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Interviews

Mario Bemer (I)

November 19, 2014

Mario e StefanoI would like to start our conversation by talking about your brother Stefano’s personality. You pulled together with him, helping him turn the name Bemer into a Florentine brand. Although Stefano’s work is appreciated and known all around the world, few people actually know how your story began.

Stefano had a very strong personality. His qualities were stubbornness and generosity. His defects were that he did not like to delegate and liked to be the center of attention. Genius and unruliness.  In 1982 Stefano had a serious health problem, something that he carried with him to the end of his days: diabetes.   During that time he worked with a leather artisan who was making leather goods for Gucci. It was by chance that he was forced to repair a shoe, because in our town (Greve in Chianti) the only shoe repairman had passed away. It was here that he had the idea to open up a shoe repair shop of his own, and I financed him. After a period of training in Florence, he began his venture.

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“You learn by making mistakes” was his motto. After a couple of years, Stefano felt the need to move on from the small town, and he decided to transfer the shop to Florence. This is where the Stefano Bemer story begins, a story of which I was a proud and active participant in.  I started collaborating in 1999; it was the period in which our student Daniel Day Lewis was with us.  The shop was ready to expand. And we were also planning the opening of our shop in Tokyo, which opened in 2001.Work 2

My studies had been in technical design, and this was very useful in the initial phases of creating the style of our shoes. In time and with the daily experience I was dealing with, my tasks had expanded to cover several important roles, from developing and designing new models, creating prototypes and selecting and coordinating the various materials used for our shoes.  As the company grew, I was given the opportunity to manage the production laboratory, I was in charge of ordering the materials, shipping and handling, and was the direct contact with suppliers, buyers and clients.

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I know that eventually the business suffered due to financial difficulties, currently the one in charge with the Stefano Bemer brand being Tomasso Melani. I’d like you to clear some of the rumors referring to this change by telling me shortly how things happened.

The last few years were particularly difficult for Stefano  and the company.  He had to undergo dialysis on a daily basis, and this limited his participation in the company in a very determinant way. He was not able to follow and interact with our international clients as he had for many years; he had to give up doing trunk shows and visiting clients that we had all over the world. This greatly reduced our business relationships and as a result it impacted our bottom line. It’s not a secret that at the time of Stefano’s  passing the company had a problem of financial exposure with the bank. Under any normal circumstance this would have been a very manageable situation for a business such as ours. Unfortunately a very serious bureaucratic problem arose as Stefano’s children were minors at the time of his passing, and this completely paralyzed the company for seven months. This prevented us from continuing any work at the shop and this impasse created ulterior problems, both economic as well as with our image and relationship in regard to our clients.

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After that period we began talking with some Florentine companies with whom we had had a relationship and had collaborated with in the past. Some of them had expressed interest in bringing our experience and know-how to their brands.  Some of the companies with which we began talking were Ferragamo, Gucci, Stefano Ricci and others but the administrative procedures were proceeding very slowly.  An opportunity arose when the Scuola del Cuoio di Piazza Santa Croce quickly offered a solution, they created a new company calling it Stefano Bemer S.R.L, and placed Mr. Melani in charge.

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The minority stockholders in the company were Stefano’s children Alberto and Bruno, while Cristina (Stefano’s companion) and I were never stockholders in the new company. In the beginning I collaborated by bringing on board our previous suppliers and collaborators, reaching out to our buyers and suppliers as well as presenting a sense of fluid continuity. The intent was to create a seamless transition of the product and the brand.

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After a few months I began to have doubts about the organizational direction taken by the new ownership. And it was at this time that with great regret I realized that I was living a situation that was extremely distant from the ideas and philosophy that had so distinguished us. I have always felt that I had a moral duty to continue along the path that Stefano and I had carried on for over 30 years. This is the reason why I left the new Stefano Bemer S.R.L. and created my own brand and company.

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 To be continued