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Interviews

Radu Morariu (Maftei Shoemaker)

February 11, 2013


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The Claymoor interview series was opened in January 2012 by Radu Moraru as a representative of Maftei Vienna in Romania (see full interview here). The pleasure of entering the Alexandru Maftei showroom in Cotroceni is always doubled by Mr. Morariu’s personality, by the way in which you are treated at MAFTEI’s as a shoe lover. In the second half of 2012, the bespoke shoes produced by his uncle, Alexander Maftei, have been the subject of several television reports.

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This month I therefore returned to the building dating from the interwar period which is located on Dr. Louis Pasteur Street and which houses the creations of Alexandru Maftei; I came back here and I had a cup of tea with Radu Morariu, being quietly and discretely accompanied by his lovely wife Dana, given that Maftei Vienna is a business in which almost all family members are involved.

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Here we are after almost a year in which the Maftei Vienna brand has become synonymous with the bespoke shoes in Romania. Why this media campaign?

Firstly, I would like to wish you and your readers welcome to my house. I am always happy to receive guests especially when they are shoe lovers. Secondly, I would not call this brand promotion “a media campaign”, as real advertising campaigns have been extremely few, most of them being articles or being arisen out of the desire to know the bespoke shoes. Of course, I responded positively to their request with utmost openness.

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Sir Henry Royce the founder of Rolls-Royce once said: “The quality remains long after the price is forgotten.” Our goal for Maftei Romania is not to display some shoes with an attached price tag, but to display an entire universe which creates the shoes. The story behind the scenes, the working time necessary for a Goyser stitch or the extraordinary skill of placing the leather on a last to make a seamless shoe, the fact that the shape given by the last is the body of the shoe, and the stitch is the soul without which everything would crumble …

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These are the things I tried to transmit to the readers or viewers: the passion, the quality, the tradition and, above all, the ability to make a unique and unrepeatable item out of a simple piece of leather because, as difficult as it might seem to believe, the shoes we make cannot be replicated. And it is not about the patina, but about the construction. The manner in which the leather is stretched, the exact tension for the sewing threads cannot be repeated in exactly the same way. Each piece of leather reacts differently to the entire treatment and behaves differently … that’s why the craftsman’s skill and experience are a sine qua non criteria…

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Looking back, how would you characterize this year or how do you see the men style at present?

The year that is about to end proved to be better than I had expected despite the fact that it began under not very good auspices due to the economic crisis. The reasons are not necessarily related to the increasing number of customers but rather to the amount of information about the bespoke shoes and to the interest for a personal style of the gentlemen in Romania.

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This year, we have received extremely varied orders in terms of style from all genres: oxford, derby, loafer or models made of exotic or special leather such as Cordovan. This diversification of taste is a symptom of the men style development, which I rejoiced. Tastes are becoming more and more refined and style choices are more and more interesting, which means a continuous challenge for us.

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Who are the new names wearing the Maftei creations in 2012?

The customers we had the previous years (our shoes can pass from one generation to another) as well as the new customers are politicians, businessmen, athletes, architects, doctors … Regarding the names, my lips are sealed . You see, when my client comes to me, it is like a visit to a doctor – discretion is implicit because they actually entrust me with a number of medical secrets. Thus, mentioning their names without their consent is out of the question. What comes to Maftei stays at Maftei (he laughs).

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I have recently seen a beautiful pair of black boots with a Goyser stitch. How difficult is this stitch?

It’s a stitch with a high degree of difficulty as it is executed only by the best craftsmen. It provides high resistance to the sole of the shoe which becomes practically indestructible. The boots you are speaking about were made for a Brazilian artist, Juliano Lopes. So, you’ve made me tell you a name …

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Alexandru Maftei
– founder of MAFTEI VIENNA –

Speaking of Juliano Lopes, I have recently seen three drawings made by him on the subject of shoemaking. Why Juliano Lopes and why this approach?

The answer to the last question is simple: because I was fascinated by the shape and the colour of his drawings, and because he is a talented artist just like my uncle, from my point of view. Regarding the first question, the answer involves a little enlargement. There is an artistic fibre in our family which made ​​us be closer to the fine arts, especially music. Mr. Lopes’s drawings show the tradition and the art of shoemaking that my uncle, Alexandru Maftei, chose to serve. It is the expression of the way in which we wanted to honour the work and skill of a man who actually created with his own hands an excellent brand that is known all over the world

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I know you have travelled to Moscow recently. What was the occasion?

My uncle and I went on the trip to Moscow to take measures to some customers in Russia. My uncle often goes on trips to Russia, being highly appreciated in this country; this time I accompanied him as a so-called “apprentice”. Even if I am responsible for Maftei in Romania, I always have something to learn from him and frankly it is a pleasure to travel with and to watch a man who is an encyclopaedia in terms of shoes. Right now, we are working on some interesting patterns for certain gentlemen in Russia.

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Recently Maftei site was considerably improved. To what do we owe this change?

