When it comes to fine footwear, we tend to think of the usual suspects. On the high-end, there’s John Lobb, Edward Green, and Vass. A bit lower are Church’s, Grenson, Crockett & Jones, Alfred Sargent, and Alden.
A bit less known, however, is Stefano Bemer, a master cordwainer who handmakes shoes out of a mouse-hole sized workshop in Florence, Italy. Though these come out of Italy (and definitely have a bit of Italian flair), his shoes actually look very English. This is deliberate. Bemer believes that the perfect shoe combines the construction techniques and restraint you’d find in Northhampton, with the decorative and design sensibility that you’d find around Italy. The result is a very sober and balanced shoe that - at the same time - shows some imagination reeled in by discipline. A blend of English and Italian design for shoes - what could be better?
So how much do Bemer’s shoes cost? About $3,000, your presence for at least two fittings (if you want bespoke), and three months wait time. It’s a hefty price, but Bemer is known for his unusual dyes and materials, thus these afford you a unique level of customization that you can’t get anywhere else. Tired of French or English calf? Try having your shoes made out of hippopotamus, elephant, camel, ostrich, kudu, sting-ray, toad, perch, or tripe. Bored of your wholecuts? Bemer has 40 different basic styles. Finding Italian tan to be too pedestrian? Bemer has over a hundred different variations in color available. You can also customize the broguing, request a medallion (the decorative design at the toebox), and specify whether you want the waist to be beveled (the waist is the area at the outsole that supports the arch of your foot).
In addition to the incredible level of customization, there is the sheer artisan craftsmanship that goes into this. I mean this in a very real sense. Nothing synthetic is used and all the leather is purchased from tanneries using the exact same processes they used a hundred years ago. Once the the leather arrives at Bemer’s workshop, it is soaked in water for about twelve hours, then wrapped in paper and beaten on a stone with a hammer. This helps shape the leather’s resistance and pliability, which in the end increase the shoe’s comfort and longevity. The sewing thread used for the welt and sole is also made in-house. Bemer utilizes an ancient technique of twisting linen thread with pitch and beeswax. Lastly, the small amount of glue used is all vegetable based.
When the shoes are done, they arrive to you in their own wooden box, marked with your initials. They also come with a set shoes trees that are custom made to exactly fit the shoes they were made for (otherwise known as “lasted shoe trees”), a pair of shoe bags, and a tin of Bemer’s shoe wax (which is also made to his own custom formula).
It’s this kind of terrifically old-fashioned, quality shoemaking that drew Daniel Day-Lewis, a shoe enthusiast, to spend ten months in 1999 and 2000 apprenticing under Bemer.
Here are three pairs of Bemers that belong to Gaz. You’ll notice that on the second pair, what you think is a standard black oxford is actually a pair of midnight blue oxfords with an in-fold seam where the vamp meets the quarters. As Bemer says, quality like this is remembered long after the price is forgotten.
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- mostexerent said: Does Gary know that you are using his pics? I’m seeing him next week. Just saying. Keep up the good work - you www is my favourite at the moment. GW
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