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Hilton Head shoemaker turns craft into an art form

Shoemaker Enzo Cosentino of Enzo's Custom Made Shoes shows customer Diana Hunt-Johnson a pair of high-heeled shoes he created for her at his Hilton Head Island shop.
Shoemaker Enzo Cosentino of Enzo's Custom Made Shoes shows customer Diana Hunt-Johnson a pair of high-heeled shoes he created for her at his Hilton Head Island shop. Jay Karr/The Island Packet

Enzo Cosentino doesn't loaf around when it comes to shoes. After all, the Hilton Head Island man has been making them by hand for more than 50 years.

Cosentino's fascination with shoes began at the age of 11 when he hung out after school with his friend's father, a master artisan shoemaker in downtown Argentina.

"I would go there to study, and then I went to the university in Argentina," said Cosentino, 62, who was born in Italy but moved to Argentina when he was a toddler. He has been on Hilton Head for six years.

After mastering shoemaking, Cosentino expanded his work into his real love: the art of crafting beautiful shoes.

"I prefer to work with ladies' shoes because it is a more creative process," he said.

Diana Johnson of Michigan discovered Cosentino's talents when she was searching for somewhere to get her shoes repaired on Hilton Head, where she spends the winter.

She commissioned Cosentino to create a pair of shoes with a certain "woofty, woof" for a children's charity benefit in Michigan. The pair collaborated, drawing inspiration from their favorite designers.

The result was a Harlequin-style shoe with a five-inch heel that Johnson said is "so comfortable I can run five blocks in them."

For the past two weeks Cosentino has been creating a second pair of jeweled six-inch heels for Johnson to wear to a wedding.

"I am designing the dress around the shoes," she said.

MATERIALS

Bird feathers, fish leathers and shark skin are among the most exotic materials from which Cosentino has fashioned footwear.

Just above his laptop in his Mathews Drive store on Hilton Head hang purple, tan, brown, metallic silver and blue boa constrictor skins, called "lampalagua," from Brazil. There's also dyed alligator and crocodile skins and green and red ostrich leather from Argentina in his shop, as well as goat skin made with a cheetah print.

Cosentino creates "shoes to die for," Johnson said; he's making a striking copperhead print shoe, inspired by a snake Johnson spotted crawling along a Sea Pines road.

"He is a true master," she said.

COMFORT CAN BE BEAUTIFUL

Another of Cosentino's passions is creating attractive shoes for people who have orthopedic problems.

"When I first arrived in the U.S.A., I saw these orthopedic shoes," he said. "'Comfortable' does not have to be ugly."

Tears well up in his eyes when he shows a mold for a pair of shoes he has made for a man who, due to a birth defect, has one leg longer than the other and one foot three inches smaller than the other. Cosentino created a lift and a toe supplement to extend the custom-made shoes to make it appear that the feet are identical in size.

"He cried when he looked at the shoes for the first time," Cosentino said. "He had been wearing shoes of two different sizes his whole life."

The shoemaker said it is rare to find someone who has the same size feet.

"People feel better to have good shoes," he said. "I want to teach other people because this is possible to make people feel bet

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