The Best Shoemaker of France

The story of the family and the brand “Baltayan” is exceptional. Already for three generations, they are keeping the status of the “Best Shoemaker” and “Best Shoe Repairer” of France. Thanks to the energy and vigor of Hagop, Jean and Jean-Christophe Baltayan, a small part of the Armenian heritage lives on the Place of Célestins in Lyon, France, where the family shop is currently located.

Text : Viktorya Muradyan    Photo : Maison Baltayan


The story of this family, as of many others, started after the Armenian Genocide. Hagop Baltayan and his family moved from Eskisehir (Turkey) to Marseille with an aim to leave for the United States later. Although other family members eventually succeeded in moving from France, the grandfather of the family, Hagop ends up settling in France. Jean-Christophe Baltayan tells the story he heard from his father, “The father of Hagop had been enrolled by force in Ottoman army when Talaat Pasha sent his notorious order. To escape death and the worse alternative of becoming a Muslim, he escaped from the service in the army to Istanbul, where he could reunite and then hide with his family. After a short stay there, the whole family left for Marseille.” For the next years in France, Hagop would be the one to take care of the whole family, working in a sugar factory, truck production and even as a long haul truck driver. As he tried to figure out what he could do next, he decided to become a shoe repairer, considering it profitable “at any weather”.

Old movies show us, that many decades ago people wore tailor-made suits and wore shoes specifically made for them by shoemakers. The son of Hagop Baltayan, Jean, followed his father’s steps and learnt how to make shoes (besides repairing them) at a professional school in Lyon. But the period was very unsuitable, as the prêt-à-porter industry was booming in the 1960s and only the people with problematic feet were ordering special shoes. So the family decided to go on with the repairing business. Jean gradually fired all of his father’s 5 employees and started to do everything on his own by coming at work at 4 am and leaving close to midnight. Jean’s son, Jean-Christophe describes his father as a workaholic with an immense energy. “He tried to do everything by himself because he wanted everything to be perfect. My father was good in everything he did: he had a great passion for photography and he was a good amateur pilot. Some of his photos are even kept in the National Library of France“. Hence, the surname Baltayan became very popular and their small family business was considered a luxury shoe repairing shop. The greatest advantage of their work was that Jean knew all the steps of the shoe making, so his repairing was of a high quality. Although the family was mainly practicing shoe repairing, Hagop had already done his first steps in shoe making when he designed and produced shoes for cycling.

Meanwhile, Jean-Christophe was doing his MBA in San Francisco, working in New York and Paris. As Jean was sure, that nobody would continue the family business, he decided to sell it. But his son, Jean-Christophe couldn’t let that happen. Eventually, he changed his career and took the charge of the family business. “I felt very bad that the history of the company that was founded in 1936 could end so abruptly. When I was 21, one day during lunch, my father told me he could make shoes. I was surprised because I only knew he could repair shoes, but not to make them. I asked shoes for my birthday and he re-started making them, but for the family and for his pleasure. Nevertheless, after that talk, my life took me to a totally different direction and I moved to the United States to study’’.

Eventually, Jean-Christophe stopped his banking career and started to learn the difficult techniques of the shoe repairing from his father. He motivated his father to fight for the title “The best shoe repairer of France” and “The best shoe maker of France”. His father won both titles in 1996. Jean-Christophe followed his father’s steps and won the title “The best shoe repairer of France” in 1999. He recalls making the “winning” shoes at 11 pm feeling totally hopeless that it could win the best prize. But, in the end, he succeeded.

After winning the contest, with his envy to constantly develop, Jean-Christophe initiated the production of shoe care products. In fact, they were already selling different shoe care products in their repair shop, particularly the brand “Meltonian”, which, unfortunately, disappeared from the market. After losing his supplier, Jean-Christophe decided to create his own shoe care products. He created a cream which was the first one ever that had carnoba wax (from Brazilian palm) in its composition. The carnoba wax can be found in many productions, even in food production, because it gives special shine. Today, more than 10 shoe care products bear the brand “Baltayan”.

Years after creating the shoe care products, Jean-Christophe had a joint project with a watch making Swiss group which pushed him to start designing and making shoes to establish the brand “Baltayan”. The unique designs of the shoes, the expensive materials used, and last but not the least the production method made every single shoe exceptional. Every model made, including the shoes with Swarovski crystals, or the shoes made from the skin of the most beautiful and rare crocodile in the world Porosus, cost about 2500 euros. Mr. Baltayan used his patented method of shoemaking to make them more resistant. Currently, “Baltayan” is the only brand that gives a lifetime guarantee for his leather sole.

As Mr. Baltayan tries to explain how the idea of the shoe production came along, he recalls his business model and the key values he wanted to share. “When we look at the international shoe market, we see the Italian shoes, which are very beautiful, we see the English shoes, which are traditionally made and the French shoes, which are elegant. “Baltayan” shoes are created at the intersection of Italian, English and French styles: we took Italian beauty, English quality and French elegance and made it our own personal brand.” The biggest difference from other luxury shoe production brands is that there may be numerous shoe designers and luxury shoe brands, but none of them really masters the process of shoe making. And the clients nowadays are not so trustful to the brands.

Unfortunately the 2008 crisis hit the market and Jean-Christophe was obliged to freeze the project and instead, move his activities to watch band making. But the idea of starting his personal shoe production brand was always sticking by him for all those years. He clearly understood, that he needed to change his politics, because he couldn’t sell the exceptional shoes he had made before alone. Mr. Baltayan didn’t want people only to admire his shoes, but also to afford buying and wearing them.

So, in 2016 the company launched its first men’s collection in Lyon and the shoe repairing shop slowly entered the shoe making market. The “Baltayan” logo design was made by Jean-Christophe and it represents two crossed axes, as the name “balta” in Turkish means an “axe”. The company is currently also producing little leather goods and even motorcycle helmets from leather. But the key concentration of the company still stays on the shoes.

While the first men’s classical collection was made in France, the collection of the sneakers that followed after was made in Armenia. Indeed, Armenia has a long history of shoe craftsmanship. But what Mr. Baltayan wants is to create workplaces and share his family heritage in Armenia. Today Jean-Christophe is designing a collection for women, which will focus on the comfort and durability, as the beauty is already an evidence.