In Saudi Arabia, sandals have a toe thong but with the big toe covered. As in Oman, it is worn flat, without a heel or wedge. In the United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, a wedge is preferred, up to 3 cm high, with the toes visible and well pedicured. Each country (of the Gulf) has its own sandal, even better if custom made in Italy. As for materials, decoration and prices, anything goes when it comes to Na-aal or Madan Sharqi, the formal footwear that complements traditional men's clothing in the Arabian Peninsula.
It is with great pride that Andrea Caretti, 36 years old, fourth generation in a family business with a single site in Varese, tells us how it all began back in 1954, when the secretary of an Emir of the Gulf Peninsula (most of the modern countries in the area had not even been formed) came to see his grandfather Giovanni to order him a pair of sandals. “The Florida 1493, where the number is precisely the serial number of the time, is still the most popular model today”, says Andrea, creative director. “We produce exclusively for the Gulf, with an average of 30,000 pairs per year. We have never been affected by any crisis with the exception of the Gulf War in 1994, when we were unable to sell due to the embargo. Today our “Florida” sandals are sold in the best boutiques in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in the best stores in Kuwait and Qatar, exclusively single-brand stores.
We produce exclusively for the Gulf, with an average of 30,000 pairs per year. We have never been affected by any crisis with the exception of the Gulf War in 1994
And it is to be believed, judging by the website, in English and Arabic only, where the images slide from footwear to Arab horses and gazelles running in the desert. “Our Arab customers love the quality of our work, all done by hand. Just think, some recognize the original Caretti sandals purely by the scent of the leather, which is ‘French Novocalf’. We use high quality leathers with a thickness of 2.2 mm, which undergo double tanning with vegetable tannins that make them particularly soft, resistant and water repellent.
And indeed, in the Arab world, sandals are a serious matter. It seems impossible, but for those with a trained eye, it is easy to distinguish an Emirati from a Saudi even just by footwear, head covering and tunic, which takes different names depending on the country: Kandurah in the Emirates, Dishdashah in Kuwait, Thoub in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. In any case, it must be white and so imbued with oud-based perfumes as to leave a sillage as you pass by. The business attire of the Qataris is then often complemented by a particular use of the Ghutra, the classic head covering consisting of a piece of white cloth. Abundant doses of starch allow you to fold the flaps backwards in “cobra style”, as also taught by several tutorials very popular among young people.
The sandal is also the most practical shoe for praying five times a day, kneeling with bare feet, as is customary in the Muslim world
As for the feet, there is a whole philosophy behind the choice of footwear. “Not only because, with the scorching temperatures, it has to be open, with an ergonomic, breathable sole that protects you from the heat of the ground,” Andrea tells us. “The sandal is also the most practical shoe for praying five times a day, kneeling with bare feet, as is customary in the Muslim world. Our customers are fairly understated, they don't like frills. I remember that we produced a pair of sandals with Swarovski crystals but the only affectation that some allow is exotic leathers, such as ostrich, crocodile or python.” Papà Giuseppe, today at the helm of the company, even speaks a bit of Arabic. “When he left for business trips in the Gulf he used to stay away for a few weeks, as a guest of royal families. When he came home, he told us about these fabulous encounters and the extreme hospitality. He made some great friendships; human relationships that still form the basis of our work today.”
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