by Doris Montanera
"David Carradine wanted these,
"says Cory Bernatt, holding out a well worn pair of sandals
whose faded leather is discolored from years of contact with human
skin. These sandals, circa 1978 are a part of Bernatt's history.
They were one of the first pairs he ever made. He was 14 years old.
Bernatt rediscovered his treasure
a few years ago when the original owner brought them in to be resoled.
After a brief sojourn at The Sandalman Leathercare, his two-room
leather repair shop in Toronto's well-heeled Bloor-Yorkville shopping
district, this fall that pair becomes part of The Bata shoe museum's
collection. At 31, Bernatt already has more than a quarter century
of experience behind him. He began learning the leather trade with
his father when he was just six years old. By the time he was 11,
he sold his first hand made purse. When he was 17, he bought his
fathers shop, then called Jekyll & Hide, changed the name to
its current moniker, moved and expanded, and has been running it
ever since. Last summer, readers of NOW, a weekly news and
entertainment magazine voted him Toronto's best leather repair shop.
Today, he has a full-time tailor
on staff who mends and alters leather clothing for his clients such
as Harry Rosen, Town Shoes, Danier and Banana Republic. This, along
with antique leather restoration and upholstering, making custom
bags, belts, jackets, and vests, are the main stays of his business.
Footwear comprises a small part
of his trade since he has rarely advertised them. But his sandals--updated
hippie-style basics--are one-of-a-kind, made in rich hunter green,
burgundy, chocolate brown in black Italian leathers or natural,
honey-colored leather from the States. Customers choose the style
and skin (arch support is optional as well), and the price, $125
They are highly regarded: Bernatts
1978 sandal replica stars along with Carradine on TV's "Kung
Fu: The Legend Continues," and has also graced the feet of
cast members in the Toronto production of the musical Miss Saigon.
Bernatt's business sense--and media
savvy-- are readily apparent. Amidst serving customers, who seem
to arrive at steady 10 minute intervals, he ask's his sister Rachael
to recondition sample sandals for the photo shoot, prepares to take
his picture--arranging an area and putting on one of his custom
designed vests for the shot--and points out the collection of vintage
leather goods he thinks a journalist should see: child-sized sample
shoes that are more than 50 years old, and baby alligator bags from
the 1920s that feature real alligator heads on the front flap.
His efficiency makes him seem a
serious sort--a misconception soon rectified. "Did you see
this?" he asks, indicating an old fashioned blackboard on the
wall. "Publick notices," it says. And beneath, in neat
white chalk, "Six muntz ago I kunint even spel lederwoiker
and now I are one. Mangler"
His card is more subtle: "The
Sandalman Leathercare, " it reads. "Established 1964."
The year he was born.
Some samples of The Sandalmans work,
including one of the first pairs he made, are a part of the Bata
Shoe Museum Collection.