Aurland Skofabrikk: The original penny-loafer
TEXT: ANDRI PAPANICOLAS | PHOTOS: AURLAND SKOFABRIKK
Amongst the beautiful mountains of the west coast in Norway lies a factory with a lot of history housed within its walls. This special place has passed the test of time and remains one of the 19 original shoe factories in Aurland.
Shoes are with you all day every day, and there is no doubt that they are a big part of our lives. A shoe is simply not only a shoe; there are different styles, functions, and comfort levels. By looking at the tailored leather shoes they make, you can tell that Aurland Skofabrikk (Aurland Shoe Factory) has mastered the craft of shoemaking.
Building a legacy
After spending time in America and learning the art of shoemaking, Nils Tveranger returned to Norway determined to pursue his passion. This led him to the making of the famous Aurlandskoen, the Aurland shoe.
So what’s so special about it? The shoes reflect the very soul of Norwegian culture and nature with their design and practicality. Tveranger’s inspiration was drawn from both the Tese shoe, which was popular among locals for mountain hiking, and the simple, lightweight moccasins from the Iroquois tribe in America. This combination resulted in a whole new kind of footwear: Aurlandskoen.
Tveranger’s shoe, known as ‘the loafer’, became so popular that in 1950, the shoe factories in the picturesque mountain area produced around 100,000 pairs a year. Needless to say, this put Aurland on the map, and many of the pairs ended up in America. The brand was noticed by one of the biggest American shoe manufacturers, who decided to make their own version and call them Weejuns (short for Norwegians). The Aurland shoe then got its American name: the penny loafer.
The penny in the penny loafer
What characterises the penny loafer is the little pocket on top of the shoe that fits a coin. There are many theories about the purpose of the penny in the penny loafer, depending on which generation you ask. Some view it as a fashion detail while others will tell you that it was a symbol of resistance during World War II.
The design is simple, practical, and form-fitting. The shoe has a self-bearing construction that gathers its shape around the foot. The quality of the leather is crucial, and Aurland shoe factory only uses top-shelf cow’s leather. In fact, the shoes that don’t turn out perfect during production are sold at a reduced price in the outlet shop: good for business and good for the environment.
Aurland shoe factory is the only one that makes the popular shoes, and it is important to them that the hand-made quality remains – although modern technology helps to shorten the production time. For example, back in the old days, a worker would spend hours soaking and stretching the leather in water before adding the sole. Today, they have a machine that does the same job in a matter of minutes.
Buxton for day and night use
Even though Nils Tveranger created the Aurland shoe in 1930, the art of shoe-making has likely been around in Aurland since the 1880s. It is said that British lords who went on fishing holidays in Norway needed their shoes fixed, and this inspired the local shoemakers.
Lord Buxton approached the shoemakers in Aurland asking them to make shoes that are comfortable to use and nice enough to wear for dinner at the hotel he stayed in. Lord Buxton got his wish granted.
The new model of Aurlandskoen is named after Lord Buxton and is today one of the factory’s best-selling products – specifically the light-brown coloured ones. The original intention still remains, and to this day the shoes work for daily life as well as special occasions.
Another great benefit that makes the Aurland shoe special is that they are unisex. There’s no difference in the design and the shoes have been worn by both men and women since the very beginning.
In addition, the factory makes purses and bags – hand-made leather handbags that you can count on for a long time. The latest design is the leather office bag, which is also used by both men and women.
You can buy your Aurland shoes online or go visit the factory yourself in Aurland. The factory is combined with an economuseum, where you can learn all about the history of the original penny loafer.
Looking for something special this Christmas? With these shoes, you have something that will last a long time and never go out of style.
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