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Stefano Bemer shoes

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.

Stefano Bemer shoes Tommaso Melani

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. 

Stefano Bemer shoe

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.)

Stefano Bemer bespoke

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]

28 July 2014

The Button Queen2
Last week I discovered The Button Queen, on Marylebone Lane in London. It’s hard to believe I’ve never been in before; I don’t think I will ever select buttons for tailoring from anywhere else.

The Button Queen has been around since the 1950s. It used to be on Carnaby Street until the 60s, when the swingers pushed them out. They have been on the current premises since 1987 – and before that on the other side of the road. The shop’s life has been a peripatetic one, constantly being moved on by new trends or developments. Then again, it feels surprising today that any shop in cental London can turn a profit selling buttons.

The Button Queen 

There are precious and rare buttons for collectors. Most of the trade is dress makers and designers, looking for original patterns and materials. But in the middle there is a rich collection of buttons suitable for tailoring.

The problem with most button retailers is that they don’t have the sizes required for a jacket’s front and cuffs, let alone blazer buttons, overcoat buttons and so on. Much as I love Duttons for Buttons in York, there were only ever a handful of ranges that had the appropriate sizes.

nepalese horn The Button Queenhorn The Button Queen domed horn buttons The Button Queen horn buttons The Button Queen

The Button Queen folders that will be of most interest to readers are labelled ‘horn buttons’, ‘shell buttons’ and ‘blazer buttons’. Possibly ‘wooden buttons’ as well. Horn has all the colours we expect from tailors, a few extra shades, and some beautiful carved and domed models. These are largely hand-cut Nepalese horn, which ranges from the very rustic (tweed jacket, perhaps) to the beautifully fine and intricate.

The shell folder has the mother-of-pearl you’d expect (again, with a few extra shades) plus my favourites: mussel shell. The blazer-button folder, although contaning a broad range of coats of arms, otherwise aren’t that interesting.

blazer buttons The Button Queen lion's head buttons The Button Queen 

Far more noteworthy are the vintage and rare metallic buttons. For I had come into The Button Queen seeking something antique for my Gieves & Hawkes bespoke pea coat. Martin, the manager, was initially sceptical. Pea coat buttons are pretty large and normally pretty dull. But when I explained that there was a lot of flexibility about the size, he dug out a few old boxes.

I recommend looking at the livery buttons. These were usually worn in two curving lines down the front edges of household staff uniforms, and not designed to do up. They feature the family’s coat of arms or crest, and are slightly bigger than jacket buttons, slightly smaller an overcoat’s. Nice for a blazer, perhaps.

For the pea coat we found some slightly larger, domed versions. Made from brass, they are nicely tarnished and (according the backs) made in Birmingham in 1927.

I’ll include some photos of those in the final pea-coat post. In the meantime, have a look at the models here, and get down to see Martin next time you have a piece of tailoring in need of some personalisation.
The Button Queen London

Antonio pio Mele2

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.

Antonio pio Mele8

Antonio pio Mele7

Antonio pio Mele4
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.” 

Antonio pio Mele
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. 

Antonio pio Mele6

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. 

 Antonio pio Mele3

Gieves Hawkes pea coat quilting

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.

Gieves Hawkes pea coat

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. 

Gieves Hawkes pea coat embroidery hawthorne and heaney2

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.
 Gieves Hawkes pea coat embroidery hawthorne and heaney

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.

edward green sale
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
Sunday 12-6pm

The Loading Bay, Dray Walk, The Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane

See you there…