IN ALL HIS YEARS AS A LOS ANGELES shoe repair czar, Arturo Azinian never made a house call until three months ago. When the 74-year-old cobbler was asked if he could go to Nicole Kidman's home to tighten her boots, he replied:
His grandson, Ari Libaridian, had to persuade him to go. "He never leaves the store," says Libaridian. "To him, it's all just a distraction from his work. He has a reputation to uphold."
So Libaridian, 24, has become a self-appointed protocol chief, alerting his grandfather to incoming celebrities. "When Claire Danes came in, I'm like, 'That's a movie star,' " Libaridian says. His grandfather replied: "Oh. No wonder she said she didn't care what it cost."
For devotees of shoes and handbags, Azinian--who possesses an Argentine accent, Old World manners and a reassuring air--has become something of a high priest. Clients stream into Arturo's Shoe Fixx--a Beverly Hills hole-in-the-wall that even regulars can miss--like believers on their way to Lourdes, clutching bags and shoes in need of dying, altering or a miracle. Kathi Berman is here to get the chain of her blue Chanel handbag shortened. Months ago, she brought Azinian a pair of suede boots that a waiter had splattered with salad dressing. "I thought they were ruined," Berman says. "Arturo got it out. He's the best in town."
Azinian, the son of an Armenian who fled the violence in Turkey and resettled in Argentina in 1922, has been working with leather since he was 12. He spent 30 years at a repair shop on Vermont Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, first as an employee and eventually as the owner. He moved to his current location 15 years ago.
Revered by longtime customers for his meticulous craftsmanship, Azinian is frequently asked to intervene in matters of shoe gravitas: There were the Stuart Weitzman satin sling-backs he colored the same shade as the mint green Escada gown Kim Basinger wore the night she won the Oscar. The Tod's that had to go with Kim Cattrall's purple Golden Globes dress. The pale green crocodile shoes--supplied by a local store--that he dyed to match a beige crocodile purse for First Lady Laura Bush, just days before the presidential inauguration.
Fashion emergencies awaiting triage are piled on his high-priority bench: Manolo Blahnik evening slippers and handbags chewed by puppies. An amber-colored leather jacket damaged when an adhesive name tag pulled off some of the dye. Leather-trimmed faux leopard slippers in such poor condition that they will be rebuilt from the ground up, using similar fabric cannibalized from a cushion.
"He's like a magician," testifies stand-up comedian Rosee Brum-feld, a willowy woman with a mane of curls and hot pink leggings that match her lipstick.
Brumfeld stands still while Azinian pins one of a pair of thigh-high taupe suede boots that she wants tightened. "My sisters and I are all tall and lean and long, and all the boots are always too big for us. They don't make boots for Jewish-African-American women."
Azinian listens with a paternal, knowing air. In the past few months, he has tightened or widened pair after pair of $1,000 Jimmy Choo boots, a delicate job that can involve locating matching panels of snakeskin and sewing them in so that the boots appear untouched.
"I really enjoy what I do," he says, taking a pin out of his mouth. "Especially when I work with beautiful women."