Capezio/Ballet Makers Inc. History

One Campus Road
Totowa, New Jersey 07512

Telephone: (973) 595-9000
Fax: (973) 595-9120

Private Company
Incorporated: 1887
Employees: 400
Sales: $90 million (2003 est.)
NAIC: 424340 Footwear Merchant Wholesalers

Company Perspectives:

Ballet Makers is dedicated to the performer in dance, theater, and recreation. We are committed to providing exceptional service to our customers with innovative, quality products and services, while continuously advancing market research and technologies. Our total commitment to performance has been our source of inspiration for over 100 years. We believe our success is dependent upon the individual commitment of our customers, our suppliers, and each of our employees to continually set new standards of creativity and performance, while preserving our reputation for dependability and distinction. We maintain an ethical, healthy, and profitable environment in which each of our employees endeavors to provide excellence in our products and services, while promoting company growth. We pledge our support and dedication to the advancement of dance, theater, and recreation in communities worldwide.

Key Dates:

Salvatore Capezio opens a New York shoe shop.
Ballerina Anna Pavlova endorses Capezio shoes.
The company opens a Hollywood retail store.
Capezio fashions are featured on the cover of Vogue.
The company sells its fashion line in order to concentrate on its dance products.
The company's sales volume begins to rise sharply.
Capezio brings out a new fitness line.
The company forms a European joint venture with Norwich Dancewear Ltd.
The company opens a new showroom in New York.

Company History:

Capezio/Ballet Makers Inc. is the leading U.S. manufacturer of dance and theatrical footwear. The respected brand has been around for over one hundred years, and scores of famous dancers have relied on Capezio shoes. Capezio specializes in ballet slippers and toe shoes, as well as costume shoes for jazz and modern dance and theatrical performances. Capezio also makes specialized footwear for circus performers and gymnasts. Along with shoes, the company produces dance and athletic clothing such as tights, leotards, and warm-up outfits. Capezio operates two factories, one in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and one in Hialeah, Florida. Much of the shoe assembly is done painstakingly by hand. Capezio also contracts with factories in Brazil, Thailand, and China to make some of its shoes. Capezio runs ten retail stores in the United States, and its products are also sold in some 2,000 other retail outlets both in the United States and abroad. The company markets its shoes in Europe through a joint venture with Norwich Dancewear Ltd. called Ballet Makers-Europe Ltd. Capezio operates a large showroom in New York City which includes a dance studio and performance space. The company sponsors the Capezio Dance Award, which gives a cash prize to a significant dancer or choreographer each year. The award is overseen by the Capezio/Ballet Makers Dance Foundation, a charitable organization set up by the company in 1953. Capezio/Ballet Makers is a private company still run by descendants of the founder, Salvatore Capezio.

19th Century Roots

The company that became Capezio/Ballet Makers Inc. began as a tiny shoe shop in New York City run by a teenaged Italian immigrant. Salvatore Capezio was born in 1871 in the town of Bruno Lucania Potenza, Italy. Capezio trained as a cobbler and came to the United States as a youth. He set up shop on Broadway and 39th Street in New York in 1887, when he was only 17. His shop was called "The Theatrical and Historical Shoemaker." Though Capezio at first did not specialize in dance shoes, his shop was located kitty-corner to the Metropolitan Opera House, and the Met's singers and dancers began bringing him their shoes for repair. One day, he made an emergency pair of shoes for the danseur Jean de Reszke. Capezio's exemplary work for de Reszke consolidated his reputation with the Met crowd. Before long, he was not only repairing stage shoes but also making them himself, including crafting pointe shoes to order for ballerinas. In 1902, he married ballerina Angelina Passone, and this made the Capezio shop even more of a magnet for the New York dance community. The shop, and the Capezio name, earned indelible fame when the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova visited in 1910. Pavlova was the most celebrated ballerina of her era and already world famous when she began her U.S. tour that year. She had Capezio make shoes for her and her whole company, thus giving the highest possible star endorsement to the brand. The Capezio company keeps a framed letter from Pavlova from 1915, in which she wrote that Capezio's theatrical shoes were "indeed the best I ever had."

The ballet pointe shoes that Capezio manufactured were extremely specialized footwear. Professional dancers required a custom-made shoe, fitted meticulously to their individual feet. The shoes needed to be elastic and flexible, yet stiff enough to hold the dancer's whole weight on the toe without crumpling. Dancers had their predilections for different strengths or thicknesses, and the shoemaker obliged. These shoes lasted for only one performance, so a professional ballet company needed hundreds of pairs at frequent intervals. Some European firms from the same era specialized in ballet and dance shoes, such as Romeo Niccolini in Milan, the London firm Gamba, and Ebermann in Berlin. With Pavlova's blessing, Capezio became the ballet shoemaker of New York. The shop named its standard toe shoe after her, the Pavlova brand.

