Obituary: Pietermaritzburg shoe industry pioneer Livio Sirilli

2011-03-14 00:00

A PIONEER shoe designer and manufacturer, Livio Sirilli (90), died in his sleep at his Scottsville home early last week.

Sirilli, who was retired, was a shoe designer who emigrated to South Africa from Italy in 1965. With his wife Saura and son Eros he joined Fidelity Shoes based in Hay Paddock, now Hayfields, under the management of the late Stan Austin, another respected footwear manufacturer and designer.

The local footwear and leather garments scene was set alight when Sirilli was commissioned by 35 South African footwear companies to design their ranges.

In 1972 the Sirillis moved to Willowton Road in Willowton where Austin set up his own manufacturing plant and was producing top-class footwear for women.

The Sirillis took charge of the factory with Livio in charge of the design department, Saura in charge of the closing department production and Eros in the lasting section.

The Sirillis and Austin Shoes parted company when a lifelong dream was realised for Livio Sirilli to own a factory.

While Livio took charge of the footwear production and designs, Saura produced top-class leather fashion garments. In later years two other sons, Paul and Ettore, joined the flourishing local business.

Sirilli’s fame as a designer came through his link with Clark Shoes, an international company whose local factory was based in Lincoln Road in Woodlands and which marketed his Sirilli handcrafted men’s and women’s moccasins. He also specialised in bikers’ boots, dancing shoes, horse riders’ boots,and high-class fashion footwear for women.

Among his satisfied customers were Springbok bowling legend Tommy Harvey and Hollywood actor Peter O’ Toole, for whom Sirilli designed a special pair of slippers for his part in the film Zulu Dawn, which was shot in South Africa with some of the scenes enacted at the Oval in Pietermaritzburg.

In 1975 the Sirillis built their own factory. Eros, the eldest son who had emigrated with his parents to South Africa when he was 19 years old, still runs the Sirilli factory in Woodlands.

Paying tribute, he said, “My late father was 40 years ahead of fashion trends. Looking back at his drawings today, I see them coming on to the fashion scene only now.”

Sirilli is survived by his wife Saura, his sons Eros, Paul, Etorre and a daughter Daniela, several grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

— Witness Reporter.

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