One of these Fridays I got a parcel in the mail. I knew where it was coming from, because I was eager to get it. I also knew what was in it. What I didn’t know was that the content was going to be what those madeleines were for Marcel Proust. But let’s start with the beginning…
Only 4 of more than a dozen pairs that populate my life (and bring me weekly scolding from the wife) are black; I look at them, and their austerity makes me feel like I am looking at a group of academics enjoying a Bon Jovie concert (when he was young) – a pair of Gravati derby shoes I have a very strong emotional bond with; a pair of Carmina monks that I don’t go along with too well because of the last; a pair of patent leather Alfred Sargent oxfords with a last slightly too large, and a pair of Edward Green boots, solid like a WW2 German Tiger II tank.
This Friday, the group of academics was joined by a pair of black bespoke oxfords from Maftei Vienna. It was a while now already that I was thinking about reintroducing black into my life, but I must admit that choosing black shoes is not as easy as it looks. However, in my mind’s eye there was this model that I had seen at a Japanese shoemaker, created on a last similar to mine, so everything was arranged with just a few emails exchanged. Whether you talk to Lucian or to Roxana, working with the Maftei house is always a pleasure. They are really open when it comes to last and design. The house doesn’t have its own, individual style – which is a great advantage for me, as I am no longer limited by a range of standard models and at the same time, I have the opportunity to let my imagination and creativity fly. It’s a shame that they only have shops in Vienna (and Oslo, recently – Roxana Maftei will take your orders for male and female bespoke shoes). But it is my feeling that they could do well with a stronger presence outside trunk-shows in both Western Europe and US. There is an ever-growing demand in the bespoke segment on the Eastern market, and except for Hungary, the provision is rather scarce.
So back à nos moutons: the moment I opened the box with the Maftei shoes and I inhaled the fragrance of the leather, my mind went back to the moment when I bought the first pair of Shoes. It was the same warm scent of the leather from that December morning back in Munich. I had gotten to Munich on a trip, and out of my total 300 Euro I had spent 280 Euro to buy a superb pair of Gravati derby shoes that were selling for a substantial discount due to their big size. Since then, I remember every detail of the moments when I met each of the pairs of shoes, and I can rebuild that moment in my mind, just like a man in love remembers the moment when he met the woman he loves.
I remember the sunny, yet chilly morning in Munich and the moment when I saw the pair of Gravati in the shop window; the wet evening in Budapest when I was almost alone on the street, lingering in front of the windows of the Vass shop that I visited on the next day; the leather textures in the Maftei shop and the amber colour of their alligator skin shoes; the oriental heat in Firenze and the refreshing taste of the ice-cream I was just finishing when I entered the Maninna shop in Via de’ Barbadori; the whirr of London when I got out of the shop in Jermyn Street with a superb pair of Edward Green Midnight Blue Brummel; the torrid afternoon when I crossed the Arno river in order to get to Stefano Bemer, and how I unfortunately didn’t manage to get there because there was a celebration of one of many Italian saints; or the day when I missed the meeting with Justin FitzPatrick at Gieves&Hawkes because I was in a rush to catch the plane. My memories might sound strange to someone that shoes mean nothing to, but for me they are like the small marbles that make the puzzle of life.
As for the Maftei shoes, I will let the photos speak for themselves. Next time you are in Vienna, don’t forget to go and meet Alexandru Maftei. In addition, in my view, they offer the best value for money in the bespoke segment.