Last week I was in Japan and Tokyo, where I visited several bespoke shoemakers and shoe shops which in one way or another will be featured on the blog. First up is a report from my visit to Clematis Ginza, the alias for Keitaro Takano who is one of relatively few completely Japanese schooled bespoke makers.
Ginza is Tokyo’s main shopping district, where the main streets are lined with the logos of the luxury brands on their stores’ window displays and where several large department store houses, and the smaller streets is packed with other stores which usually also belong to some sort of high-end segment. A bit on the outskirts of this is Clematis Ginza has its workshop. On the second floor (in Tokyo many shops, restaurants and other activities are one or several stories up or down) in a building with a yellow brick facade. You step into the showroom with a green carpet and one side is covered with sample shoes on lighted shelves. Directly adjacent is the workshop, and the total area including the showroom is no larger than perhaps 40 m2.
Here I’m greated by Keitaro Takano, the man behind the brand Clematis, and the clicker and closer Chiemi Chiba. Keitaro doesn’t speak English, but Chiemi can decently so she translates for us. Keitaro Takano is actually one of relatively few of all the 50+ bespoke makers active in Japan who are schooled in the home country. Otherwise, most received their training and passed as apprentices in England or Italy, or when the market have become well established in Japan one go as an apprentice there at someone who has been in England or Italy. But Keitaro Takano’s master, Nobuyoshi Seki, is one of only a few old Japanese bespoke makers. When Keitaro joined him in 2000, at the age of 25, there was only Hiro Yanagimachi, Guild of Craft and maybe someone more of all of the new wave of bespoke shoemakers in Japan who had started up their business.
– I learned a lot from Nobuyoshi Seki, both the craft course, but also to understand the soul of the shoe. At the same time it was tough, Seki was a hard person and at least initially I was a little bit afraid. He was very strict, but the better I got, the nicer he were, Keitaro Takano says.
Keitaro was a number of years at Seki, he also worked shorter periods for some of the other bespoke shoemakers who started to establish themselves in Japan, before he in 2008 started up his own brand Clematis (the name comes from a flower). Then he had already managed to make a bit of a name for himself, so it went quite fast to start up a customer base.
The fact that Clematis has his base in the small Japanese school that has existed have made his shoes to stick out against many of the other European-trained colleagues in Japan. They have their own character. This has also been a clear ambition for Keitaro.
– I wanted to do something new, something of my own. Obviously the foundation is classic models and so on, but I often try to take things in in its own direction. I also like the interaction with the customers, how you take your own base and meet their wishes, and create something beautiful for that customer, he says.
Keitaro’s lasts are a bit special in shape, which reminds some of Eastern European manufacturers more elegant lasts, and the models often have sweeping curves of stitches and decorations. The soles are often different types of plant-inspired decor and the heels have a characteristic leaf shaped piece of rubber. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but the shoes really have a Japanese feel to them. And the level of craftmanship is fantastic. Beautiful heels with straight-laid distances, very clean hand-sewn sole stitches made with a so-called stitch prick that gives a distinct and more alive mark than a fudge wheel, and he often puts a small channel in the edge of the sole as nice and quite unique decoration. It’s easy to understand why Clematis is highly regarded by the Japanese bespoke clients.
The first period with Clematis Keitaro, as is often the case for Japanese bespoke shoemakers starting up, worked from a workshop in the home. He then slowly worked his way up, could move into these premises, hired Chiemi Chiba as a closer, and just recently also launched a Ready to Wear collection.
– They are made by a small Japanese firm called Joe Works, who I have known for a long time, said Keitaro Takano.
It’s shoes in the premium segment, but with a competitive price tag one have to say, which is often the case for Japanese-made shoes. They are priced at around €650 (about 85,000 yen). From February they will be sold in the Japanese department store Isetan Men’s shoe department.
In the workshop production Keitaro and Chiemi make about 60 pairs of shoes a year. Clematis offers two different types of orders. Semi-bespoke/Made To Measure where they make minor corrections to standard lasts, and you may choose from the standard models Clematis has, though some pattern changes can also be made. And full bespoke, which means one or more fittings with test shoes and produce a completely individual last, and where model is entirely free to choose. Both variants can be selected to be done with machine stitched sole stitch, so-called 90% handmade, or completely handmade. The price for the semi-bespoke 90% handmade starting at €1300 (170,000 yen) up to full bespoke that is entirely handmade where prices start at about €2850 (370,000 yen). Prices are excluding VAT at 11%, but international customers can deduct VAT on the spot.
Eventually Keitaro Takano is hoping to be able to grow with some additional employees in the workshop, while RTW shoes can hopefully sell reasonable well.
– I would also like to do trunk shows in Europe in the future, it would have been great to try and meet that market too.