After two and a half years I finally received my first Stefano Bemer bespoke shoes last month. And what beauties they are.
I was initially measured by Stefano, who also oversaw the creation of my last. But it wasn’t until earlier this year that I had a fitting, due to Stefano’s unfortunate passing and the following disruption to the company. I’m glad to say that hasn’t in any way affected the quality of the output, largely due to the same staff (particularly Masako) being involved in their construction.
These are the best-fitting first pair of bespoke shoes I have ever had from a maker. My best fitting overall are probably the Gaziano & Girling Adelaides, but that was a second pair on a new, refined last made by Daniel. Hard as it is for anyone saving up for their first pair of bespoke, the second pair is inevitably better than the first. It was the same with Cleverley and doubtless it will be the same with Bemer.
For while they are the best fit of any first commission, there are couple of small things Masako and I will probably refine. There is a bit too much space across the joints, for example, and the instep should also probably be cut a little shallower.
But please understand: these are tiny imperfections. The shoe is an absolutely superb fit, better than every RTW shoe I have worn by some distance, and better than all bespoke but one. The foot is supported beautifully through the arch; the precise, high shape of the heel cup means that the foot is held solidly, even without lacing the shoe; and the toes have freedom to move even within the lovely, chiselled last.
I picked up the shoes on the Wednesday afternoon during Pitti, on a baking day when my feet were already swollen and tired. I then (probably foolishly) proceeded to wear them throughout the afternoon and evening, across Florence’s cobbles and up and down its curbs. Sumptuous comfort, not the tiniest ache or pain. (Of course, I then rested them the next day in Milan.)
As to style, this is a classic Bemer shape – relatively wide in the points, but coming into a short, sharp toe. The toe cap is elongated, which lends further prominence to that area of the shoe. The only downside of this design is that the toe puff (the reinforcing layer of leather inside the toe) is not as long as the cap, leading to wrinkling on either side of the line of brouging. I can see some people disliking this, but I don’t mind it.
The sole is thicker than most, which is also typical of Bemer. I like it on tan shoes like this, though might have specified something thinner on an office shoe. Bemer are also not great yet at adding colour variation to the upper - whether through burnishing, polish or dyes. This is changing, but means that there is some reliance on polishing in some subtly different colours (something I have already started on with gusto). Having said that, the quality of the leather is superb – only Gaziano & Girling and EG Top Drawer shoes take a polish so well.
Prices: €2250 for bespoke, €850 RTW, both ex-VAT.
Finally, Tommaso Melani (pictured higher up) took a little video of me wearing the shoes for the first time. There is a lot of joy in those silly little jumps and taps. [Please refresh page if the video does not appear]
Antonio Pio Mele is a young Milanese shoemaker with an interesting background. His family owned a shoemaking factory in the south of Italy, but rather than go into the family business when he grew up (as his brother did), Antonio decided to train as a bespoke maker. This gives him a different perspective to most shoemakers and leads to interesting outlets – such as making trainers for some of his clients in his brother’s factory, on bespoke lasts.
Antonio is also one of the last shoemakers in Milan. With Messina and Gatto gone, there are almost none left. Nicoletta Caraceni was particularly interested in Antonio’s work when I mentioned it, as she would normally recommend clients to Messina.
Although he is still just starting out compared to some of these old names, Antonio has trained with several other makers – seven by his count, including D’Agata, Di Martino and Bentivegna. His ambitions are also pretty broad: he already makes bespoke men’s and women’s shoes, has a good line in leather goods with a few makers around Milan, and is aiming to open a shop or shared space in London (his business partner is already here, in Oxford).
I visited him in Milan last month after a couple of meetings in London, at his atelier off Piazza Duomo. The place has some lovely touches – like the initials above the buzzer (below) and crocodile-leather door handle. There was also an impressive display of shoes, though with a heavy leaning towards exotics. “I think of myself as a pizzeria,” he says. “The customer should not see a menu – he should be able to pick anything he wants, in any combination.”
