I know you have apprenticed shoemaking under Ian Wood (Lobb London), and worked at the bespoke department in Edward Green and Cleverley. Please introduce yourself for my readers and tell me the reasons of developing Yohei Fukuda business.
I think the traditional shoemaking of London’s West End has a long history and is a wonderful method. With that as a base, I also felt that an evolution of the craft was also possible. I started Yohei Fukuda with the aim of helping the client create his or her own style while attending to both the fitting and the overall balance of the look of the shoe.
I have never once thought of myself as a designer. I think it is important to regard classic craftsmanship such as bespoke shoes as not just something to consider and produce now, but as something that will still be natural, universal 10 or 20 years from now. As Philip, Earl of Chesterfield, regarded as the symbol of the English gentleman, once said, “Those that seem to look backward are disqualified.” The wearing of certain things, such as suits and shoes, play a supporting role in drawing out the personality. Style never follows fashion. The reason being that what is “in fashion” never had any style to begin with.
Where did you find your inspiration for the models?
I was first moved by hand made shoes on a visit to the Shoe Museum in Northampton. I remember getting goose bumps all over my body and tears coming to my eyes. The largest number of shoemakers were living and working at the beginning of the 20th century, and I think a lot of really good shoes were created as a result of a battle of skills. There was a lot of competition and if your work wasn’t good, not only could you not get work, you couldn’t stay alive. With the times came advancements toward mass production and rather than a shoemaking about the foot, a shoemaking about efficiency of manufacture took precedence. I thought it was sad that the tradition that had continued until that point was cut off. I think that taking over as much as possible the tradition that has brought us this far and extending it further will lead to good things later. Each and every detail of the shoe has meaning. Nowadays, there aren’t many people who know this, but if one pursue this essence; the finished form is born naturally. I have a lot of old books on the art of shoemaking, and I cherish shoemaking that utilizes meaningful details that capture this essence.
The materials I use are the basically the same as those used by English bespoke makers. When I go to England, I select and purchase leather directly. For bottoming, I use materials by Baker, and for the upper, I use the best quality leathers I can get, mainly from Italy, France and Germany. I shape the lasts to suit my clients individually. I believe it is precisely because I consistently communicate with my clients to the very last step.
I work with one apprentice.
With bespoke orders, usually a draft of the foot is taken and its girth measured. However, it can be very difficult to grasp the fitting preferences of the individual client, as well as difficult to imagine what the finished shoe will be like. To help alleviate that problem, I’ve created a set of “size gauge” model shoes on the same base last.
These are of hand-sewn construction. These model shoes can be used to judge how the client would like the shoes to fit, as well as give us a shared image of the completed form. In addition, so as to give a clearer image of the finished product than an average sample, I make dummy that is an exact replica of the model they have ordered, using the same leather and have the client wear them for a short time. Then, I make improvements to the last, re-cut from the best areas of the leather and craft another pair of shoes.
Every shoe I make for individual clients are unique. Because they are made for individual life styles.
Nikolaus Tuczek, Anthony Cleverley, Joseph Box.
Currently, I mainly take orders in my workshop, but in the future I would like to hold trunk shows worldwide.
Around the turn of the millennium, there was a renewal of interest in traditional craftsmanship, more information became accessible via the Internet, and young people began to take an interest in shoemaking. There are also many shoemakers in Japan who have been working for long years.
I think the future is very bright. There are a lot of motivated young people in Japan, and Japanese are quite a dexterous people. Now in Japan there are many craftsmen and women who were trained at bespoke makers in England, Italy and France and so on. Clients also have a wider range to choose from- they can compare and select. It could quite possibly be the country with the most bespoke shoe companies in the world.
In the future, I would like to have trunk shows overseas. And I would like people to see the shoes made by Japanese hands. Something you can call the best shoes for everyone does not exist. We do strive to make the best shoes for each individual person, however.
Everything has helped me get to where I am now. I hope to continue looking ahead, absorbing as much as possible, and take the next step.
There is no single answer to shoemaking—that’s why it’s so interesting. If you continue, you acquire technical skill, train you eye and make new discoveries. Enjoying life is the most important thing!