New Markets from the 1920s to the 1960s

As the business grew in the 1920s, Capezio recruited family members to work for him. Capezio and his wife had no children of their own, but their nephews grew up working for the firm. Nicholas Terlizzi, Sr. was one nephew. He was known as a great craftsman. Another nephew, Ted Nelson, was an extremely effective salesman. In 1920, a teenager named Ben Sommers also joined the firm. Though he was not a relative, he became like a son to Capezio, and he later became president of the company. Capezio/Ballet Makers did more than make toe shoes and ballet slippers. New York was not only the center of ballet in the United States but also home to leading theater companies, musical revues, and innovative entertainment of all kinds. Capezio made shoes for the dancers of the famous Ziegfield Follies and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, as well as supplying footwear for the stars of numerous Broadway shows. In the 1920s, the firm made shoes for jazz dancers and also began making body wear such as tap dancer's skirts.

Capezio/Ballet Makers began experimenting with new styles and new marketing in the 1930s. In 1933, the company debuted a new ballet slipper it called the Teknik. The Teknik was a superior shoe based on years of research at the company, which had now been in business for almost 50 years. Capezio still sells the Teknik shoe. In 1934, Capezio branched out its retail operation, opening a store in Hollywood. This gave the company access to customers in the West Coast film industry. By the end of the 1930s, the company had brought out a full line of body wear, including skirts, leotards, dance pants, and tights. The company also brought out a separate fashion line of shoes in the 1930s.

Founder Salvatore Capezio died in 1940, leaving the company to four men--two blood relatives and two he looked upon as his sons. Nephews Nicholas Terlizzi and Ted Nelson ran the business, along with Ben Sommers and Nick Callan. They had all worked for the company since the 1920s. The Capezio line continued to consist of dance and theater shoes, but in the 1940s the brand gained more of a mainstream fashion following. American fashion designer Claire McCardell showed her 1941 clothing collection accompanied by Capezio shoes. Vaulted into haute couture by McCardell, Capezio shoes became fashionable footwear among women who were not dancers. The major department stores, including Bonwit Teller, Neiman Marcus, and Lord & Taylor began selling Capezios in their shoe departments. In 1949, Capezio style made the cover of the premiere women's fashion magazine, Vogue. Then, in 1952, the company was selected for the Coty Award, the highest prize in the world of fashion.

Capezio started a charitable arm, the Capezio Foundation, in 1953. This group began giving annual awards to individuals who made major contributions to the dance world. Capezio continued to provide shoes to Broadway stars and leading dancers in the 1950s and 1960s. It made shoes for the star of Broadway's Can Can in 1953 and for the hit Hello, Dolly! in 1964. In 1960, Capezio designed special shoes for the students of George Balanchine, the dean of ballet in New York. The Russian-born Balanchine established New York City Ballet in 1948, and he was the leading teacher of ballet toe work. He had Capezio make a toe shoe according to his instructions. For example, it was to have a longer sole and shorter pleats than other toe shoes. In addition, Balanchine wanted a shoe that made no noise. Capezio complied.

Capezio was still the hot brand of dance shoe in the American dance world in the 1950s and 1960s. In other respects, however, the company began to have problems. A third generation of management began to come into Capezio in the 1950s and early 1960s. Nicholas Terlizzi, Jr. joined the company in 1956. Over the next few years, two other grandnephews of founder Salvatore Capezio, Alfred and Donald Terlizzi, began working for the firm. The company was apparently in financial difficulty, and the older generation and the younger members could not quite agree on how to go forward. Capezio sold off its fashion line, which it had run since the 1930s, in 1964. Despite this divestiture, two years later the company was in dire straits. Alfred Terlizzi told Dance Magazine (October 1980), "In 1966, the company was broke; Capezio, the whole corporate structure."

Revival in the 1970s

The younger management group had plans to turn the company around, but Capezio was evidently slow to make changes. Fortunately, the dance world caught up with the struggling company and swept it forward on a new boom of dance popularity. New York had always been the center of the dance world in the United States, but in the 1970s more children across the nation began studying dance, and more regional dance companies opened. Dance was also made more popular by movies and television shows. Alfred Terlizzi credited dance programs on the public television network PBS for bringing dance to new audiences. Movies like Nijinsky, Fame, and The Turning Point also gave modern appeal to dance.

Between 1972 and 1976, Capezio's sales volume rose by 150 percent. Now the company could afford to expand. It moved into new offices and showrooms close to Lincoln Center in Manhattan and built a new manufacturing facility in Totowa, New Jersey. Capezio entered new markets in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Gymnastics was also growing in popularity, and the company brought out a new line of gymnastic wear, from shoes to leotards. Capezio also began making shoes for ballroom dancing. Serious ballroom dancers ordered their shoes from European makers, because they could not find what they needed in the United States. Capezio decided to manufacture ballroom shoes, and immediately drew customers.

