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Bid goodbye to ballet flats, the Venetian furlane is the chicest shoe of the summer

Nov 18, 2023

By Laetitia de Belgique

Maddalena Arrivabene in the signature furlane by Vibi Venezia

Ballet flats have Londoners hot-footing it to Prada, Chanel et al. in search of the shoe of the season. But in Venice, it's their more elegant cousin that has captured the imagination of Italian It girls: the ‘furlane’. The traditional velvet slipper were first crafted northeastern Italy but is most closely associated with the Venetian gondoliers. Now, these once-humble shoes have a firm foothold in the fashion world.

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A stripy Vibi Venezia style

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Adorning the feet of everyone from Talita von Furstenberg to Alexa Chung, the furlane, or ‘friulane’, was born out of the Italian love of subtle sophistication and craftsmanship. Initially made from recycled materials such as old tires and unused fabric in the Friuli region (hence the name), the slipper became a popular choice for gondoliers thanks to their sturdy rubber soles. Today, the furlane is more commonly made from silk, cotton, or, more traditionally, velvet, often in bold, eye-catching colours, or deep, rich jewel tones, which provide a touch of luxury to even the most basic ensembles.

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The greatest modern-day proponents of this particular brand of gondolier glam are the Arrivabene sisters, Viola and Vera, who are founders of Vibi Venezia, which specialise in furlanes. The Arrivabene sisters grew up in the grandeur of their ancestral home of the Palazzo Papadopoli, in Venice. It was their mother, Countess Bianca di Savoia Aosta Arrivabene, who reportedly inspired Vibi Venezia – she had been buying the traditional rubber-soled shoes on the Rialto Bridge for years. Working with labels such as Emilia Wickstead, with whom they had a collaboration, the Arrivabene sisters grew the traditional style into a staple of ‘cool girl’ wardrobes the world over.

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While retaining their simple shape, brands like Vibi Venezia and Piedàterre – which blends the traditional with a modern flair, and does styles for men – have begun to experiment with patterns and styles to create a revised version of the emblematic venetian shoe. A similar old-meets-new approach is taken elsewhere in Europe (see: the Spanish-led Sveti Stefan Shoes and Flabelus).

Easily styled, furlanes can be worn with a long dress for a regal dinner in one of Italy'soldest palazzi, as showcased by fashion creator Isabel Wilkinson Schor, or a day shopping in the city à la Kate Moss. Stylist Sarah Corbett-Winder wears her scarlet Vibis with a Sézane blouse, checkered blazer and Levi jeans. Frederique van der Wal embodied European elegance on board a vintage boat. Original Italian social media power-player Chiara Ferragni is also a fan.

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Of course, there is nowhere chicer to sport your furlanes than on the Grand Canal at sunset, a gentle evening breeze in the air. Surely the epitome of la dolce vita.