For Emmanuel Farré, creating beautiful patinas is not a job. It is a passion, an art and a therapy.
A patina, by the way, is the combination of colour and polish that finishes and protects a shoe. In Emmanuel’s case, it is painstakingly applied through a long process that involves first stripping the leather down to a pale base, then slowly building up layer after layer of colour and polish. The final effect can look like almost anything: wood grain, bird plumage or a rain forest.
Every shoe is unique, every patina a work of art. In fact, Emmanuel’s goal is for his patinas to be an expression of his clients’ personality and style. That’s why he likes to meet with people in person. “The most important thing for me is to talk to people, like a doctor, like a good tailor has to do, ” which is one of the reasons Emmanuel moved to Toronto from Toulouse last December. He had been working with Loding in France but was getting more and more orders from the Toronto stores. “I have a lot of difficulties having to deal with people by telephone.” He had long wanted to relocate to North America so he suggested to Loding, why not just move to Canada?
But Emmanuel’s journey to being a Toronto patina artist began a very long time ago and, he tells me, every step has played a role in his work.
“We all come from what our parents gave us,” he told me, and Emmanuel’s parents gave him a foundation in colour and style. Picture an apartment in France, the interior decorated with antiques from various epochs, a harmonious hodgepodge of hues, finishes and fashions. In the dining room, every surface is covered in men’s clothes: a few suits, shoes, ties and shirts. In a way, it was Emmanuel’s parents as surroundings: his mother, an antiques dealer, gave him an appreciation for history, vintage and combinations. His father, a businessman with a strong sense of sartorial style, taught him how to tie his ties and puff his pocket squares. That apartment, “it was my first inspiration.”
Emmanuel never really rebelled from those influences, never dabbling in punk or grunge fashions. As a teen and in his 20s, he dressed classic, never casual, and modelled his look after Serge Gainsbourg. “He was my muse.”
At the time, Emmanuel built World War 2 models of tanks, planes and figurines, creating detailed dioramas of battle scenes. This meant hours of fine, detailed work, artificially ageing the models to make them look used and battle worn. He had only to look around at his mother’s antiques for inspiration.
Emmanuel did study art but soon after made a radical change in his life and joined the French Navy. He spent eight years as a navigator sailing around the world. “When you spend a week in the middle of the ocean, your smell is pure,” he told me. “We were going to Africa, and out at sea even though you can’t see the continent, you can start to smell it.” Emmanuel still vividly remembers entering Congo, sailing deeper and deeper into the jungle with its smells and sounds, overwhelming after a week of sameness and silence.
When he left the navy, however, Emmanuel’s life entered a dark stage. After a failed attempt to run a restaurant with his brother in Toulouse, he worked a retail job and descended into alcoholism. Eventually, he found help, and quit drinking. But there was still an emptiness in his life and he sank into depression. It was precisely at this nadir in his life that everything artistic, creative and positive he had experienced resurfaced. He tapped in to his father’s love of classic clothes, his mother’s love of antiques and colour, the rich, sensual experiences of his time in the navy, his detailed modelling skills, and he taught himself how to create patinas. And now his patina work protects him from his demons. “I cannot spend one day without working on my patina. It’s my yoga.”
When I first saw Emmanuel’s work, I was stunned. The depth of colour and texture seemed otherworldly. It makes sense now, however, understanding that it is the product of such a long, difficult and remarkable journey. And Emmanuel’s foray into patina seems to be perfectly timed. Not only is there a resurgence in dressing well, but that is combined with a sartorial freedom men have never enjoyed. “Classic shoes are so boring,” Emmanuel insists and I have to admit, being surrounded by his dazzling patinas, I want every pair of my shoes to have a touch of his magic. Which doesn’t have to be flamboyant, as proved by this subtle blue and brown combination:
But despite what Emmanuel had told me about wanting to be closer to his clients in Canada, I was still intrigued that he would choose to move from style-concious Europe to sartorially-challenged Toronto. “People are more free here,” he tells me. And I think I know what he means. Europe’s history can be inspiring but also stifling. Even overwhelming. Despite our historic conservatism, Toronto is starting to blossom, men are starting to express themselves. Thankfully, we have the help of shops like Loding and artists like Emmanuel Farré.
Emmanuel Farré works out out of the Avenue Road location of Loding. His patina process adds about $200 to the cost of a pair of Loding shoes. He also does patinas on almost all types of leather products and accessories.