Your latest book is expected to appear in October, at the Frankfurt fair. This time, the focus is on the shoes. Can you tell me why you chose this theme and how the book is structured?
I have written more than a dozen books since “Gentleman” was first released in German in February 1999, followed by versions in English, Swedish and Spanish in the same year. From my experience I know that shoes are the part of the wardrobe that interests men the most as a single subject. I’d never do a book about shirts for example even though one could write a whole book about shirts, fabrics, shirtcare. Most of my books cover the whole wardrobe but if a book covers a single subject shoes are always most successful. I have published the book “A Guy’s Guide To Shoes” which sold very well in several languages but it covers all types of shoes.
I had wanted to write about bespoke shoes for many years and when I offered the subject again last year the publisher finally commissioned me to write it because they were looking for a successor of the highly successful book about handmade shoes which has been on the market for almost as long as my book “Gentleman”.
Have you collaborated with a particular shoemaker for writing this book?
I knew that I would work with the photographers Martin Smolka and Tommi Aittala, because they are experts for this subject and excellent photographers. We looked at a couple of places and spoke to a number of craftsmen in Europe. I had heard a lot about Korbinian Ludwig Heß in Berlin recently so I visited his workroom and suggested that we take the photos there.
Berlin was perfect because I wanted to be present at the shootings. Korbinian works very traditionally in the Viennese tradition, he is perfect to show how shoes are made in the traditional way. He is also very good at lastmaking. He was very patient and gave us completely free insight which was a great help. His uppers maker Shigeki Montezuka from Japan was also fantastic.
When exactly is the book supposed to be launched?
The book will be launched in German in the middle of October. We will present it at the bookfair in Frankfurt and then at Korbinian Ludwig Heß’ workroom in Berlin. Afterwards in Hamburg and Düsseldorf. I am sure that we will do more presentations afterwards including one in Vienna hopefully. I am pretty sure that the book will be translated into English very soon.
The German market is a particular market from the point of view of the customers’ preferred design. What do they mostly prefer? Are there differences between regions?
There are basically two types of clients in Germany. One type is very conservative, they only order very classical shapes, colors and leathers. This customer usually wears his shoes as a part of his business outfit. They usually go for bespoke because they want perfect fit and a very long lasting shoe. The second type orders a bespoke shoe because he wants something unusual that he cannot find anywhere else. Fit is of extreme importance for every German customer because the perfectly fitted and comfortable shoe is the big advantage of the bespoke shoe, more important that the looks by the way. I don’t think that the region is very important with regard to the choice of styles, these customers are usually men who travel a lot.
Were we to make a visit mainly to see shoemakers, what names should we put on our list as a must see?
The oldest businesses in Germany usually don’t go back longer than the 1960s or 70s, there are none of the big pre-war names left. In Austria it’s a different story, a couple of shoemakers were founded in the 19th century or in the early 20th century, for example Scheer or Materna. In the 1970s-80s Harai in Neumünster, which is north of Hamburg, was the most exclusive bespoke shoemaker, he was Hungarian. He made bespoke shoes for a number of important industrialists. His son has taken over the business but he is not as famous now as his father used to be.
Another name to mention in Neumünster is Vauk, although I am not sure if he is still in business. In Leipzig Sascha Halm and Manuel Bär are interesting too. Probably the most renowned name in Germany today is Benjamin Klemann in Hamburg. He has a great reputation both among customers and his colleagues.
In the south Vickermann & Stoya in Baden-Baden have a very good name and of course the world champion of shoemaking Patrick Frei in Freiburg. In Berlin you should look at Hennemann & Braun, Posh Schuhe, Anna Rakemann and of course Korbinian Ludwig Heß and outside Berlin Kay Gundlack.
Kay Gundlack is well known for very excentric shoes because many of his customers are musicians, for instance he makes the shoes for the violinist David Garrett. Also for actors, TV presenters and comedians. Most of his customers are nevertheless businessmen and they usually order conservative styles. The owner of KPM (Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur), Jörg Woltmann, wears his shoes for example.
Kay has made a pair of shoes for me a couple of months ago and they are just so good. He is an excellent lastmaker and also a very good shoemaker. He was trained together with Martin Stoya of Vickermann & Stoya in east Germany just around the time of the reunification. East Germany used to have very good shoemakers. It’s interesting that Kay is one of the shoemakers who don’t make a trial shoe and I really wondered if this could work out but the result is perfect.
What are the most used technical procedures? Do they still use the wooden pegs technique nowadays?
Most shoemakers make handwelted shoes, some use Blake stitch. Norvegese, which is called zwiegenäht in German, is also frequently being used while I don’t know of any German shoemaker who used wooden pegs. In Austria this technique is fairly common but not in Germany, customers almost always expect a hand welted shoe.
Is there a future in Germany for this job? Do young people head towards studios in order to become assistants?
The future looks better now than it did 20 years ago but many apprentices come from foreign countries to Germany. I do believe in the future of bespoke shoemaking.
To be continued…