WestEndExtra

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Success is a shoe-in for the Gandolfis of Marylebone Road

Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury among snappiest stars of stage and screen who have been customers for family business

08 January, 2019

The famous shop sign in Marylebone Road

THEIR products have shod the feet of some of London’s snappiest dancers and given an extra sheen to those who strut across stage and screen.

And their family story is enchanting.

The name Gandolfi has also stood proudly on what was once their flagship store on the Marylebone Road and now, Diary learns, the lettering above the world-famous dance shoes shop is set to be restored.

Diary can reveal the lettering, dating from 1949 and stating “E GANDOLFI LTD ” has been removed from its current perch and is being gently cleaned, with decades of Marylebone soot and exhaust fumes to be washed away.

It will be given a spruce-up using gold leaf paint, and put proudly back on display in the foyer of Dorset House – the block the original Gandolfi business operated from.
Glass panels from the shop will also be carefully removed and restored to go along with 1940s-style typography.

And the Gandolfi family story is one of a successful business set up by people moving to London, and passing on their skill and expertise to new generations.

Freddie Mercury, pictured in November 1978, from the firm’s photo gallery, by Caroline Gandolfi

Carlo Gandolfi, originally from Italy, set up his first shop with his London-born wife Elizabeth at the turn of the 20th century.

They were first based in Paddington and specialised in making in-demand ballet and tap shoes: they became a byword for quality, and were in great demand in the period between the wars.

Wearing a pair of Gandolfis on any ballroom floor showed you knew how to strut your stuff.

As the business grew, the shop moved to Edgware Road and Chapel Street, and then, in 1949, they opened the branch in Marylebone Road. By the early 1950s all four of Carlo and Elizabeth’s children were working in the trade: Yolanda, Valentino, Mario and Giovanni were all helping – they had learned what was what from their parents with Yolanda in accounts, Valentino specialising in shoes, and Mario and Giovanni the salesmen.

They branched out into making costumes such as leotards, dresses and much more besides.

Scores of actors and actresses and other performers have returned to them to create exquisite, once-off wear – including Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, who had a sleeveless dinner jacket made by the family and wore it many times on stage and in videos.

Their byword for quality led the firm to set up its own factory in Hemel Hempstead in the 1950s, meaning Hollywood stars beat a path to their door from Elstree and Pinewood, and the company continues, with grandchildren at the helm, to make shoes and clothing which they do today from a base in Wellingborough.

Now the family’s name, set in the lettering of the beautiful sign and marking a lovely piece of London history, is set to shine once more.

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