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This week's Chicagoan: James Ciccotti, bridal-shoe designer

"If you buy something cheap somewhere, you lose, I lose, and then you're on the dance floor without your shoes."

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A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"Most bridal shoes—although they might be nice styles—are mass-produced in Asia. My shoes are very different; they are exclusive to my store. These are fine handcrafted shoes from Italy at 20 to 30 percent savings. When people come in, they tell me, 'I hear your shoes are very comfortable.' They're comfortable because of the flexible soles, the finest fabrics. A bride deserves that on her wedding day.

To many customers, a shoe is a shoe. They want a comfortable shoe, but they're not necessarily willing to pay for it. But the only way you get comfort is to pay for it. Brides are spending thousands and thousands of dollars on their weddings, and they feel better in better shoes. If you buy something cheap somewhere, you lose, I lose, and then you're on the dance floor without your shoes.

Sometimes brides ask me if I have shoes in stock, because they have a fitting in two days. Yes, I have 2,000 pairs of shoes in stock—all paid for, so that's a huge investment on my part.

The other thing they might say is, 'Well, with my dress, no one's going see my shoes, and I'm never going to wear them again.' And then inside I go kind of berserk. Everyone's gonna see your shoes, 'cause you're gonna lift your dress, and you can wear them again, because you can dye them another color, probably black.

I'm here seven days a week. I can't imagine someone else doing what I do. It's not that I can't trust somebody else; I'm just so used to doing all aspects of my business, right down to the window washing. I could pay a guy $10 to do it, but he's not gonna wash the window the way I'm gonna wash the window.

I dye each shoe individually by hand. You apply the dye with a wool pom-pom dauber. You have to move very quickly, and you can't stop, or it'll streak. If the phone rings, you just don't pick it up.

For the most part, I am very comfortable working with brides. I have patience. Brides want to do research, which I think is great. I see myself in my brides. I would do exactly what they're doing. I want to learn about the styles, how they feel. I get it.

It just kills me when people say they never knew about my store. Or people move away, and then come back and say, 'Oh, I forgot about you.' How could you forget a store that has all bridal shoes?"

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