Of course, this is all very well if you can maintain the quality across all those items. The leather items are good, though better on the aesthetics than the construction. I can’t speak to the shoes, but we’re having a pair made so I’ll report back on those later (prices start at €2100). We had an initial fitting using waste material while in Milan, and it was rather loose, particularly around the heel. Then again, this was with the expectation of a second fitting in London, so that will be more telling.
Given my fascination with the crossover between formal and casual wear, I was particularly interested in the bespoke trainers, though Antonio pointed out quite rightly that there is not that much difference in the fit. The sole is flat, there is already a good amount of heel support, and the construction overall is so soft that having a better-fitting heel cup (for example) is not that noticeable. The same goes for driving shoes made on a bespoke last – they stretch so much that there isn’t that much point.
Interestingly, I am separately having a pair of summer loafers made by Stefano Bemer on my last there. Given that such shoes are often cemented or Blake-stitched for lightness, you cut out a lot of the hand-sewing and therefore a lot of the cost. A bespoke fit for around €1000.
Both Antonio and Bemer have events coming up later in the year in London. Keep an eye out here.
The bespoke pea coat had many inspirations. Among its foremost influences were the personal creations of Davide (Taub, Gieves & Hawkes head cutter); the Gieves military and naval archive; and the embroidery designs of lovely Claire (Barrett) at Hawthorne & Heaney.
All three came together in the details shown here. We had our second fitting on the coat last week – having missed the last Winter by some margin, the project had been taken up again last month, to have it ready for October. The fit of the big, structured coat over a suit is wonderful, but I’ll post more on that at another stage. For the moment, here are the details.
Above, the quilting in the chest of the jacket. Quilting doesn’t necessarily require any filling, as a reader questioned in the first instalment. Rather, it is the sewing of regular lines in order to create greater structure in a chest, without any more canvas or other lining.
The pattern worked by the Gieves tailors here is a sunburst, radiating from the armhole. Under the new creative management Gieves is finally making all its bespoke in-house (no outworkers) creating a greater cohesion and stronger direction. It’s something Davide has always wanted, and it’s great to see it in action.
Next, the embroidery. Davide and I went through the Gieves archive looking for examples of designs we liked on the cuffs and backs of naval coats. There was a lot, and most of it far more intricate than the designs here. Frogging like this was nearly always used to finish off the cuffs of jackets, creating decoration and hiding the transition from cuff to sleeve. It would usually reflect work elsewhere, such as on the cuff, epaulettes or back.
In the end we picked two simple designs that we liked – one for the cuff (below) and one for the back of the neck (above). By rendering them in black the effect is much more subtle than any of this coat’s naval antecedents, but also more modern. The frogging is made up of Russia braid (the two shiny lines) and an additional line of black silk. The latter was added to increase the contrast in texture between the lines as well as against the coat itself.
Actually, it’s wrong to say we picked the designs. We gave Claire some rough ideas and pictures, and she came up with the designs herself based on Austrian knots. She deserves the lion’s share of the credit.
Hawthorne & Heaney now has new digs, by the way, sharing with Dugdale’s on Mill Street at the top of Savile Row. Claire is therefore around the area far more than she was (the workshop is up in Islington) and can take appointments for anyone that wants to discuss work on a bespoke item. As a guide, this work on my coat cost £210 and the beautiful gold leaves Claire did on my velvet jacket cost £93 (both inc. VAT).
You can see some pictures of the coat in its current state on Davide’s blog.
Every year Edward Green does some kind of last-minute sale. In fact, just two weeks ago a reader asked when and where the next one would be. Well, it starts today – at the Old Truman Brewery just off Brick Lane.
The sale is in conjunction with Begg, makers of perhaps the finest scarves in the world, rather than Drake’s or Mackintosh (though remember Drake’s also now has its sale shop on Haberdasher St). Both Edward Green and Begg makers will be offering product with around 60% off.
The sale runs from today until Sunday, with the full address and timings being:
Wednesday-Saturday 12- 8pm
The Loading Bay, Dray Walk, The Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane
See you there…