Sicily to San Antonio: The Story of Lucchese Boots
We live in a world of false superlatives. Restaurants brag their signature dish is “world famous” or studios claim that their latest blockbuster was actually “Summer’s smash hit!” More often than not these claims are untrue. And yet, every blue moon, these superlatives ring true.
Such is the case with Lucchese, (pronounced loo-kay-see) the company that most folks who know their stuff agree makes the world’s best cowboy boot.
Surprisingly, the cowboy boot—that symbol of American conservatism and cowboy machismo—would be perfected by the Lucchese brothers, not blue-blooded Americans, but two Italian immigrants who arrived in Texas in 1882.
Sons of Gaetano Lucchese, a respected Italian shoemaker, the boys hoped to make a better life for themselves in this new country and applied their old-world cobbling skills in the military town of San Antonio. The fort and cavalry school kept up demand and the Lucchese brothers sought to hand-make the supply.
There was certainly much competition in the bespoke shoe and boot world, but the Lucchese brothers set themselves apart. The very first recorded purchase in the Lucchese history books is for a custom pair of boots for a Mr. W. Shock, who requested kangaroo leather and a 1.5″ heel. But it wasn’t just their old-world attention to detail that made Lucchese different. The brothers hunted down and mastered every newly available piece of machinery, staying up-to-date on new techniques and technology.
Only thirty or so years later, Sal Lucchese, the founding brother, died suddenly of a stroke in 1929. He left behind a legacy of impeccable bookmaking, and a genuine care for and involvement in the Mexican-American community of San Antonio—a rarity among businessmen of his time. His son, Cosimo, took the reins and in a matter of years, the brand exploded.
At first, the celebrities who ordered Lucchese boots were of the local variety; visiting air force pilots and local barbecue entrepreneurs. But all that changed when Bing Crosby ordered a pair of boots in 1942. Soon, all the Hollywood heavy-hitters had to have a pair: James Stewart, Gary Cooper, and Gregory Peck were some of the first. These big names were followed by John Wayne and even future-president Lyndon B. Johnson. Crosby’s better-known fashion contribution, the Canadian Tuxedo, would occur nine years later.
The boots in these rarefied circles tended towards the garish and served to build Lucchese’s reputation as a luxury boot brand, one that used only the finest materials and catered towards the most well-respected clientele. Soon, however; things would change at Lucchese, which in 1970 was bought out by Blue Bell, Wrangler’s parent company at the time.
Though no longer family-owned, Lucchese continues to make their luxury boots here in the U.S., though their production has moved from San Antonio to El Paso. They are the official bookmaker for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and have even branched into more contemporary styles as well as women’s handbags.
The Lucchese brand is the best cowboy boot you can buy, but a pair can cost you a pretty penny. Lucchese’s famously high quality of construction and material will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $350-$800 with exotic/controversial leathers that reach pass the $1,000 mark.
The things that made Lucchese stand out in late 1800s San Antonio are still crucial selling points, even now in 2018. The brand maintains their unique approach to innovation—mastering new technologies, but holding onto certain old-world shoemaking methods at the same time.
The first standout thing about Lucchese boots are the lemonwood pegs. Traditionally, cobblers would nail an outsole to the upper with brass nails, but metal has its shortcomings. Nails could normally be forced out of leather by drastic changes in temperature and humidity, but lemonwood pegs swell and contract at the exact same rate as leather.
The leather uppers are wetted and stretched tight over the last, at which point the talented artisans at Lucchese tack them into place. Lemonwood pegs are hammered in, which keeps the steel shank in place and allows the midsole and outsole to be stitched together.
The leathers are an entirely different set of high standards. Lucchese tends to work with more exotic materials than your average bootmaker and their workers meticulously examine and compare every hide. Each boot is made of at least two different pieces and oftentimes, 20-30 different samples need to be inspected.
While much of their construction process is documented on their website, much is consciously left to the imagination. What is clear, however, is that weeks and weeks are spent hand-tooling each hide, hand-sewing the upper, and then hand-stitching the sole to the upper. But you can’t entirely blame them for keeping parts of the process secret. For generations, the makers behind the Lucchese brand have passed down the bookmaking methods that grandaddy Gaetano taught his sons in Palermo. And, as such, they continue to make some of the best cowboy boots money can buy.