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Very few shoemakers continue the tradition of designing and manufacturing handmade tailored shoes. But those who maintain the legendary craft of creating true leather artworks have become suppliers of luxury and comfort, as well as the ultimate form of personalized attire, for both men and women. No one knows for sure when shoemaking became a profession of high reputation, but according to Egyptian historical records, the profession has existed for at least 4,000 years. And although the knowledge and the subtleties of the craft have been refined over the years, the process of making a pair of handmade shoes has followed the same principles for the last two centuries. The intention, of course, is making each pair an authentic, unique creation.
A shoemaking firm of the highest reputation that goes back more than 150 years is Britain’s John Lobb. In its workshops, located in London’s Savile Road and rue de Morgador in Paris, artisans create unique models that result in true works of art, following the precise measurements and specifications of each customer.
John Lobb’s footwear is still made by hand in the traditional way, using only the finest materials from Britain and the Netherlands and following a process that involves 190 steps. It takes several weeks to produce a single pair.
Another of the few workshops that continue practicing this art is the renowned Bálint Maßschuhe in Vienna. Established by the Hungarian artist Lajos Bálint, this exclusive label acquired enormous popularity thanks to the precision with which Bálint takes measurements of each foot and the perfect fit of each piece. “A person that goes to a shoe store is not only looking for shoes, but also for understanding and advice on the proper care of their feet,” said the footwear master.
Meticulously designed and exquisitely crafted, all pairs of shoes created by Bálint are manufactured with absolute accuracy according to the volumetric details of each customer’s feet. Today, the work of Lajos Bálint continues under the direction of his son, Bela. However, it seems that only the name is enough to guarantee the finest craftsmanship.
Himer und Himer Maßschuhe in Cologne, Germany, is one of the youngest and most audacious firms in the bespoke shoe business. It has earned global fame for the perfection of their already classic golf shoes, and their demanding and exclusive clients must wait months for what they consider the best handmade and tailored shoes.
Himer und Himer footwear is the favorite of many celebrities, and even the shoe industry tends to query its founder, Axel Himer, for his expertise in transforming the finest materials into masterpieces of luxury and comfort.
Meanwhile in Rome, the customers of the firm Gatto include movie stars, princes, kings and ambassadors since it was established in the 1930s. A legendary phrase of King Alfonso XIII of Spain confirms the quality of this luxury shoe firm: “In Rome, there are two wonders: the Sistine Chapel and Gatto’s workshop”.
When it comes to handmade and tailored shoes, designers tend to maintain the “classic” style, distinguished by elegance and sobriety. But being the most exclusive and expensive shoes, the client’s wishes are always taken into account. In this way, customers can not only choose from a wide range of fine materials and colors, but they can bring their own design to be executed with expertise by the hands of the most skilled footwear masters in the world. ■