hours of practice in the ring, he resoled them. When Frank Darabont, the director of The Green Mile, needed the squeak removed from a pair of boots, Fabrizio came through ... and did so again when Darabont changed his mind and wanted the squeak returned. One regular customer even implored Fabrizio to fix a Jacuzzi cover. The dog had chewed it.
Lina waves a pair of ivory-silk Louboutins, tight as a Victorian corset. “How much can these be stretched?”
He throws the shoes a cursory glance. “Oh, we can get something out of them.”
Louboutins are like Ferraris: always in the shop. Their trademark arterial red soles need periodic touchups. Fabrizio holds a tiny vial of custom red paint mix in the air like it’s the elixir of life. He has even innovated upon his own innovation. Recently he came across a thin, gleaming sheath of rubber in Louboutin red. Rubber won’t scuff off like paint. “Everybody is going to want this,” he says.
Clients have been so impressed with Fabrizio’s knowledge of shoe architecture, they have begged him to go shopping with them. They tell him they’d pay him $400 an hour to advise them on the merits of Cole Haan versus Gucci loafers. Five hundred! Six!
“It’s not money I am looking for,” he’ll demur. “I cannot afford to leave the business alone. Someone will start to suffer.”
Fabrizio is a democratic cobbler: You treat your customers the same way, he says, whether they bring in a $50, $500 or $5,000 shoe.
A passionate man, Fabrizio has strong opinions about shoes. Uggs deeply offend him. Especially scruffy ones. “It looks like a slipper, for god’s sake. You see these young women letting their boots go down at the heel and you think, What is that about?”
Another phenomenon that has recently been driving him nuts is this distressing trend: People ask him to make their boots look worn in. “How many years?” he’ll ask. Ten? Twenty? But what exactly does 10 years’ worth of wear look like? It’s a gray area. Distressing Cindy Crawford’s husband’s brand new Prada jacket was, well, distressing.
“More,” said Mr. Cindy Crawford.
“Are you sure?” said Fabrizio, gently touching the supple leather.
Ever play six degrees of Kevin Bacon? It’s more like one degree of Pasquale Fabrizio. His client list reads like the Internet Movie Database. Try to stump him. You can’t.
Has he done shoes for Britney?
“We added high heels to her moccasins.”
He built strap-on leather chaps to wrap around her Miu Miu boots for the fencing scene in her James Bond music video. One pair in all-white. One in all-black.
“We dissected her closed-toe Louboutins and made them into open-toe,” he says. “She wore them to the Grammys or the Oscars. I can’t remember which.”
“We replicated his rhinestone belts from the ’70s. They were old and falling apart, so we made him new ones.” He also customized Jagger’s custom furry, black-pony-skin Adidas basketball shoes, replacing the plain rubber soles with thick, textured funky ones.
“They’re like an exclamation point on a shoe,” Fabrizio says, smiling at the memory.
It was a hush-hush meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel. A pair of bodyguards met him on the fourth floor. They escorted him to a room, where he waited to take the star’s measurements. Finally, Jagger walked in. “Now I can die and go to heaven,” sighed the cobbler.
First and foremost, Fabrizio is a solver of problems. His solutions are elegant. His workmanship immaculate. He’s like a trained assassin; once the deed is done, you’d never know he was even there.
But here’s a problem: If you are the only one that Bulgari trusts to repair its purses ... and Marc Jacobs sends lieutenants carrying cases of original hardware for you to sift through (14-karat-gold buttons, buckles, zippers and bobs and bits) ... and people everywhere, not just in Hollywood, but in the world, make you their go-to shoe guy (“Oh, my god, they know you in Paris!” exclaimed one of Fabrizio’s customers who had traveled there and needed a repair) ... when you have repaired the actual ruby slippers Dorothy wore to see the Wizard of Oz, which were delivered from the Smithsonian in an armored truck, with guards to watch over you as you refurbished the faded soles ... what is left?
As in Cinderella’s.
Fabrizio’s current obsession and ultra-top-secret project involves a pair of shoes he’s creating out of real glass, with titanium stiletto heels, inspired by a glass letter opener he bought the last time he was in Italy.
Some customers like to imagine that Fabrizio is descended from a long line of master Italian cobblers. That he learned his trade at the knee of great-great-grandfather Giuseppe, who learned from his grandfather, who apprenticed with the Keebler elves back in the Old Country. But Fabrizio grew up in Canada. And though he took over the repair side of a custom-shoe business from his uncle many years ago, his skills are his alone.
“The bars are full of losers,” he tells his kids. “Go out and do something. Take one thing and refine the hell out of it.”
Every so often, a philosophical mood strikes. “One thing that always fascinated me — and one day I’ll figure it out — is why the bottom of the shoe is called the sole. Our feet hold up our entire body on 26 small bones. It’s the only part of us that touches the world.”
Many times, Fabrizio wanted to pack it in. At the beginning, when he was newly arrived in California, customers were few and far between. “What the hell am I doing here?” was his primary thought. He saw a garbage-truck driver, happily whistling while he worked. “Maybe that’s what I should do,” Fabrizio thought, “go pick up garbage. But it wasn’t the garbage. He enjoyed what he did.”
Today, he stirs a cup of espresso at his newly opened café, adjacent to the repair shop. They had a coffeepot in the back at his old location, on Miracle Mile. For years, he and Lina said they’d open a café, where people could sip cappuccino or smoke a cigar with him while waiting for their shoes.
He could not have predicted his life would be enmeshed with shoes. “Maybe I was a transvestite in a previous life,” he speculates, “although we get some of those too. A guy came in with size-14 pink pumps.”
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“They’re my girlfriend’s,” the guy said.
“She’s a big girl, huh?” said Fabrizio, teasing.
The shoes never lie.
Pasquale Shoe Repair and Café, 5616 San Vicente Blvd., (323) 936-6883.