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Q&A with Roberto Crivellini of Drogheria Crivellini

A/W 23

Meet the delightful polymath and shoe designer, Roberto Crivellini, founder of Drogheria Crivellini, our latest Italian obsession. Here he chats about his beautiful footwear, Miles Davis, Friuli and London in the 80s. As I said, a polymath.

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Roberto as a baby with his mother (left) and the original family-run Drogheria established in Udine in the 1960s (polaroid)

Roberto as a baby with his mother (left) and the original family-run Drogheria established in Udine in the 1960s (polaroid)

Our Italian isn’t up to much but Drogheria means pharmacy in English and you make shoes! Can you explain?

Few people would understand the term Drogheria (comes from droghe = spices), even less why I make shoes, as I graduated as a conference interpreter. The Drogheria is a grocery store where people would buy an assortment of items for personal or home care: from spices to sweets, soaps to detergents, house paint, brooms, liquor and Furlane slippers; you name it, it was there. My family opened their business in Udine at the end of WWII, when people wanted to restart life with new hope for the future. Many years later, having stopped my craft of home textiles weaver, I wanted to pay tribute to my family history, so it came naturally to name my new venture Drogheria Crivellini and promote the Furlane shoes. It must have been written in the stars.

How long have you been making shoes? And how did you get started?

I have used the Furlane shoes all my life, and during my textile weaving activity, in the late 2000s, I started using some of my fabrics to make some “special” shoes for friends and family, with the help of local artisans. I was so surprised that such a product, with a nice story and a strong Italian cultural identity, was unknown to people and markets worldwide.

It seemed a worthwhile challenge to take, even more so because it connected me to my family; a piece of Italian history of virtue and hope and a product that was an object of affection, so I hoped it could be for others. In 2014 Drogheria Crivellini was born again.

You’re based in Friuli, tell us a bit about the area.

Friuli is tucked away in the north east corner of Italy. Until WWI it belonged to the Austro Hungarian Empire, while after WWII it became the border between the West and the Iron Curtain Countries. Friuli people are known to be not particularly loquacious, to work head down, and call their territory Our Little Homeland. In less than 100 miles you leave the Dolomites in the north, traverse hilly vineyards and plunge into the sand beaches of the Adriatic, surrounded by Roman and Venetian civilization heritage.

The Furlana is a traditional shoe of your region, what characterises it?

Mainly, to make virtue out of necessity! Women in rural households used to make clothing at home with what was available: discarded clothes could make the shoes uppers, their lining came from old bedlinen, while recycled bicycle tyres made sturdy outer soles. Unisex and ambidextrous, the shoes/slippers could fit anyone in the family, and were used to stay at home, or to work in the fields. The construction is in two parts: the upper, connected with the underfoot lining is then sewn with the insole, bound with its outer rubber sole. The whole process was entirely made by hand with needle and thread. Modern Furlane enjoy an easier assembly, but construction is always an artisanal work of the same concept, that produces a lightweight, flexible footwear.

How have you adapted these traditional shoes to make them relevant today?

I had the feeling the Furlana did not need to go through dramatic changes to become relevant. The shoe has a timeless feel, so using interesting fabrics and materials, with the help of appropriate colours, could do the job. What I found more intriguing, was the possibility of using the Furlana construction technique to make other footwear styles, inspired by other cultures, like the Japanese TABI for example, to create products where cultures meet and a new language is created.

What are the main components of the shoes?

The main components are the outer material and the lining, the hidden insole and the outer rubber sole. Plus of course the coloured piping and sturdy threads to keep all parts together.

You work with artisans and makers. How important is the craft to your brand? And are the crafts typical of your region?

Very important! The hand sewing technique to bind the parts of the shoe (a reverse sewing construction similar to that of glove making) was originally developed in our region, and cannot be made by machines. Artisans prepare all parts of the shoes that are then sent to women who work from home, hand sewing these parts together. Then all is returned to the artisans, who finish the shoe construction. Since the Furlane have become relevant on the market, makers from other areas and countries have imitated the original technique, so now these shoes are offered from many sources. I take it as a compliment.

