For the discerning modern man, the craft of traditional, handmade shoemaking and bespoke footwear is the answer to the desire for outstanding quality and individuality.
In the world of handmade shoes, the possibilities are endless: customise footwear to your taste, right down to the stitching and polished finish. Bespoke shoemaking — the top-level, ultimate luxury — allows you to create your own shoes from scratch using a wooden last that has been sculpted according to the exact shape and measurements of your feet, giving you free reign on every design element, from the material to the construction of the sole. Made to order, the next level in personalised luxury, allows you to completely customise a collection of styles, using a chosen wooden last and your unique selection of materials and finishes according to your personal taste.
Even though custom, handmade shoes are not easily available in South Africa, there are a few excellent options to satisfy your desire for top quality, personalised footwear. If you’re a global traveller, the options are ample, with many luxury brands and shoemakers calling France and Italy home.
1. ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA
Zegna’s Alessandro Sartori has created the brand’s first bespoke shoe offering, inspired by the unique personalities of a selection of his close friends. For this endeavour, Zegna is working with the only shoemakers in Savile Row — the epicentre of English tailoring. The collection features nine unique styles, which are transformed into bespoke, handmade shoes for each unique Zegna customer. Choose from the likes of the Zack Jodhpur boot, the Michael square dress Oxford, or the David laced loafer, which can be fully customised by choosing from a selection of 10 different leathers, 60 colours, 10 lining options, and even the height of the heel. A personal pair of bespoke Zegna shoes starts with the unique wooden last, hand carved to the specific shape of your foot, and will take two to three fittings and up to six months to complete.
2. MAISON CORTHAY
It takes 250 steps, 50 hours, and three fittings to complete a pair of bespoke Corthay shoes. You can create your own original pair of Corthay shoes, brought into being by the skill and hands of a Corthay craftsman. The wooden last is the crucial ingredient in Corthay’s bespoke process. At Maison Corthay, it is believed that “the last is the soul”, as they are carved completely by hand, according to the exact measurements of your foot. Choose your style and shape, your leather and finish, and further personalise your pair with a distinct colourful, hand-painted patina.
The name Berluti is synonymous with the exceptional craft of handmade shoemaking and the brand is well known for its naturally mineral tanned selection of premium and exotic skins, including iconic Venezia leather. Using six to 10 unique measurements of your foot and your exact specification of style, shape, material and finish, it takes 50 hours, over at least six months, to create the perfect wooden last, and craft your pair of handmade Berluti shoes.
• Bespoke Berluti shoes are available from the flagship store in Paris, or in one of the many boutiques around the world.
4. SALVATORE FERRAGAMO
Salvatore Ferragamo’s “Tramezza” is the secret to its iconic handcrafted shoes. Tramezza — which means “something in between” — is the thick layer of leather sandwiched between the insole and the sole, and the crucial ingredient to Ferragamo’s signature comfort. Ferragamo’s Tramezza made to order programme involves 260 phases, including more than four days spent shaping the upper of the shoe with the wooden last, and at least six hours stitching and polishing the shoe to perfection. Choose from three classic styles: the Oxford, the Monkstrap, and the Monkstrap boot, and completely personalise your pair.
• The Salvatore Ferragamo Tramezza made to order programme is available at all Ferragamo stores and online.
5. LOUIS VUITTON
Customise the classics with Louis Vuitton’s made to order service. Whether you’re looking for an Oxford, Derby, buckle shoe, or ankle boot, Louis Vuitton lets you completely personalise your shoes to epitomise your unique taste, with 3 000 possible combinations.
With a collection of unique wooden lasts, the brand offers three widths for every half size, meaning you get nothing but the perfect fit. Build your dream Louis Vuitton shoe with a choice of alligator, python, ostrich, and calf leather, finished with your preferred colour from eight shades, with the option of a hand-painted patina finish on certain skins.
• Louis Vuitton’s made to order service is available at six stores worldwide.
6. FRANK BESPOKE
Frank Bespoke is a local brand bringing the tradition and art of bespoke tailoring and handmade shoes to South Africa. The brand — which was started by Grant van den Berg, the master tailor behind the magic, with experience from Savile Row — offers a made to order shoe service that lets you customise your unique footwear with a choice from more than 100 different styles; 30 different leathers and materials, including calfskin and exotic crocodile skins; and your preferred colour and burnishing. Frank Bespoke shoes are handmade by in-house craftsmen and take up to seven weeks to complete.
• You can find Frank Bespoke in Johannesburg: Parkhurst 084-483-2015 and Bryanston 062-887-4691; Cape Town: Bree Street 074-888-2223.
• This article was originally published in the August edition of Wanted 2017, and was updated June 2019.