Alexis Pointet has been obsessed with shoes for as long as he can remember.
“When I was a kid, I was the only one polishing my shoes before class,” he recalls.
“You could spit on me or beat me up, and I would not care. But if anyone walked on my shoes to purposefully dirty them, I would go bananas.”
Now, the 33-year-old has turned his childhood passion into a profitable business.
He opened La cordonnerie du Vieux-Nice in 2019, a shoe repair shop situated in the quaint, narrow cobblestone streets of Nice’s old town.
He was overwhelmed with clients almost immediately.
“My order book has been full since day three,” says Mr Pointet, with Saturdays proving particularly busy. Shoes not only line the upper cabinet of his shop, but also the corridor and back room.
Mr Pointet’s success is all the more surprising given Nice already has several respected cobblers.
His shop stands out more than most, though, with its quirky decor.
From a distance, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a vintage shop selling retro items – everything from boxing gloves and punchbags to paintings and mid-century furniture.
Re-soling a shoe is among a number of ways Mr Pointet can repair and improve footwear. Pic: Théophile Larcher / The Connexion
Only the sign at the bottom of the white door offers a clue: “We enlarge shoes.”
Walk inside and customers are greeted by still more ephemera from France-of-yore, reflecting Mr Pointet’s passions for cinema, literature and sports – as well as cobbling.
A collection of leather polish boxes rub shoulders with a vintage ‘50s radio and a weightlifting bar used by one of France’s greatest boxers, Marcel Cerdan, who was killed in a plane crash at the age of 33.
The walls feature a framed cover of Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night signed by the artist Gen Paul and pictures from famous boxing matches, as well as Barry Blitt’s The Shining cover for 2019’s The New Yorker, depicting Donald Trump’s shoes being polished by three of his closest allies.
“Kids tell their parents that it is like something from a Harry Potter movie,” says Mr Pointet, confessing he is often stunned by the number of compliments he gets from enchanted children, parents and grandparents.
To see Mr Pointet in action, head to the back of his atelier where he can invariably be found polishing, repairing and improving all sorts of leather shoes, luxury bags or rucksacks using turpentine, beeswax, carnauba or a pineapple bark-based solvent.
For the real proof of his talents, however, you only have to look at his own shoes.
The popular adage that the shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot has a French equivalent in a saying that roughly translates as “the cobbler always has the worst shoes”.
Mr Pointet’s own footwear could not be further from the mark, although he concedes the proverb had some truth to it in the 70s and 80s when many cobblers diversified to include locksmithing, chains or fax services.
As a result, a lot of shops transitioned from simply cordonnerie to cordonnerie-serrurerie.
“Owners were wearing sneakers. Clients slowly lost confidence in their abilities. I do not want to give that impression.”
He learned his craft at the Lycée de la Chaussure à Romans in the Isère department, before becoming a student of David Balazic, one of France’s most respected cobblers who counts the Swedish court and Roger Moore among former clients.
Mr Pointet tracked down his hero in Nagymaros, a Hungarian village near Budapest, while on holiday in the country, having learned that Mr Balazic had settled there.
The master cobbler took him under his wing for several days and the pair have developed a firm friendship since.
“He had me burnishing [adding an antiqued effect on leather shoes to create a variation in shades] one shoe for about 36 hours. It was nuts,” recalls Mr Pointet.
Part of the shop’s appeal is its unusual décor, which includes retro film, sport and literature memorabilia. Pic: Théophile Larcher / The Connexion
For his part, Mr Balazic told The Connexion that his protégé “has paid back a thousand times the confidence and friendship I granted him”.
He said he was delighted to hear of Mr Pointet’s success in Nice, and considers him “very good in his domain”.
Mr Pointet, in turn, now has his own apprentice.
Sébastien Moll, 45, has been taking a day off every week from his job with a solar energy company to learn the ropes, and hopes to open his own Gentleman Cordonnier in Antibes in May.
The two met through a shared passion for fly-fishing, though Mr Pointet suspects future fishing trips together will require careful planning: “I know he is going to be swamped once he opens his shop.”