Leather Menorcan Avarcas (also Abarcas, Avarques)
Most things must stand the test of time before they can achieve the elevated status of “classic.” But on rare occasions, perhaps once in a generation, or even once in a lifetime, something takes form, and from the moment of its manifestation, it tacitly declares itself as timeless. Such is the case of leather Menorcan avarcas. To see them, and then to wear them, is to know immediately that it would be a grave mistake to alter them in any significant way. The sandals are nonapologetically simple: a wide, leather strap covering—except for the tips of the first toes—the broad of the foot; a tapered sling-back strap at the heel; and a flat sole of recycled tire-rubber, inner-lined with leather. What more could a red-blooded island boy need? And when worn with a favorite pair of jeans or relaxed linen trousers, a good belt, a shirt of white linen, and a Panama hat, avarcas can stand toe-to-toe with footwear from anywhere. Simply put, the sandals exude a nonchalant chic. And the avarca is known to be a favorite sandal of various members of the Spanish royal family.
Since the dawn of Menorcan civilization, the islanders have donned sandals. The historical record confirms that the Carthaginians, early colonizers of the Balearic islands, were wearing sandals of leather in 200 B.C.E. In the last quarter of the 1800s, Archduke Luis Salvador de Habsburgo-Lorena writes that sandals is the typical footwear of the country people. In those days, the entire sandal was made of leather. People would purchase hand-cut-to-measure soles and then hand-sew the uppers to the soles at home. The sandals were hand-sewn using a bodkin and heavy, waxed thread. Eventually, with the proliferation of the sewing machine in the late 1800s, production of the sandals became less arduous. By the 1920s, used automobile tires were being recycled to provide a flexible, moisture-resistant sole for the sandals. And it was around the the 1920s that the avarca evolved into the design that endures to this day. Farmers would make themselves a new pair at the beginning of planting season. From the farmers emerged craftsmen specializing in the production of the sandals, marketing them island-wide. By the 1950s, craftsmen began producing variations upon the avarca theme, using, for example, leftover canvas from sails to construct the uppers of the sandals. By the 1960s, the sandal, traditionally worn by men, women, and children, had become the “official” summer shoe of Menorca, devotees customarily and, arguably, ritualistically, acquiring a new pair at the beginning of the season. By the 1970s, Menorca had become a thriving tourist destination, and it had also become almost obligatory for each visitor to the island to acquire a pair of the sandals—as both wearable souvenir and physical evidence of time spent upon the enchanted isle. And as tourists returned to their homelands across the globe, word of and desire for the simple, elegant avarca spread. By the 1980s, industrial production of the sandal had commenced, the sandals being exported throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond. And today, it is customary for avarca-wearers, when they recognize each other anywhere in the world, to orally or tacitly acknowledge each other—as if members of some international fraternal order.
In 2010, the Island Council of Menorca, in collaboration with the Footwear Manufacturers of Menorca, established the “Seal of Guarantee and Distinction” for the avarca. To obtain the Guarantee’s stamp of approval, the footwear must, among other things, be made entirely on Menorca, whether by hand or mechanized production, and the manufacturing process must meet certain minimum standards that ensure that the final product is of exceptional quality. Shoes produced by registered manufacturers that meet the specified standards are sold with a certificate of guarantee. Calzados RIA, S.L.U., which trades as “Ria Menorca,” was the first company to receive the Seal of Guarantee and Distinction for its avarcas brand.
Ria Menorca is one of the oldest and foremost commercial producers of the Menorcan avarca. Founded in 1947 by Bartolomé Truyal, the company, located in the small town of Ferreries, is today run by his son Carlos Truyal Serra. Each year the collection features about 300 handmade styles. The company sells its products throughout Spain, Italy, France, and Great Britain. And internet sales (www.ria.es) have made the company’s avarcas and complementary product-line available to the world.