He has produced some of the world’s finest shoes for over 12 years, he is highly praised by the bespoke shoemaking colleagues in Japan, and basically everyone who ordered from him celebrates his shoes. Still there are relatively few in Japan and around the world who know much about him. Meet Eiji Murata, the man behind the brand Main-d’Or.
After riding the train half an hour from central Tokyo, taken a taxi and traveled another 15 minutes, I step out on a tiny little street with low buildings, without a person as far as I can see (which is rare over here). I’m in Chiba, part of the Greater Tokyo area but technically a separate city, located by the Tokyo Bay’s northeast corner. On a glass door there’s a small sign saying “Bespoke Shoemaker – Main-d’Or”. Here inside you find first a reception and showroom, behind this the workshop in two parts that are actually relatively spacious for being for one single shoemaker. Eiji Murata greets me and the Japanese style blogger Daisuke Yamashita, who kindly joined me to act as interpreter, welcome and ask us to settle down in the brown leather chairs and sofa available in the sparsely decorated showroom, and then go to put on some Japanese tea. In a big old glass cabinet behind me stands some 15 sample shoes, some of the most delicate creations I’ve ever seen.
Eiji Murata is 42 years old and grew up here in Chiba. His father was a pattern maker at a shoe factory in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, which today houses a large amount of mainly small manufacturers of various kinds of shoes, and even some factories. Also his big brother early on started working within the shoe industry.
– To talk about shoes and care about shoes have been a natural part of my childhood, Eiji Murata says.
So after school, it was natural that he sought out the shoe business. But at that time there was virtually no active bespoke shoemakers in Japan, so that wasn’t really on the map for Eiji to be doing. Instead, he started at The Esperanza Institute of Footwear Design and Technique, one of no less than three big shoe design and shoemaking schools in Tokyo, and while studying he worked extra on a factory that manufactured women’s footwear. At the school Chihiro Yamaguchi held design courses, and over 15 years ago he founded Guild of Crafts, one of the more well known bespoke shoe brands in Japan and one of the pioneers of the great revival this area has had in the country.
– I was very inspired by what Chihiro Yamaguchi and his colleagues did, and realized that working with handmade bespoke shoes also was what I wanted to do.
So that was what he took aim towards. He joined a small shoemaking education in Shinden outside of Tokyo, called Kagami Shoemaking School founded by the same Fusao Kagami who also developed a system for measuring up feet which is well known Japan (which on another note Eiji Murata also follows to some extent). He learned a lot while being there, and practiced a lot on his own. After that, about 12 years ago, he founded his brand Main-d’Or.
– And I was lucky, because one of my first customers was a man who was good friends with some of those who ran the Japanese men’s style magazine Men’s Ex. They made a small article about his order from me, and through this I then directly made a customer base, Eiji Murata says.
Ever since then, 12 years ago, the shoemaking itself has only been a part of his employment. Around the same time he also started teaching at the school where he started, at Esperanza, where he held technical courses. Some periods there have been more teaching, some a little less, today he teaches one-two days a week.
When it comes to Main-d’Or Eiji Murata does everything himself. Measuring, last making, production of fitting shoes, closing, making, finishing – everything. Even in Japan, where bespoke brands often are smaller operations than in Europe, at least the closing is done by a specialist.
– A lot has to do with the fact that I want to have control over the entire process. But yes, closing is the part that I still am a little nervous about when doing, Eiji Murata says.
He always makes two pairs of fitting shoes for all customers. Both are hand welted and made as the final shoe up to the sole and heel, which are only glued on, since that part really doesn’t affect how the shoes are perceived fit-wise. First test shoe is a little simpler, and tested only a little shorter at spot, so Eiji can see how they fit and get feedback from the customer. The second fitting shoe have a proper sole and heel, and are sent to the customer who wears them for a time to really get an idea of the fit, and then takes them to the meeting with Eiji Murata for the second review of the fit. Then the final pair is produced. And the delivery time is very long, it takes about six months between each fitting and the final pair to be made. So 18 months in total.
Cause the production is very small, both because he always does two fittings and that he works as part-time teachers, but also since he puts a lot of time on each order. A total of somewhere around 150 hours, with all the steps included, making the starting price of about €2 600 (290 000 yen) may be regarded as quite reasonable. Previously it was only Japanese customers, nowadays some are international, about 20%. He only makes about 15 pairs a year.
I saw a pair of shoes from Main-d’Or for the first time a few years ago, on picture in a topic on Japanese shoes StyleForum. I was immediately fascinated. What struck me first was the elegant lasts and the shine, both on the shoe and the soles, then I looked closer and saw the extremely high level it seemed to be on the craftmanship. I have since tried to find as much pictures and info as possible of the brand and Eiji Murata, and although some appeared every now and then, as at for example the Japanese style site Boq and in some other contexts, it’s surprisingly little one can find. One explanation is that he does not have its own website or are active in any social media at all.
– Firstly, I’m very bad at modern technology, old craft is more my thing. And I also feel that I don’t have time for that, Eiji says.
As I now stand here in Chiba opening the door to the display cabinet, the shoes really are as amazing as they are perceived in pictures, or even better. There’s a very high level of the finish of the details, the shoes are perceived as almost zealously made, with heavily built-up waists, in some cases hand-sewn sole stitches at 18 spi (stitches per inch), and sophisticated details like how upper part of the heel is elevated and surrounds the upper. The style is not old classic British, such as Marquess, or Italian like Spigola, or Japanese as Clematis. If anything, they are more British in a way, but I think they have their own character, their own style. And Eiji Murata’s shoes are those that makes you more impressed the more you look, instead of the opposite which otherwise can often be the case, that they look great at first glance but the more you look the more flaws you discover. I certainly understand why he has the high reputation he has.
Eiji Murata shows us the workshop in the back with several different workplaces depending on the manufacturing operations. It’s neat and organized, as often in Japanese workshops, only the desk where he makes the design can be classified as a bit messy. He has been here for a couple of years, and appreciate the relatively large space. Previously he had the workshop in his home in Tokyo, which was much smaller and more cramped. Now he has moved out to Chiba again, within walking distance to the workshop.
Eiji is perceived as one of the most dedicated people I’ve met in the shoe business, one that truly lives to make shoes. He sees it as a privilege to be working with the best thing he knows, and have no problem to spend a huge amount of time on it. He works ten hours a day, seven days a week. Just on some holidays, he is off.
I ask if he hasn’t thought about stop teaching, and focus completely on the shoemaking.
– Well, sure, making shoes is my passion, it’s what I love. With teaching I feel that I have a responsibility. A responsibility to spread the knwoledge I had the opportunity to learn, make sure that the craftsmanship will live on, live on in the right way.
As mentioned, for Eiji Murata’s shoes more than just a profession.
I placed an order for a pair of Main-d’Or shoes, and will now go back to Japan in spring and next fall, to do the two fitting sessions. Then the end result and the process will result in a buyer’s guide on the blog. To contact Eiji Murata, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if his English is very limited, it’s possible to order from him with some help from Google Translate and the English written order info he has for international visitors (you can see them on the last picture above).