Stefano Bemer: Bespoke shoemaker
Stefano Bemer is a wonderful bear of a man. Warm and generous, he has a reputation for training great shoemakers, as well as being one himself. He trained Daniel Day-Lewis (more of that in a separate post), he trained Justin Fitzpatrick (better known as The Shoe Snob), and when I visited he had three Japanese apprentices working for him. The fifth member of the team is his brother Mario, a cutter.
Stefano began his shoemaking career in the small town of Greve-in-Chianti, in 1983. He began by repairing a pair of his own shoes: he had a friend who worked for the quick-fix chain Mr Minute in the next town, and learnt the basics from him. Having fixed his own shoes, however, Stefano had a problem – he had no other pieces to work on. So he opened a shop in his home town, invited everyone and offered to repair one pair each. Armed with the resulting shoes, he closed the shop for 15 days and spent that mastering the art, one pair at a time.
The inspiration to actually make shoes came from a local aristocrat, who was impressed with Stefano’s work repairing a heel and offered to show him his bespoke collection. He had over 250 pairs, all made by John Lobb. “That showed me the beauty of bespoke shoes, the possibilities and the artistry,” he says. So Stefano moved to Florence to learn shoemaking.
The first shoe he made was for that aristocrat. It was a simple moccasin, made without measuring the client’s foot. “It wasn’t a bad fit, but it was a little too big and his heel slipped a little,” remembers Stefano. “I was very dispirited, but he was impressed at my ability to make something by eye and encouraged me to make more.”
He went on to make and repair for a widening circle of Italian nobility. And he emphasises the importance of this learning process. “When you repair shoes, particularly a fundamental repair to the welt for example, you learn a huge amount. You take apart the shoe and see how it’s put together. It shows you how all the best shoemakers in the world work their craft.” Stefano has grown to be one of the best-regarded bespoke shoemakers in Italy; he has since been given the freedom of the city by Greve-in-Chianti.
The quality of Stefano’s work should be obvious from the illustrations. There is also a good video (in Italian) on his site. His taste is generally towards the conservative in bespoke work, with slim but not pointy styles. He admires Cleverley, John Carnera in particular, but thinks Lobb needlessly heavy and most of the Italian makers – Berluti, Santoni, Lattanzi – too concerned with style over substance. But Stefano also likes to experiment in his way, with shoes made of basketball cordovan and bespoke driving shoes. The latter can be seen displayed below. The heel is made as per usual but built inside an undulating leather sole.
Stefano’s bespoke starts at €2300, plus €330 for the last with the first order. Importantly, he also does a wide range of made-to-order shoes that are made to exactly the same standard as the bespoke, with the individual attention to the making and hand stitching. There is only one machine in the studio, and that is a Goodyear antique that is no longer used.
Made to order starts at €890 and only takes 30 days. Bespoke takes three months and requires a fitting in Florence – Stefano does not travel, at least at the moment. His made to order is sold in Japan and Australia, as well as Florence in a separate store to the bespoke atelier.
Photography: Luke Carby