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Felt Boots: Shoes of the Royal Palaces and Fashion Catwalks
October 4, 2018 11:24

Katanki, Valeny, Valenki, Chesanki, Samokatki, Valenukhi, Valezhki – shoes made of sheep wool have many names in Russia, and their long history proves that they are not just simple winter boots. 

Centuries ago Russian Valenki were precious gifts and passed on from generation to generation. 

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The first felt boots in Russia. The earliest evidence of the use of felt in the country belongs to the IV century BC. Archeologists found the remains of felted wool in permafrost conditions in the Pazyryk barrows of Gorny Altai. Peoples living here covered   yurts with it, made hats and clothes from wool. Historians of the costume believe that nomadic peoples invented felted boots. And along with them - during the years of the Mongol-Tatar yoke - felt boots appeared in Russian villages and towns.

From piece goods to factories. In the XVI - XVII centuries, felt boots were made in Siberia and several northern regions. Manual labor was expensive, and this affected the price. In the XVIII century, felt boots were produced in  Semenovsky district of the  Nizhny Novgorod province. In the villages, felt boots were still very expensive and valuable shoes - sometimes a family had only one pair of felt boots for all members.

Only a century later, industrial production of felt boots began. The first felting and rolling factories appeared in Russia, and shoes became more popular - both in the city and in the village.

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Fashion from the royal palace. Until the XIX century, felt boots were made by hand, and these kind of shoes were expensive. They were often worn by representatives of the upper classes. Peter the Great liked these warm comfortable shoes: in winter, after a bath and swimming in the ice hole he asked for “Shchi (Russian cabbage soup) and felt boots”. Catherine the Great sought salvation in them for her sore feet. 

The Empress Anna Ivanovna allowed the maid of honor wearing felt boots even with formal dresses: during cold winters, the fireplaces could not  heat   spacious ballrooms.

Russian felt boots are medalists of international exhibitions. In the XIX century, felt boots became known throughout Europe. They were brought to the first international exhibition in London, where traditional shoes and Russian shawls aroused great interest among the visitors. 

Factory boots produced at the enterprise of Mitrofan Smirnov from the village of Neklyudovo appeared at world exhibitions in Vienna in 1873, Chicago in 1893, and  Paris in 1900. Everywhere they received gold and silver medals. In 1919, traditional shoes participated in international exhibitions in Paris after the revolution.  

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Felt boots on fashion catwalks.  Vyacheslav Zaitsev  added traditional felt boots to his collection for the first time back in 1963, when he was in charge of the experimental group of the garment factory of the Moscow State Economic Council.  After that, the boots have repeatedly appeared on fashion catwalks. Besides, there was a defile of the Russian athletes wearing felt boots at the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002, as well as of students at the Universiade in China in 2009.

Felt boots in Russian museums. In Russia, four museums of felt boots have been opened: in Moscow, Myshkin, Kineshma and the Mordovian village of Urusovo. Here there are officers' ‘burka’ boots, which were worn a hundred years ago by military policemen, soldiers’ boots of  the Great Patriotic War times, boots of the Karelian partisans with special hooks for skis, hussar felt boots with spurs and many other exhibits.

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Art object "Russian size". The largest felt boot in the world — six meters high — was created in St. Petersburg. The artist Valeria Loshak   spent 300 kilograms of sheep wool on her felted sculpture.  It took one year to complete the object and three days to install a woolen monument on the embankment of the Obvodny Canal, as it was assembled from various parts right on the spot. It is possible to enter the art object through a special entrance in the heel. The felt boot can accommodate three adults inside.

The previous record holder was a felt boot from Kineshma with a height of 168 centimeters. It is stored in the Kineshma Museum of felt boots now.



Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: felt boots Russian designers Russian fashion Russian souvenirs Russian winter 

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