Do your homework. The three most despised words I heard growing up but I see the wisdom of those words today more so than ever, especially when I’m shopping for something. As adults, we do homework now without even realizing it. From something as trivial as grocery to the significant purchase of a house, we are in a constant state of shopping for the best deal. Buying a shoe probably falls somewhere in the middle, especially if you’re purchasing a high-end quality handmade one for a pretty penny. Homework needed no doubt.
Armed with our minds and trusty computers, we go to the first place we can think of to start our research. The Google search bar. I’m personally attracted to more obscure brands from countries with a heritage in the item I’m looking for, shoe-making in this case. Internet aside, most people tend to think of Italy immediately and they’re right, it’s definitely a country with great shoe craftsmanship among other things. And this is how I came across Mario Bemer, a storied brand with a great selection of men’s shoes in a more traditional rounded last. Their atelier is located in Firenze (Florence) within the region of Tuscany, well known for its artisanal craft and fashion.
Brother of the late Stefano Bemer, a great Florentine shoemaker in his own right, Mario Bemer is forging their own path in the heart of Florence. Having read through everything I could find, I had a few questions of my own so I reached out to them to get a better perspective. Mr. Mario Bemer graciously agreed to answer a few questions on shoes and their home, Florence.
Tell us a bit about Mario Bemer.
Our aim is to create the highest quality handcrafted shoes. We have a ready-to-wear collection, an MTO service and an offering of bespoke shoes. Following the traditions of our ancestors who made every piece in Italy, we continue in much the same way but with an innovative spirit. We give special attention to details, choice of materials, and also provide advice on appropriate styles. All this is done in an effort to guarantee that the shoe reflects the personality of the man wearing it. The burgundy eyelet, found on each of our creations, characterizes a Mario Bemer shoe. I would say Mario Bemer is refined and discreet, for the man who wants to be distinguished, without being ostentatious.
Describe the shoemaking process.
We start by using some of the best vegetable tanned calfskins and suede, some of which are crafted just for us, from the town of Santa Croce Sull’Arno. A small town near Florence, it is world renowned for top quality leather production. Only the exotics (alligator, shark, etc.) are sourced abroad.
We then use these materials across our RTW, MTO and bespoke offerings. For RTW and MTO, we have three different last designed by us. For the Bespoke models, we totally customize the last for our clients to suit their sense of style. So there isn’t necessarily a last for the bespoke model, but just a “starter last”.
To produce a bespoke pair of shoes, we need around 40 hours if we’ve already produced a last for the client. Otherwise, we need another 10 to 12 hours to model the last. These hours represent the actual work going into the shoe but there are a lot of passive phases in the production required in order to produce a top quality shoe. I’m referring to something like wetting of the soles, which requires many hours to have right level of softness to work with. All the work is done 100% by hand on the bespoke, while the RTW and MTO have the first stitching of the welt by hand, and only the second stitching of the welt to the sole done by machine (a considerable enhancement which very few bespoke shoemakers in the world do). We work exclusively using the Goodyear welted construction, to give the utmost in comfort and durability. We are able to offer a patent rubber injected leather sole or with Vibram.
So this entire process normally takes around 10 weeks, from the day the client’s measurements are taken at the atelier to the day the bespoke shoes are ready for pickup. Of course, a fitting is done somewhere in the middle to ensure the shoes are to the client’s satisfaction. A beautiful hand painted patina is applied on the shoes, which we also offer on our MTO and RTW models.
Let’s talk a bit about Florence. Why is Firenze such a center for men’s fashion and what makes it special?
Firenze has been a center of fashion innovation since the renaissance. Throughout the centuries, Tuscan artisans have been known for being masters at crafting the finest leather goods, silks, gold and silver. Even today, those who want the best will come here. Oh, and Pitti Uomo of course!
What are the top three places to visit for Menswear (grooming, clothing, etc.) in Firenze, aside from Mario Bemer of course?
Liverano & Liverano (Via Dei Fossi, 43r) for the finest in Florentine bespoke tailoring, Leonardo Bugelli (Via Frà Bartolommeo, 21r) for the finest in bespoke shirts, and Eredi Chiarini (Via Porta Rossa, 33r) for a great selection of casual wear.
Best time to visit Firenze?
April, May and September through October. And all year round. What can I say, it’s home and I love it.
Your Advice to someone shopping for a shoe in Italy i.e. what details to look for and questions to ask.
A good sign is when you can actually speak with the shoemaker. Ask about the type of construction, the types of leathers used, which and why a certain stitching was used, and what differentiates this shoe from others. Then of course, trying on the shoe and getting a “feel” for the shoe.
Your favourite coffee shop and restaurant in Firenze?
Trattoria Gabriello is a typical local spot for great homestyle dishes, Santo Graal is an innovative restaurant with a great wine list. For caffe’, I would say there are many good bars but for the best croissant Dolcissima, a tiny pasticceria right across from my shop.
Your thoughts on purchasing a well made shoe and maintaining it over its lifetime?
A good quality shoe is made to last a lifetime. It should be kept in its tree when unworn, properly cleaned and waxed.
Photos: Mario Bemer via Paolo Matteoni