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THIS SUMMER, PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD

Posted on July 07 2019

Former management consultant Tobias Cox reimagined the humble espadrille, creating the Mulo brand with a family of footwear that represents the best of breed. The idea of perfecting the product came to Tobias on a trans-Atlantic sailing trip, during which his traditional, rope-soled, canvas footwear disintegrated. Once back on dry land, he embarked upon a voyage of discovery, navigating the choppy waters of the British fashion industry and fighting against a sea of international competition on a journey to land a superlative summer shoe to deck-out the modern man.

Tobias Cox and Mulo co-founder Ingrid De Vries

The existence of espadrilles was first documented in Catalan text in 1322, although production of linen-topped shoes with soles made from "esparto" fibre (from where the name is derived) is thought to have predated this by millennia. The area that covers Occitania in southern France and the Basque and Catalonia regions of northern Spain that border the two countries is often considered to be the birthplace of the espadrille, for reasons that run deeper than its manufacturing heritage.

Traditional espadrilles feature in "A Model" by de Francesc Galofré

Historically, espadrilles were worn by peasants, whilst the rich and powerful wore leather boots and silk slippers. Perhaps more by accident than design, the shoe moved from being a signifier of class to a means of political statement. A famous photograph of Sabino Arana, the father of Basque nationalism, taken behind bars on being imprisoned for treason (after attempting to send a telegram to Theodore Roosevelt to praise the US for their support of Cuba in seeking independence from Spain) shows him wearing a three-piece suit, stiff collar and tie... together with a pair of ribbon-laced espadrilles.

Sabino Arana imprisoned in Larrinaga (c1895)

During the Spanish Civil War, Catalan foot soldiers marched against Franco's Nationalist armies in conventional-looking uniforms combined with the extraordinary pairing of canvas espadrilles. They were cheap to produce and cool to wear across the hot terrain but (as Tobias Cox had discovered on his Atlantic voyage) not particularly durable and had to be regularly replaced. In order to meet the military demand, Barcelona-based manufacturer "Castañer" was nationalised by Spain's Republican government, securing a steady supply of "seven-ribbon espadrilles" to its forces.

Infantry men and women of the Spanish Civil War

In the post-war period, the popularity of the ribbon-tied espadrille continued both domestically and internationally. The artist Salvador Dali was particularly keen on the design, which both suited his eccentric persona and symbolised his Catalonian roots. In France the shoe was worn by heart-throb movie star Alain Delon and British playwright Noel Coward when holidaying on the Cap D'Antibes. The product also drifted across the Atlantic and was adopted as a summer staple by Hollywood legends such as John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart... the style was even seen gracing the feet of president to be, John F. Kennedy.

 Salvador Dali wearing espadrilles with inimitable style

It was in the 1970s that the espadrille leaped up to tie its status as a genuine fashion statement. French designer Yves Saint Lauren collaborated with the former war-effort supplier Castañer to create satin-skinned, wedge-heeled versions of the original peasant-farmer's footwear which then found themselves marching along the catwalks of Paris.

Yves Saint Lauren and wedge-heeled models (1971)

Having been embraced by the ladies fashion world, the traditional ribbon-laced espadrille became abandoned by most men, in favour of a plain slip-on version that had a more masculine appearance than the original model that tied around the ankle. Unfortunately, this meant the shoe was not particularly secure on the foot, making it more appropriate for the beach than for battle... something that Tobias Cox may have considered as he took the brave step towards refining the iconic piece.

Spanish artist Pablo Picasso in slip-on espadrilles

Tobias was determined to remake the espadrille to be so much more than beach-ready. Built on a traditional Oxford shoe last to smarten up the silhouette, he also added a unique, custom-designed Japanese linen braid and upgraded the standard, easy-breezy esparto rope base with a tougher rubber sole. He also introduced a luxurious suede footbed and interior cushioning for covert built-in comfort.

The Mulo Espadrille

Designed in London and produced in Mulo's Portuguese workshops, each pair is crafted in 100 individual stages including sports industry engineering that adds maximum comfort to the premium fit. The Espadrille comes in a range of colours and two key styles: a supple Italian suede for the business of daily life and cool, 100% natural lightweight linen or cotton for when the temperature rises. 


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