We’ve bought three different styles: two square toe shapes in classic fabrications (patent or velvet) and a round toe in a very cute teddy fabric. Do you like to have a bit of silliness in the collection?

Let me talk about the “EH?” vs the “WOW FACTOR”. I am interested in situations or things that might not be deciphered at first sight, and may pose a problem of understanding, as it may happen when you see pieces of contemporary art. Your reaction may be… “EH? What is it? What does it mean? It looks awkward” or “oh, my 10 year old daughter could have done that!” But if the feeling of doubt evolves towards understanding and/or liking that thing, you enjoy a WOW state of content and fulfilment that stays with you.

On the flip side, you see a fashion item or an art piece that makes you go “WOW, that is great, I want it” while more often than not that excitement vanishes to give space to the “EH?” realisation that you no longer feel fulfilled.

"The jazz musician Miles Davis used to say, do not play what you know, play what you don’t know. That certainly brings joyful silliness in the mistakes you are bound to make."

Do you have a Drogheria Crivellini muse? Who would you most like to see wearing your shoes?

My grandmother was a seamstress, specialised in making man’s trousers. Her first question to clients was: “which side do you keep it, sir?” as she had to make space in the trousers shape. I learned from her that the concept of beyond repair does not exist, and that with incredible repair works, the mended items were often more interesting than the original ones!


I feel surprised and happy when I see young people discovering the Furlane, and sporting them as cool items (in an understated, effortless way), but even happier when the shoes are re-discovered by adults, as they have the sense of something coming back from their youth.

You’ve spent some time in England in the past. Reflections on your stay, both good and bad please!

I often think how fortunate I was to live in London in the 80s. Three women defined the decade: Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana.

I found a gloomy country; the swinging sixties forgotten, the many crisis of the 70s still damaging people’s energy and hope. However I witnessed how the nation regained its energy, pride and place at international level in the new decade.

It certainly all came at a cost and was very divisive, but with the eyes of a young Italian living there, I still believe I saw a historical change that drove Britain ahead for many years and different governments to come. This is something I did not imagine could happen — it did not in Italy.

BBC Radio 2 Steve Wright was a great travelling company, alternated by the dramatic news of the miner’s strike.

The Renee and Renato Italian song “Save your Love” topping the charts for 4 weeks at Xmas ‘82 was fun, while the growing music scene was followed internationally.

The blue/red naked legs of young women walking in winter in London still make me shiver and I am still dubious about the liquid lunches I was invited to.

There are too many memories of the time I had the privilege of living in Britain and I cannot think of a bad one. The Tabloids did not create a good mood for many, but pub crawling settled all disputes amicably.

We’re obsessed with Italian food. Can you recommend a local Friuli delicacy for us to seek out?

Friuli being a small region with local dishes originating from the countryside make it difficult to find them. One excellence is San Daniele Prosciutto (ham), presumably easier to find and liked by all.

More radical local recipes (kind of the food equivalent of recycled Furlane footwear) include:

FRICO, made from local cheeses, grated and melted in a pan, sloooowly cooked until they becomes a kind of crisp tortilla (heaven).

BROVADA. Grated red turnips soaked in grapes pomace, cooked slowly for hours, to produce a sour, strongly flavoured mash, that accompanies perfectly all fat meats like pork and sausages (for courageous gourmets, but easier than haggis!!)

FORMADI FRANT. Remainders of cheeses are assembled and mashed together, seasoned with pepper to be preserved – easy for shepherds to take with them.

PANADA. Bread leftovers boiled in a little chicken broth and seasoned with fennel, to produce a filling soup.

Why do you think Drogheria Crivellini and The Hambledon are a good fit?

I had the impression we are a very good fit. The Hambledon is made of people and this was the clear feeling of belonging that emanated from you all. It is beautiful, important and not common! I enjoyed very much talking together, felt we spoke a similar language (English of course) and shared common pleasures (apart from Margaret Thatcher – who, by the way, was the daughter of a grocer). So, thank you for choosing us, and let’s enjoy the ride.

A styled image of a model foot on point wearing the Drogheria Crivellini Velvet Venetian Loafers in olive.
A styled image of a model foot on point wearing the Drogheria Crivellini Velvet Venetian Loafers in olive.

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