From Palermo, Italy, to Galveston, Texas — that’s the path Salvatore “Sal” Lucchese took in 1882 when he left his home country with his brother Joseph to settle in America.
The brothers, who were then joined by their other siblings, Michael and Antonio, moved to San Antonio the next year and set up a bootmaking shop at Fort Sam Houston, a U.S. Cavalry school in the city. They called it Boots & Shoes and they leaned on the skills they had inherited from their father who was a shoemaker in Italy.
From the beginning, their claim to fame was the ability to combine quality materials with unparalleled craftsmanship while also investing in the latest technology such as the first “inseamer” machine in the Southwest that they purchased in 1890.
Fast forward 140 years and the brand created by the Lucchese family has remained one of the country’s finest bootmakers. The boots are still virtually made by hand using both brass and lemonwood pegs and hand-stitching. The company boasts that each pair is touched by 180 to 200 hands before completion.
Lucchese Bootmakers has changed hands a few times over the years and is now headquartered in Dallas with a factory in El Paso, Texas, where it moved in 1986. It is privately owned by businessman John Muse. But while the ownership may have changed, the production process remains nearly identical to what it was in the beginning and the boots still use a unique twisted-cone last created by Sam Lucchese, grandson of the founder, who studied the anatomy of the human foot and how people walk and stand.
Although there are no longer any Luccheses in the business, the company’s employees still feel like family. It shows in the pride they display for the brand’s craft and the care they take to ensure the boots and complementary lifestyle products still offer the highest quality.
And so in honor of the anniversary — and timed to what would have been the 100th birthday of Sam Lucchese — the company has created a commemorative boot designed to reference not only the history of the brand but also the state it still calls home.
Only 140 boots will be made, all special orders, and they will be numbered and come with an authorization certificate and a commemorative boot bag.
“It’s really an honor for all of us to get to be the stewards of such as amazing brand that stands the test of time,” said Trey Gilmore, director of product development and men’s design. “For the 140th year, we’re not only celebrating our product but also Texas and the settling of the American West, cowboys and the amazing craftsmen who build this product for us.”
The boots are created from vegetable tanned leather that results in a “really natural kind of light tan color,” he said. The tanning process, which uses tree bark liquors, allows the leather to be moistened and molded. “It’s like saddle leather,” he said.
Then intricate carvings have been added to the boot using what he described as a “newer age” 3D process that allows images of the pedals of the Texas Blue Bonnet, for example, to be raised. There are also references to the American cowboy in patterns that have historically been found on everything from saddles and belts to holsters, an image of the Alamo, and the Lucchese Bootmaker name and number of years it’s been in business: 1883 and 2023.
“They’re the markings of the men and women that settled the West,” he said. “So it’s just a little nod to the history of our company and our state.”
The vamp is made from American alligator, which is native to the Southern U.S., and the boots are offered in Cavalry blue — another nod to its history — with an antique finish dyed, painted and sealed with acrylic to achieve a vibrant color.
Because the boots are being made by hand by Lucchese’s in-house artisans, no two will be the same.
Both men’s and women’s styles will be offered and each boot will be made to size specifications, Gilmore said.
The price is “not for the weak at heart,” and will retail for $15,995. “We’re celebrating an amazing milestone of the brand,” he said.
To promote the boot, the company won’t be “overly loud,” said Austin Ripmaster, vice president of brand communications and the creative suite. “When you have a brand like ours, telling the story from a marketing and brand perspective is an honor and a responsibility. Everything we do needs to be totally authentic to the original ideas and the way Sal Lucchese would have done it. Luckily we have a rich archive that goes back almost a century and a half. We can let the brand and the heritage speak for itself.”
Even so, a campaign has been created that focuses on the craftspeople who created the boots. “We’re doing a little bit of a nod to the factory and the artisans behind the scenes who made the boot,” he said.
Finding people who have the skills necessary to create its products remains the company’s single-biggest challenge, Gilmore said. The average age of the workers in its factory is upper 50s, he said, but some young people have begun to come into the business lately. “There’s been a surprising new surge of younger people who like to work with their hands,” he said, adding that it “takes an artist’s eye” to create the intricate patterns on Lucchese boots.
Of course, not every boot the company produces is this labor-intensive — or expensive. Although boots remain the bulk of the business, Lucchese is now a lifestyle brand that offers leather accessories, small leather goods and other complementary products such as apparel. There are lambskin vests, hunting jackets, polos, button-down shirts, dresses, felt hats, riding apparel, coats and other products.
“There’s a head to toe offering for the Western lifestyle aficionado,” Ripmaster said. “Obviously, we are Lucchese Bootmaker, so foundationally we are incredibly driven by our footwear business, which remains our core and our crown jewel. But we certainly have offerings and solutions for all forms of Western lifestyle, ranging from hunting lines to formalwear.”
The company also operates 22 stores around the country, primarily in “destination Western towns” such as Steamboat Springs, Colo., Bozeman, Mont., Santa Fe, N.M., and others.
The brand has also begun working with some country music artists of late and counts Parker McCollum and Chris Stapleton as ambassadors and co-creators.
“Recently, our brand has made a really monumental business model shift from being a wholesale distributor brand to a direct-to-consumer brand,” Ripmaster said. “And with that business model transition, it has allowed us to have some more structure to the arrangements and the endorsements we’re able to do. So rather than just gifting someone a pair of boots, we’re able to own the entire storyline, from product creation to delivery to social, to content and creative. And that’s given us an opportunity to build more formidable packages with certain artists. Country music is going to be incredibly valuable moving forward.”
Women’s has also become more important to the brand in recent years with models such as the Priscilla knee-high boot gaining in importance. And its bridal collections are especially in demand as women seek something customized to them for their special day. “We can’t keep them in stock,” Ripmaster said.
In fact, the Priscilla is now the number-one selling boot in the company, he said. “For 130 years, Lucchese was predominantly a men’s brand but that speaks volumes of how important the women’s business is to us.”