Your shoes are very handsome and I must say that they deserve much more popularity. Who are you Mr. Myhre and why shoes?
Thank you for complimenting my work. I like to think that I am a modest man in my early fifties, who is treating the shoemaking craft respectfully, serious and with humbleness. My curiosity towards my feet, while doing sports, led me into the interest of shoes and how they were made.
I was 18 years of age and the interest has followed me since then. I went to London at John Lobb Ltd. in 1987. Since that day, the Lobb´s has been my inspiration, Mentor and gateway into the secrets of the Noble Art. But learning this craft to the full takes a lifetime regardless your talent as a craftsman. The most important issue is to stay in – with dedication and perseverance.
How would you describe shoemaking tradition in Norway?
As most countries in Europe, Norway has been dominated by farmers and pheasants since ancient times. The footwear was made to fit the needs for those people working in the fields and for fishermen, on and off shore. The finer footwear came to the bigger cities during the renaissance, and was mostly inspired by the major cities on the European continent. Although, Oslo and Norway was quite famous for exporting handmade shoes to Europe in the 12th. century under the protection of the current king at the time, Haakon the 5th.
Shoemakers were working directly, traveling between farms, making shoes for the people living there using whatever hide available on the farm. Depending on the need and the wealth of the farmers, the shoemaker used thicker cowhide for working shoes, or boots. He was sometimes also able to make finer shoes out of kid, or calf leather. Usually, they were at least two to travel around carrying tools and after 1869, also sewing machine to make the uppers.
A Singer free arm machine was quite common, since it was possible to do repairs, as well. There are stories of shoemakers carrying their machines in wooden boxes on their back, just like rug sacks. The payment was normally related to what kind of footwear that was made, but the most common currency was a living hen, milk, bread, meat and liquor. The finest shoes were paid with pure alcohol – made on the farm.
Fairly large and strong feet with a general tendency and lack of arch support, that makes the feet tired. Both men and woman needs coaching, or education to understand fully the purpose and meaningful joy of wearing good looking and comfortable shoes. A saying claims that you are either in your bed or in your shoes, so it pays to invest in both. I like that saying, it works like a proverb to me. A well made pair of welted shoes lasts many years and give the wearer pleasure and comfort.
The duration time aspect is important, an issue I believe is neglected as a sales argument when you look at the many “bespoke” shoes offered in colorful shadings and with a plastic like gloss. The customer should always ask himself: How will these shoes look like, or feel after 5 years, or 10 years? This is the key for a good relationship with your shoes and shoemaker.
What is your favorite model?
I seems to prefer straight styles like Derby Navy Cut, which is a half brogue, with straight toe cap and counters. Secondly, variations of the Oxford style, like half brogue, austerity brogue, which has the normal Oxford cut with two parallel stitching lines, all along notched edges. Thirdly, I like elastic instep also, casual style or combinations with brogue.
You have two lines RTW and Bespoke. In what stage do you use machines?
For the time being, I do focus on my Bespoke services only. I do execute all my work by hand. For the shoe uppers, I use an old Singer machine dating from before the last war. The reason for that is to achieve straight stitches, were each stitch stands in a row, instead modern machines that most often make stitches that stands on a diagonal to the straight line. The process of making shoes by hand contains approx. 200 different operations, divided into “Fitting” (taking the measurements and fit the shoe to the actual foot) and “Last making”, “Pattern making”, “Closing” (stitching the upper leather together) and Making (preparing all the stiffeners, securing the shoe by sewing in the welt and sole by hand using linen thread and shoemakers wax).
Where do you get your leather from?
From different manufacturers and agents around Europe, but also through private connections that I have met the last 25 years. I am always looking for the less commercial leather, tanned by small tanneries, using the finest vegetable ingredients, but I do use chrome and also a combination of both, which is called re-tanned leather, using both chrome and veg. For soles, I only use English Oak Bark tanned shoulders and bends from the Hereford cattle.
I noticed from a previous interview that your style icon is Cary Grant. If Mr. Grant would come to your workshop what shoe would you create for him?
I would supply Mr. Grant with a light weight pair of casuals, with a belt across the instep with an elegant buckle, plain toe, made in cognac brown baby calf, or dark blue calf suede.
Who is your favorite shoemaker?
It depends on which “school” I should characterize. If you are a follower of the fashionable styles and toe shapes, there are several makers in France. If you are more of the conservative, focusing-on-the-comfortable type of shoe, I would cross the English Channel, or travel even a bit further north…
Do you work alone?
After many years alone, I did manage to get hold of an apprentice. He has been with me for 15 months now and I expect him to be able to make a decent pair of shoes within 4 years of training in my workshop. I am currently looking for one more person, so anyone motivated to spend 5-7 years learning “making”, are welcome to send me an e-mail.
How do you relax after-work…I noticed that you are a fan of Ducati bikes..
There is not too much time to spend outside work, but my great hobby is Ducati motorbikes and driving them of course. Shoemaking and motorbikes has a great thing in common; Both disciplines requires practice and rewards you with increased skill – when you stick to them, they challenge you for the rest of your life.
Multistrada for touring before the rebuild
Multistrada during her rebuild last winter.
What “secret” plans for 2013 do you have?
I am quite ambitious, but reinventing the wheel is a little bit too late, I trust. I rather lean on my ability to combine the classic designs – design and remake new styles to fit the individual character of each customer. That has always been a goal and will remain so. Seeing the unconscious smile in a clients face putting the shoes on for the first time, is more than rewarding. It is then I feel the success as a bespoke shoemaker. To develop this ability in the years to come – is my definite secret.
Pictures courtesy of J.P. Myhre; for further information about bespoke shoes please visit Mr. Jan Petter Myhre official site (www.bespoke-shoes.com) or contact him directly at email@example.com