90 years as the ultimate French Riviera souvenir
BY KIMBERLEY LOVATO
The French Riviera playground of Saint-Tropez is synonymous with megayachts the size of boutique hotels and rosé-all-day parties along Pampelonne Beach. But remnants remain from its storied past, such as the Citadelle, a 400-year-old relic presiding over the sherbet-colored village.
And tucked into a narrow lane connecting the port to the town’s main square is Atelier Rondini, a beloved shoe shop that reminds you of Saint-Tropez’s longstanding allure for artists and artisans. Dominique Rondini opened his workshop in 1927 and began to make leather sandals, called tropéziennes. One of his first clients was famed French writer, Collette.
Ninety years later, Dominique’s grandson, 53-year-old Alain Rondini, runs the show, having learnt the trade from his father. He makes about 10,000 pairs per year in the shop, which comprises space behind the boutique and the top two floors of the narrow building, once the apartment of Alain’s grandparents. Fourteen employees, including his daughters and nephew, assist in the operations. While you can order online, it’s not nearly as fun as filing into the tiny storefront, choosing from various styles and colors lining the walls, and having them shaped, fitted, and hole-punched on your feet. Among the popular models, says Alain, are the original tropéziennes, as well as the thong-style salomé, the lace-up bikini, and the new Seychelles flip-flops, created to fête Rondini’s 90th anniversary. Asked if his grandfather would be surprised at how famous his sandals have become, Alain laughs, “Yes, and I am surprised, too.”
So what does he attribute to the word-of-mouth reputation and staying power of Rondini and their now iconic sandals? “I think it’s that we are still an artisanal business,” Alain says “That’s something that is becoming rare in the world, and here in Saint-Tropez, too. They give the idea that something special can still been found.”