March 05 2011
To this day I have never seen a more democratic piece of footwear, with the exception of the sneaker. I discovered avarques when I lived in Ibiza 20 years ago, and have bought at least two pairs a year ever since. In those days I saw them worn by sailors working the ferries in the harbour, by farmers in the olive groves, by bohemian artist types and grungey hippies, even by the occasional supermodel in the supermarket.
The avarca (plural avarques) hails originally from Minorca, where the truest examples of the genre are still made. Uniquely comfortable, lightweight and hard-wearing, for centuries this sandal was the chosen footwear of the island’s fishermen, before its fame spread to Barcelona and beyond; in the UK it’s available under the brand name Varca, whose sandals are hand-made in a Minorcan village (typical men’s sandals are £39).
Like all classic designs, this one is ageless, its total simplicity giving it a certain minimalist elegance. Its main elements are a thick strip of leather over the front of the foot and a strap holding the heel in at the back. The undersole is traditionally made of recycled lorry tyres, hand-sewn to the leather upper with heavy-duty thread. Avarques take a little wearing in, but once the leather has adjusted to your foot there is no more comfortable shoe in the world. They are also perfect for hot-country travel: wear them on a tropical beach, and keep them on for the pool party.
Avarques are not for everyone, but once you surrender to them they become part of your life. They even engender a certain complicity: a fellow user might easily, you feel, become a friend. This is the kind of item that makes people wink at each other on the Metro.
From early spring to late summer I wear avarques at all times and in all places: in the garden, round the house, by day and night. During high summer I keep several pairs on the go: new and clean, for a laid-back look with baggy linen trousers and a white cotton shirt, for outdoor dinners in the hot Spanish nights, and old and soft and worn, for padding around the farm. To the tiresome dilemma of what shoes to wear, they seem to offer a satisfying solution: minimum fuss for maximum style.