This Italian Shoemaker is Bent on Bringing Bespoke to More People
Though little known, Stefano Bemer was held in high regard by shoe connoisseurs. The self-taught shoemaker sought nothing but perfection when creating his line of bespoke footwear, which only made them synonymous to the highest standards of elegance and quality from Italy all the way to Japan. When Bemer passed away in 2012, it was one of his devotees who made it possible for the company to continue.
Tommaso Melani, the CEO of the new Stefano Bemer, has always been drawn to the uniqueness that customization offers. It was this notion of creating something extremely personal that he wanted to share with more men.
You could say that he democratized the experience of bespoke as what was once reserved for the highest realm of shoemaking has been made available to the worlds of made-to-order (MTO) and ready-made. These include components and exotic skins, or what the company calls the usual suspects, such as shark, elephant, hippo, croc, stingray, python, perch (as in the fish), and even a batch of Russian reindeer hide, which was recovered from a ship in 1786 and then “preserved using the tanning methods of the period.”
Melani sees a practical reason for the change. Sometimes you don’t need to go all the way to bespoke to reach its experience. “My size is 40.5, and I must admit I don't need bespoke,” he says. For a pair of fairly regular feet, the kind with no specific issues that need to be addressed, any of their ready-made shoes will pretty much deliver the same experience as their bespoke counterparts. Well, almost the same, he amends, as nothing will beat a personal last when it comes to comfort.
Melani comes from a family of leather craftsmen. His great-grandfather and grandfather founded Scuola Del Cuoio, a leathercrafts school for young men, in the Monastery of Santa Croce in Florence as a way to help the orphans of World War II. “They wanted to do something for the city. Since they had the skills, they decided, together with the Franciscan friars, to teach the orphans the craft,” he says. Eventually, the school evolved into a high-end leather goods company specializing in bags.
Though he “was raised among leather,” Melani points out that he does not have the skill to make shoes with Bemer-levels of quality. But he knows the processes by heart, having been trained by the Japanese masters, who themselves were trained by Bemer, and more important, what would make the work even better.
“I brought a little flair to the ready-made collection,” he says. There are more colors, new materials for ready-made and MTM, and more lasts (up to eight from the original four).
Also of note, the Bemer toe box is a little more elongated, which makes the asymmetric shape of the last more evident. “Our foot is not symmetric,” Melani says. “We support you by raising you on the instep and pushing you in. This gives you a position that I believe is correct and also very sexy.” In other words, comfort comes first, but there is also much effort to make you look good.
When asked about the Bemer look, the CEO brings up the Italian notion of sprezzatura or “that capacity of expressing style and elegance without being put together.” Melani points to the sandy brown tassel loafers on his feet. “You can wear them with pants and a jacket, but they will look perfect with jeans, as well,” he says.
Tommaso Melani, CEO of Stefano Bemer, and his made-to-order loafers
The loafers, by the way, are a made-to-order creation with very specific details: leather sourced from Argentina, suede tassels that are “contrasting but not too contrasting,” stitching that blends with the color of the leather, piping that matches the color of the sole, just to name a few. “That’s what I mean,” he adds. “It's something that you won't see on the shelves when you walk into a store.”
So, can you customize any of their styles? “Absolutely,” he responds. “It's mix and match. Choose the last, style, leather, and sole.” The permutations of MTM are endless. In his own words, the number of styles is “impossible” to count. While bespoke remains the heart of Stefano Bemer, Melani has made the made-to-order service its DNA.
“I thought that, first of all, you could get more in terms of quality. Second, you can get more in terms of style. Third, you can have a chance to express a bit of yourself,” he says. And at MTM’s particular price point, below the knee-shaking costs of bespoke, nothing beats this proposition.
Signet, Shangri-la at the Fort, Taguig