Stefano Bemer has in recent years become an increasingly important player in the Italian classic shoe sphere, with a more businesslike approach, RTW shoes and international expansion, while the company’s foundation with bespoke shoemaking and education have been maintained. Here is a closer look at the pride of Florence.
When I visit shoe factories and workshops around the world, mos often I get a bit “underwhelmed”, not necessarily in a negative way, often quite the opposite, but in most cases the shoe manufacturer in this range with classic men’s shoes are significantly smaller than what you think. Now I have got used to it, but for example, the first time I visited one of the major manufacturers in Northampton I imagined a giant factory with high ceilings, posh reception and little upturned nose on the management, instead I was met by an ordinary small factory, a doorbell, and a CEO and grandson of the founder who was like a friend immediately and spend almost a full day and evening with some cobblers and a blogger. The famous, renowned bespoke houses in England and also in other areas are in most cases small mini workshops, and so on. Of course there are exceptions, but overall things are smaller and more accessible than what I had pictured them, and what I think many people have pictured them. This has become one of the things I really like about this business, it’s part of why it’s so interesting to get involved with the topic.
Stefano Bemer is still nice and familiar, but when it comes to the showroom and workshop I was very surprised with how large the premises are. It’s a converted church on Via di San Niccolo at the southern shore of the Arno river in a three-stores high building. You enter into a large hall where numerous bespoke samples, MTO variants and RTW shoes fill the shelves along the walls, while several work benches for the company’s bespoke makers houses in the middle of the room. Through a hallway full of the brand’s lavish shoe boxes of wood one enters a new part where the uppers are cut out and closing is made, and where they also have stocks of all materials. On the second floor one are greeted by a kind of studio where more creative work is carried out, and then another showroom and sitting area. At the top of the third floor is the classroom, or what to call it, where they host the company’s famous courses in shoemaking.
Stefano Bemer began his career in 1983 in Greve, Chianti, when he took over the local cobblery. He later moved to Florence, studied shoe design and went as an apprentice under one of the city’s older bespoke shoemakers. Bemer then started his own bespoke workshop, which attracted greater and greater success. With the years and the experience he began to increasingly accept apprentices to teach footwear, and several of those now established in the profession around the world have begun with Bemer once. In the early 2010’s, Stefano suffered a severe liver disease, and he passed away in the summer of 2012, at the age of 48.
It was for a while unclear what would happen with the company, but in the end it was taken over (or technically a new company was started with Stefano Bemer’s name) of Bemer’s former agent and partner Tommaso Melani, with a background at the leather bag brand Scuola del Cuoio. It under the new ownership they have moved into these premises, launched RTW and MTO shoes and additionally started the shoemaking school, to build on Stefano’s willingness to pass on the profession.
In Stefano Bemer’s premises works 12 people, three master bespoke makers, several apprentices and also other staff. Here’s only the company’s bespoke shoes are made, available in two variants. Regular full bespoke made entirely by hand, completely according to the customers requirements, they start at €3 600, and are called Sixpence bespoke. They also have Blue bespoke, which is a bit cheaper and simpler where just single leather soles are offered so they can use pre made bottom parts, and where the sole stitch is made with machine, it starts at € 2 450. Delivery times are relatively short, 4-6 weeks for fitting, then 6-8 weeks before the shoes are finished. What is extra interesting is that they also have an Express version of the bespoke, where one while visiting Florence can get fitting shoes made in just two days, a service they have developed since the majority of their customers are international (only two to three percent isItalian).
Company’s RTW and MTO shoes are made in a small factory just outside Florence, they are hand welted with machine made sole stitch, where RTW start at € 1,150.
Production is small. They make approximately 150-200 full bespoke, 300 Blue bespoke and 3000 RTW/MTO shoes a year. But they want to grow, and do grow all the time, both with retailers and in-house. Last year, they opened its own showroom in New York, they have a showroom in Milan, and are also looking to open one in Hong Kong.
Regarding the bespoke shoemaking many of those who are employed by Stefano Bemer today have been trained here, either by Stefano himself or in the school that was started with the new company in 2013. The school has 10-12 students each semester, which for six months are learning the basics of making shoes by hand. Six months in the school cost € 11,000. There are at least two students there now that they believe will stay within the company, they try to keep the most talented ones. One have to think ahead.