I was reading the other days an article of a gentleman who commissioned a pair of bespoke shoes. His story was a fairy tale. Everything went well, the communication was perfect, and the resulted shoes were exactly what he expected. Most of the times thought, such experiences are nearly impossible. Not because the shoemaker wouldn’t know his job, but because it is very difficult for the first pair to be the ideal pair. There are some myths regarding bespoke shoemaking, myths that often lead to delicate situations both for the client and for the shoemaker. Most of the times the first pair is an accommodation pair. The second pair is the one that will fit like a glove. The trial-shoe of the first pair provides the shoemaker with a lot of information regarding your fit, but unfortunately nothing compares to the intensive wearing of the first pair.
The trial cannot replace reality. Starting from the experience of the first pair, the second pair can indeed be perfect. Nevertheless, this doesn’t exclude the fact that the first pair may come out perfect, but only when the shoemaker has a lot of experience and when the client is accustomed to such things. Then we must not forget the fact that, when talking about handmade products, the small errors that may appear are normal.
As Dieworkwear said, “A fraction of an inch on the apron can make a dramatic visual impact. I imagine this is why it’s good to have a direct relationship with your maker, not just a firm full of makers, and be familiar with his or her other work (which you hopefully like). There has to be a lot of trust”. The relationship with your shoemaker must be a dynamic one, in which you start from the premise that he is the master of the craft but the final product will belong to both of you. So nothing can replace the client’s implication in the process of bespoke shoemaking.
Some time ago I commissioned a pair of derbies from Valentin Frunza. Valentin had a trunkshow in my city, so the occasion was not one to be missed. The visit took more than usual. Valentin is a person for which shoemaking represents a second life. When you hear him talking about shoes, leather and tools you realize that he has the innocence of a child. You feel nothing from the speech of one who wants to sell, but the one of a craftsman who wants to explain how the final form is achieved
Going back to the shoe, I wanted a simple derby on a comfortable last. Valentin showed me various samples of leather and a chose a caramel babycalf. We reached the measuring part and the one where I pointed out how I wanted the last to look like. The shape I had in mind was the one of a Viennese shoe. I wanted something that looked like a P2 from Vass. My intention was to follow the direction of Hungarian classic lasts or classic Austrian shapes. However, I didn’t want something too old. At the try-on, after wearing the trial shoe, I realized that, visually, the shoe was a bit too short. And since the model was a captoe derby, this fact was even more accentuated. I consulted with Valentin and we convened for him to elongate it a little. I told him with how much and I waited to see if my estimation was correct.
When I finally tried the resulting shoe, I noticed that I had been wrong. The shoe still seemed a little short, though I believe that someone used to classic Austro-Hungarian lasts wouldn’t have had a problem with that. Me though, being just recently converted to this type of last, I felt the need to make this transition smoother. Shortly, the last still needed a small addition at its cap. Since everything was OK except for this small visual detail, I discussed with Valentin on the phone and for the second pair Valentin modified the last. Although the addition was minimum, the visual effect is visible. Now I can say that the second pair is the bespoke perfection. This time I gave up the calf and opted for a hunting calf. For model I chose a wing derby, probably influence subconsciously by the need for length.Compared to the first pair, the shoe is much better proportioned. It is amazing how a few centimeters can change the visual aspect of the shoe.
Going back to the myth of the first pair, in my case the problem appeared from an estimation which I take upon myself. The shoemaker cannot know what is the client’s vision from the first session, if you don’t have the last shape you want crystallized in your mind and especially if you don’t communicate properly what you want.
Photo credit: www.lumos.ro| Madalin Bosinceanu
The world of men’s shoes is not spared the trends. We have the tendency to consider that footwear trends are a characteristic of feminine fashion, but sometimes, without even knowing it, we, men, bought at least a pair of shoes being influenced by “trendy” models. I remember at least four threads in which traps I myself fell over the years. From those sometimes I remained with memorable pairs, other times with pairs of shoes which I wore only several times.
The monk trend. A while ago everybody was wild about monks. There were models one crazier than another (bicolor monks, for instance), infantile ways to wear the monk with an open strip (Lino Ieluzzi was and I think still is the champion of this hideous way of mocking a pair of shoes as you can see here). When I thought I had seen everything regarding monks, appeared Goyser models or combat sole models, worthy of the French Legion. The monk trend brought me a pair of monks which I wear very rarely.
Museum calf – Lobb (Paris) popularized Radica (Museum Calf), and since Lobb doesn’t have exclusivity for this type of leather anymore, many producers use it. Even if it is a beautiful leather, the excess is bad, especially when it is used for heavy models. iGents love Museum. Maybe because it is a bit flashy, especially when one can find it in shades of green, for instance. And for them, the market abounds in false Museum calf. Original Radica is fabricated by Gruppo Vecchia Toscana S.p.A., the new ownership of Ilcea Tannery. However, I stick to the opinion the the most beautiful nuances are the darker ones (except for the gold museum for which I have a weakness).
Dainite in the winter – Dainite slowly became the only option for bad weather. I don’t understand…It is one of the worst soles ever. It stiffens excessively the shoe and the profiles on the sole are totally inadequate for city wear. I don’t understand why soles like Weensum from Gaziano&Girling don’t replace the heavy Dainite soles. We live in the City not in a remote region in Highlands.
Patina shoes – the fever of patina shoes isn’t over yet. On the market there are many interesting models and a reasonable number of patina artists. But there are also many horrible patinas. A lot of producers consider that it is a must to have patinas in your collection, but for this you should also know how to create it. And of course to use quality crust leather. A beautiful patina shoe is a rare thing, and if you wish to try your luck search for producers that have partnerships with Artists (for instance J.FitzPatrick had a collaboration with Alexander Nurulaeff from Dandyshoecare, but I don’t know if is still available).
Getting over the trends that come and go, I want to return to a type of leather about which there were many discussions some years ago – the Russian hatch-grain. I will not dive into its history (if you are interested in the story or the original leather read A 200-year-old gift from under the sea by R.M. Stevenson, or watch an interesting video here) , but I will limit myself to observing that even if what we now call Russian leather isn’t actually Russian but only some embossed leather, this model of leather continues to fascinate. The model is discreet and has the elegance of a wrinkled face treated nicely by years. I have five models made of Russian leather, some truer to the real Russian leather, others with a leather that is a bit different from the classic model.
One of the most beautiful models is a MTO wing brogue made by Buday (Horween leather). I’m going over the fact that Buday makes some very comfortable shoes, despite their robust aspect, but the image of this shoe in Russian hatch-grain is perfect. I saw a model with a classic design that was just as beautiful at Gaziano&Girling, but Buday is closer to what I call the soul of shoemaking.
The combination between a well executed shoe and a leather that ennobles it makes from the Buday the perfect casual shoe. I was rarely that enthusiastic regarding a pair of shoes as I was with this pair. Maybe because these days I see many unsuccessful re-interpretations in modern key of some classic models, when, instead, we don’t have to go too far in order to discover the soul of the Shoe.