It’s been quite a while since the site was created and it did not correspond with what the company is now. The new site is closer to the Maftei spirit; it is more user-friendly, more refined and more elegant. As a novelty on the site, there is now a section for ladies, including models which we have been making for a long time but which we had not advertised before…

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I’ve seen the designs for ladies and they are very beautiful. What is their construction?

Their construction can be: hand stitch or wooden pegs. As with men models, the options may be very varied, ranging from leather and reaching monograms or whatever the lady wants. Models made of stingray and ostrich leather are the most popular. The clientele is currently restricted, being made up of special ladies who feel nostalgic about custom hand-made items and who can appreciate the true value of such shoes.

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Plans for 2013?

Joking with a friend, I have told him recently that a shoemaker and a dentist have the same goal: to see a smile of satisfaction on their clients’ face, proving that the shoe meets or sometimes exceeds their expectations. So, for 2013, I want to bring happiness to as many gentlemen as possible. Their smiles and satisfaction guarantee that we did something exceptional; it is also the engine that gets me running every day.

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On the other hand, we are trying to make known the tradition and values that inspirit us to as many gentlemen as possible. In 2013, for the George Enescu Festival, we will create a special model to celebrate both the festival and the personality of Richard Wagner, as we will celebrate 200 years from his birth in 2013. Yet, I cannot offer you more details about the model because it is now only in a prototype stage. However, we are happy to be part of the festival and we are preparing intensively to properly honor this special event that is a pride both for Bucharest and for Romania.

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Moving now to more personal aspects, I have noticed that you have a passion for colour, in a city that was not long ago dominated by hues of grey. What triggered this preference?

Honestly, I have always loved color Even now, when I see a black shoe order I always try to visualize it in colors I understand that black is the color of classic shoes but if you have a number of black business pairs of shoes, it is high time you tried something colorful because color can be a huge booster for shoes and clothing in general. See in the showcase – there is a pair of chestnut brown classic Viennese shoes with a Goyser stitch. It draws your attention from the very first moment. Why make it black and lose its beauty? This is also the case of exotic leather… Its beauty is given by the color and reflections rather than by the texture. We need to learn to live colorfully again. That’s for sure.

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I notice that you have a great affection for your uncle Alexandru Maftei. How would you describe him in a few words?

Without Alexandru Maftei nothing you see here would have existed. Everything related to the MAFTEI shoes originates in his inspiration, skill and dedication. Imagine that Alexandru Maftei came from communist Romania to Vienna, the cradle of great shoemakers of Austro-Hungarian tradition, and, after a few years, he became known as an exquisite craftsman and, more than this, he has remained the customers’ favourite all these years. The journey from the beginning until now has been a very difficult one, as in our industry the customer’s confidence is gained only after years of wearing the products. His special technique and his talent allow us to be able to execute the most intricate stitches – my uncle is a true magician of shoes.

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I honestly think that he is living for and through his shoes; every pair created by him has a bit of his soul. His life is MAFTEI, and he spends a whole day in the workshop among lasts, leather, models of shoes, sample shoes… He lives for challenges and his internal engine is always fueled by new projects. His greatest joy comes when a client asks for special shoes, something to make him start his creation… And although he has made shoes for heads of state, for Pope Benedict XVI or for business people across Europe, he remains a person of exemplary modesty who wants to be generous. He created the school of shoemaking and he transmitted part of his talent and skills to Lucian Maftei and to all those who work with him

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Personally, I believe that every minute spent with him offers me something, allowing me to discover as many secrets as possible from the universe of the shoemaking. And frankly, I take advantage of it as much as I can…

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You have a pair of seamless shoes with a special patina in the showcase. How can you obtain such patina?

The shoes you are talking about are our house specialty: shoes without stitches made of patina crust. In Romania, the crust is not very well known, although it is used to obtain the most beautiful patina. The crust is tanned leather but which is not corrected or painted, thus its natural look being preserved. Because the leather is not painted, it supports very beautiful patina and it can be colored unevenly, with little hue differences which give the shoes that specific charm.

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The expert on patina is my aunt Lucia Maftei (n.b. Alexandru Maftei’s wife). My aunt has worked with my uncle all these years supporting him from the very beginning. At the beginning they both worked at Rudolf Scheer &Sohne; now she is responsible for the company when my uncle goes on trips and she also creates our patina. To be honest  I am amazed by her talent.

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I can see two very chic bicycles in front of your store. Are they elements of decoration or can they actually be used?

(Laughing) They are 100% practical. I must confess that due to my preoccupations that take almost all my time, the activities that are not related to shoes are very few. In fact I comfort myself thinking that the true luxury lies in being able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life – more coziness than opulence.

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My shoes and I live a continuous love story. But to return to the “after work” chapter, I relax walking about in Bucharest, chatting with friends and, last but not least, cycling. Many people say it is impossible to ride a bike through Bucharest. But I traveled in almost any way – from walking to traveling by motorbike, by car or by bike. Yet, I feel nostalgic about my BMW motorbike, although the car is indispensable to me now…

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Thank you for your time and I hope to see eachother very soon.

My door will be always open for you and your readers…

Pictures courtesy of Mr. Radu Morariu

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