Over the 1980s, the company introduced several new lines. It had a broad line of toe shoes, including its Pavlova brand, Duro Toes, Nicolinis, and Ultimos; its Tekniks slippers in several styles and materials; special shoes for children and for male dancers; jazz shoes; clogging shoes; and many other specialized dance shoes. In 1987, Capezio brought out a fitness line of shoes and clothing. This included the firm's first all-purpose sneakers. The company also sold a Dancer's Collection line of cotton clothing meant to be worn over dance gear. By the late 1980s, Capezio operated four manufacturing plants, including facilities in New Jersey and Florida. The company also ran ten retail stores and sold its goods through thousands of small retailers.

Competitive Landscape in the 1990s and After

Capezio/Ballet Makers moved into its fourth generation of management in the 1990s. Estelle Sommers, the widow of Ben Sommers, Salvatore Capezio's protégé, had worked with the company since the 1960s. She married Ben Sommers in 1961 and eventually ran the retail side of the business. She was also, like all Capezio's top management, a noted patron of the arts. Estelle Sommers died in 1994. Alfred Terlizzi, grandnephew of the founder, retired to Florida in 1997 and died a year later. He had been president of the company since 1977. The new chief executive was Paul Terlizzi. Other Terlizzi family members managed the company, as well as members of another Capezio family branch, the Giacoios.

Capezio sold much of its merchandise to dance students--children and teenagers. It continued to make its professional toe shoes by hand in its New Jersey factory. Its toe shoes sold for about $60 a pair, up from $7.50 in 1960. The company began to contract with factories abroad to make its less labor-intensive lines. Capezio had had four of its own manufacturing facilities in the 1980s. In the 1990s, it had two, as well as offices and showrooms in New York City, and employed about 400 people.

The company emphasized new fashion lines and new athletic markets in the 1990s. Ice-skating had become one of the most-watched sports of the 1990s with the rise of many young American stars. Capezio introduced a line of skating gear in the late 1990s and had both Olympic medalists Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes as spokesmodels. Ballroom dancing became an Olympic exhibition sport in 2000, and Capezio introduced a new Dancesport line in time for the festivities. The company also sponsored a ballroom dancing competition, Dancesport Championship Limited. Capezio moved more heavily into European markets in 1999, forming a joint venture with Norwich Dancewear Ltd., a dance gear maker based in Norfolk, England. The two companies formed Ballet Makers-Europe, Ltd. The new company was expected to bring in roughly $3.5 million in sales in its first year. Capezio goods had previously been available in Europe only through independent distributors. The new company was expected to have much wider distribution, backed up by a significant investment in warehouse facilities and a knowledgeable, multilingual sales force.

In 2002, Capezio moved to new, larger quarters in Manhattan. Its new showroom on 39th Street also included a dance studio and housed retail sales and product development staff. The company had sales of about $90 million annually in the early 2000s. While Capezio remained the leading brand in American dancewear, it faced increasing competition from foreign firms. Freed of London was the world's largest ballet shoe manufacturer and had begun to make inroads into the U.S. market in the 1990s and early 2000s. Another new name in the U.S. market was the Australian firm Bloch, Inc. Bloch had started selling its dance shoes in the United States in the 1980s. Although it had far less name recognition than Capezio, the Australian maker was able to entice customers with its lower prices. Capezio vowed to stay ahead in the 2000s by continuing to focus on the world of dance. The company was a significant patron of dance through its foundation, and the supplier to many top stars as well as young performers.

Principal Subsidiaries: Ballet Makers-Europe, Ltd.

Principal Competitors: Bloch, Inc.; Freed of London, Ltd.; Chacott Co. Ltd.

Further Reading:

  • "Alfred Terlizzi," Dance Magazine, May 1998, p. 40.
  • "Alfred Terlizzi, 58, Supporter of the Arts," Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.), February 11, 1998, p. 58.
  • "Capezio Dances in Europe," Dance Magazine, July 1999, p. 23.
  • "Capezio Gets into Gear," WWD, March 14, 2002, p. 8.
  • Dalva, Nancy Vreeland, "Capezio Centenary," Dance Magazine, May 1987, pp. 90-94.
  • "Estelle Sommers," Dance Magazine, May 1994, p. 92.
  • Feitelberg, Rosemary, "Capezio Launches New Dancewear Line," WWD, April 12, 2001, p. 9.
  • Morley, Hugh R., "Capezio Still Tops in Ballet Slipper Business," Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, January 12, 2002, p. ITEM02012049.
  • Stoop, Norma Mclain, "The Dancers They Serve: Capezio Ballet Makers," Dance Magazine, October 1980.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.62. St. James Press, 2004.