Love Espadrilles? Try Barcelona’s La Manual Alpargatera

Who knew jute and satin could go together so well!

I could care less that summer is over. There is still a few more days until the autumn equinox and I am going to milk it for as long as I can in my much loved Spanish espadrilles. I’ve had a few pairs throughout my lifetime, designer versions of the Spanish sandal that have been worn since the XVII century by the King of Aragon’s footsoldiers but nothing compares to an authentic handmade pair. They are also the go-to summer shoe for Spaniards just the way (dare I say it) flip-flops are for Americans, although a lot more stylish.

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In July I took a friend to the bastion of espadrilles here in Barcelona, La Manual Alpargatera. She wanted something Spanish, something specific to Barcelona that wasn’t kitschy and would garner envy from her fashionable girlfriends back in NYC. The store has been around for ages, famous amongst locals and tourists. Even celebrities like Catherine Zeta Jones stop in to be fitted for a pair. La Manual actually started out as a small workshop and left-overs from its beginnings can still be seen its humble shop, which still looks like a working studio. Located in an antique building in the Barrio Gotico boxes upon boxes of espadrilles are stacked high up to the rafters. Behind locked glass cases are a variety of the rope-soled shoes for men, women and baby that are made from esparto reeds (a type of grass) and hand-stitched cotton uppers in any array of colors. Handwoven panama hats, trilbys and derbys are also on offer. The wait can be long because of its popularity but its so worth it. The day we went the shop was crawling with German tourists and a group of young Catalan boys looking for a fresh pair to don on their summer vacation to Ibiza and Formentera. But they, just like us and everyone else, asked for a number (handwritten on cardboard cut-outs of shoe-soles) from the desk-clerk and waited for one of their dependientas (old ladies from a bygone era) to hunt down our tamano (size).
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Boys look swanky in them too!

Another espadrille maker I am partial to is Castaner. They are like Louboutins for espadrille fans. Season after season they create collections for men and women that elevate the classic shoe to ”must-have” status. Spanish Elle and GQ feature the brand at least once a year in their summer fashion issues.

At their tiny boutique in the toni Francesc Macia area, there’s never a customer shortage. The older clients tend to select the more traditional flats and wedges while the younger girls snatch up the shoes with a contemporary design aesthetic. Here is where my girlfriend chose to buy a pair of her espadrilles — a patent leather, mary-jane with a wedge heel that was to-die-for.

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Loving the contrast stitching and usage of patent leather.

I know you can get espadrilles just about anywhere from designers like Tory Burch or Stella McCartney but I still have to give Spain its props for coming up with the best versatile shoe that added a bit of Mediterranean flyness to Sonny Crocket of “Miami Vice,” goes with just about anything and makes navigating the cobblestone streets easy.

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