May 18, 2015
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Arturo Azinian plucked a pair of Chanel pumps from a box full of shoes, unfazed by the leather peeling off the interlocking Cs on the toes or the tarnished metallic heels.
"These have a lot of miles on them, but they will be like new, for about $70," said Azinian, an 88-year-old Beverly Hills cobbler famous for saving the fancy footwear of the elite in the ritzy 90210 zip code.
Just steps from boutique-lined Rodeo Drive sits the decidedly unglamorous Arturo's Shoe Fixx, where the Argentine immigrant toils for 13 hours a day in a warren of whirring machines and shoes stacked to the ceiling.
A pair of men's Salvatore Ferragamo caramel lace-ups awaits repair, while brand new patent leather Jimmy Choos are getting some rubber reinforcements on the bottom to prevent slipping and wear-and-tear.
While handling shoes worth hundreds and thousands of dollars, Azinian is utterly clueless about the famous people to whom they belong.
"Recently, I had to go to the house of an actress," Azinian said.
"It was Jennifer Aniston," chimed in grandson Ari Libaridian.
"She gave me shoes to repair, but she also wanted to talk to me," said Azinian.
Italian fashion designer Donatella Versace once came in with a bunch of sandals, and then later sent a limousine to have Azinian taken to her hotel. Actress Nicole Kidman also requested a house call.
Most actors, studio executives and Hollywood producers send their assistants to the store, although the likes of Orlando Bloom and Jodie Foster have come themselves. The designer shops and upscale department stores down the street often tell customers to take their intractable shoe and handbag problems to Arturo's for a fix.
Asked for details about his encounters with celebrities, the unassuming Azinian laughed and said, "I don't remember a thing. I hardly remember my name!"
Azinian didn't choose the profession, it was chosen for him, at the age of 11, when his father took him to apprentice with shoemakers in Buenos Aires.
He and his late wife came to work in Los Angeles almost 60 years ago and repaired shoes for department stores before setting up the Beverly Hills shop in 1988.
Ronny Gross has been a loyal customer since then and always brings in her red-soled Christian Louboutins, like a pair of thigh-high black boots on a recent visit.
"After you wear them a few times, the red comes off and they put this rubber thing on it and it just stays better," said Gross. "I do it with every Louboutin."
In the back, where Azinian prefers to work, he has a few employees who have been with him for more than a decade. And when he needs help, he turns to the skilled craftsmen among immigrants from Latin America.
Customers often ask him to come out for a chat. He charms the women with flirtatious talk about dancing tango, and lightens the mood with his wry sense of humor.
"At the age of 88, he's a little bit annoying, but he is the heart and soul of the store and people love to see him," said Libaridian, the only grandchild who has joined the business.
Libaridian, 38, said he learns from his grandfather about being patient with the customer and employing humor to get through the day, though he believes the customers 60 years ago weren't as demanding as they are now.
There is no point talking to Azinian about retirement or what will happen to the business when he leaves. He'll stay as long as "the boss" (his grandson) will have him.
"You see, this keeps me healthy," Azinian said. "If I don't work, the head stops working."