I often get asked what I call myself, professionally speaking.
I will usually call myself a shoemaker, which I don’t think is completely accurate (technically yes, I do make shoes for a living, but….). The job entails so much more. Shoe designer never sits right either, as often I am not the one to actually come up with the original vision of the footwear – rather, I bring someone else’s ideas into fruition. Developer sounds too much like I sit at a computer. Shoe engineer? Um, no.
One thing you should never call me is a cobbler. It’s a stupid pet peeve to have, but it’s one that I can call my own. I am not a cobbler.
Historically, cobblers were people who worked with shoes but were, in general, unable to afford to buy their own leather. Thus, they would take apart unwearable shoes and use the bits and pieces – sort of Dr Frankenstein style – to create a new “thing.” Much like Robert di Niro in that ill-fated Kenneth Brannaugh film, though without his charm. Hence the term “cobbled together”. We do a lot of things in my atelier on any given day, but we never ever cobble.
I know what you’re thinking – if, historically, there was a word for those who cobbled, then naturally there must be a word for those who made shoes from scratch. And yes, you are completely correct. “Cordwainer” was this word. I shit you not. And there is a long and detailed explanation as to the origins of this word that somehow relates to Spain and cordovan leather. If you’re that interested, check it out on wikipedia. For me, “Cordwainer” is a word that just sounds a little too pretentious to sit right. While a fascinating topic of conversation to bring up in a fitting or at a party, I feel like I would have to start showing up to work in slippers and a smoking jacket, pipe firmly planted between lips and mumbling in a clever accent in order to call myself Cordwainer.
So. Call me what you will. I’ve always liked the ring of “Jitterbug Boy”. Just don’t call me a cobbler.
(DISCLAIMER – In re-reading this post, it may come off that I’m speaking ill of cobblers. That is by no means my intention. I know many very talented cobblers, many of whom do work that I certainly could not do myself. It’s just a question of nomenclature. It’s like calling a politician a “decent human being.” It’s just plain wrong.)