Some time ago I talked to a young shoemaker from Chisinau (Moldova), named Valentin Frunza (see interview here and here). Even from our first encounter I admired his courage, It takes a lot of guts to be a shoemaker nowadays, especially bespoke shoemaker. The market is quite narrow, and the fact that you must meet face-to-face with your clients makes your life hard, if you are not located in a major city. This is also a problem that some of the Hungarian and Italian shoemakers have.
Valentin did all the necessary steps in his craft, without skipping any of them. I could see that I wasn’t talking to someone who was just trying to sell you a product, but with someone who was selling something made by his own hands.
At the beginning, his shoes had a Hungarian look. They reminded me of the Hungarian MTO shoes – the stitching was correctly done, but it didn’t stand out by anything, the shoes had a solid aspect, but they didn’t capture your attention. The leather was of a good quality, but the selection was quite narrow, the sole was not very stylish, so, briefly, they lacked a lot in the part of finishing. Compared to a RTW Gaziano&Girling pair for instance, an unknowing buyer wouldn’t have had any big dilemmas.
Years passed and I talked a lot with Valentin since then and I observed the way in which he grew. He came to a point where the step towards the exceptional quality can be made quite easily. Valentin has all the tools necessary to get there and, I believe, he is, at this point, 2-3 years away from becoming a bespoke shoemaker that could compete with the major names in this field.
The design model preferred by Valentin is inspired by the Viennese model – a last that puts the accent on comfort. Accidentally, I was just wearing a Laszlo Vass pair of shoes, on a P2 last, one of the most comfortable Vass lasts, so his preference for comfortable lasts delighted me (he was wearing himself a monk model of Viennese inspiration). I wanted the last to be as similar as possible to the 3636 last from Vass, a more roamy last than P2. Valentin managed to give it the right proportions, although I think that for the next pair I will ask him to make it a little bit longer, in order to give it a more elegant look.
Starting from this experience, I would have some comments to make, comparing his period of start with his period of maturity.
The support offered by the shoe is a very good one, maybe the best that I experienced so far. I would say that this is the first thing that I noticed. In his shoes, the foot feels as if it were an orthopedic shoes. It is the kind of shoe that you would wear even when you’re in your pajamas.
His shoes gave me that bespoke feeling that I was looking for. I instantly knew that these shoes were mine. And that was nice.
The finishing is much better than used to be. The initial clumsiness is not visible anymore. Nevertheless, there is still a way to go until reaching finishes like those of Yohel Fukuda or Saint Crispin’s.
The leather selection increased considerably. The leathers are of the best quality (as far as I know the main supplier for calf is Herbert Kolde from Vienna). You can choose between calf, baby calf, grained leathers, suede and even exotic skins (here the selection is not a very ample one, but the skins that he has are special. I have seen an amazing alligator skin, but I did not have my camera with me. It was a marvelous leather.) For my shoe I chose caramel baby calf, because I wanted a thinner skin than the box-calf. The sole is a Rendenbach, he uses Vibram layer as sole option and Triumph metal caps.
Since Valentin is from Moldova, I wanted to have on the skin of the shoe a mark that would remind me of that. In order to avoid an ostensive look, I chose the back part of the shoe, where Valentin embossed a bison head – the blazon of the Republic of Moldova.
Patinas are not yet available, but for patinas we have Mr. Nurulaeff. Rather than doing something superficially, it is better to not do it at all. Valentin had several attempts at this, but since he wasn’t satisfied with the result, he has no available patina for the time being. To know your limits at a certain time is a very good thing for a shoemaker. I’ve seen very good shoes ruined by negligent patinas, patinas that were applied simply because it was trendy to do so.
Deborah Carre from Carreducker said once that “finishing is probably the most important skill in shoemaking from a customer’s point of view. It is what they see first and what they judge the shoes on – finishing, shape and proportion. A well finished shoe will sell itself, even if the construction and quality of the leather is poor. So it well worth concentrating on it and perfecting your skills”. So finishing matters when you want to sell on a market where the aesthetic matters. A bigger effort in this direction could produce an amazing return for Valentin, especially since the rest of the aspects support him.
Also, related to the aesthetic part future option should include close channel sole stitching (Valentin can do it and I believe that this option will soon be available) and fiddle back with bevelled waist (from my point of view this is useless, but I agree that fiddle-backs are quite sexy).
That would be the story of my own experience with Mr. Frunza. I do believe that we will hear again from one another related to a second pair…