The seamless wholecut is a model that spent decades in oblivion before a rather unknown British freelance bespoke shoemaker revived the model a bit over a decade ago, causing a boom in manufacturers who set out to make the model. Shoegazing tells the story of one of the most difficult shoe models to make.
Given the latest article I posted, I thought this was a suitable follow up to that. A seamless wholecut is, just as it sounds, a shoe made from a piece of leather completely without seams. More information on how it’s actually done further down in the article. Who “invented” the model and was the first to make it is, as in many cases, a bit unclear, but it’s documented that it was done in the 19th century. Makers at this time pushed things on all regards possible, and in this environment it’s logic that a model like this appears. Among other things, there were some who made seamless boots that would be pulled onto the foot. In Northampton, UK, there was a man who worked in one of the area’s many shoe factories who, in his spare time, amused himself by making seamless wholecuts. He made a number of them before he passed away, and the Northampton Shoe Museum displays one of them, with several others in the museum’s collection. Many of them were probably entries in the many shoemaking competitions held in England, and many other places, at this time.
But in the first half of the 20th century, the model became rarer and rarer, largely because fewer and fewer shoes were being made on a small scale by bespoke shoemakers and others, instead large factories producing big quantities of shoes daily took over more and more. In these contexts, there was no time for excesses like seamless wholecuts.
So by the second half of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century, the model had more or less completely fallen into oblivion, although it likely was made in the silence in some places. They didn’t appear more widely anywhere, and the knowledge of how to make them faded. So, now we’re in 2009, and a British freelance bespoke shoemaker working for several of the UK bespoke houses, is fascinated with the the model and starts to make seamless wholecuts again. One of the regulars on StyleForum, Rolf Holzapfel, is a customer and friend of the freelancer, and when he was there to visit, the freelancer brought out a shoe and said “do you see anything special?”. Upon inspection, Rolf realised it had no stitching, and immediately asked the shoemaker to make him a pair. He had also recently seen it done by French bespoke maker Dimitri Gomez. Rolf then posted a picture of his shoes with just the uppers over the last and a brief explanation of how it was done on StyleForum, and immediately when the bespokes makers D.W. Frommer and Marcell Mrsan saw this, they set out to test it. Marcell Mrsan, who has a popular blog about shoemaking, then posted pictures and info about his attempts there, and even more people caught on to the seamless wholecut.
In the same period, Gaziano & Girling had the freelancer make a pair for one of their clients. He was doing all the upper closings for G&G’s bespoke department at the time. Gaziano & Girling then went on to have him do seamless wholecuts for their bespoke clients, and became somewhat associated with the model. When the Swede Daniel Wegan joined G&G in 2010, he learned how to make the seamless shoes, and he was the one making them until he left to start Catella Shoemaker. Daniel ran on a trial and error approach when he started trying to make them. In the UK, only Daniel and this freelance bespoke shoemaker make them, but with the freelancer working for many different manufacturers, many of the other houses offer them, such as Foster & Son and John Lobb Ltd.
As mentioned, looking back the past decade a number of different manufacturers have started making this type of shoe, except for the one mentioned above. Some bespoke makers to be mentioned apart from the ones above are Yohei Fukuda, Roberto Ugolini, Clematis Ginza, Jan Kielman, Maftei, Antonio Meccariello, Il Quadrifoglio, Guild of Crafts, Dmitri Gomez and others. On the Ready to Wear side, the model is made by for example Saint Crispin’s, Enzo Bonafé, Acme and Oriental Shoes. Seamless boots have also started to appear, kind of the same thing where someone made it and then it spread quickly. For example, Bestetti and Meccariello have done it.
Making a seamless wholecut is difficult, as stated earlier. It puts enormous strain on the leather, and it takes time. And you don’t only need to get the leather stretched out ok over the last, it has to be even, it has to be done right, it has to hold up well. If you go through the process, it looks pretty much the same for everyone who does it, although there are certainly some variations. The leather used needs to be reasonably elastic and have high tensile strength. That’s why the model isn’t made in for example shell cordovan (several have tried and failed). So it’s suitable varieties of smooth or textured calfskin that are used in most cases. The upper leather is cut into an elliptical shape and then thoroughly soaked. Some soak the leather in almost boiling water to soften it, others leave it in water in a plastic bag overnight, some just spray it. Then it’s time for the most demanding part, when the leather is to be blocked.
Blocking is when the leather is shaped, so to speak, before it is cut. Pulling the leather around something is no big deal and quite easy to calculate how much it stretches and so on, but when the leather is going to be bent inwards so to speak over a larger area, it is in many cases an advantage to first block it to get the shape, and then cut it. The method is most often used for blocking vamps up over the instep of high boots or boots such as chelsea boots and jodphurs. But also then when it’s other demanding types of shoes. For a seamless wholecut, blocking is essential, as you have to shape the upper before you can pin it to the lining and then last it properly.
When blocking the upper leather on this model, you pull it over the leather alone, without lining or anything. This is done by slowly and methodically pulling the leather and having it spread evenly over and around the last. There will be a lot of excess material, especially around the arch, which is a challenge to deal with. Often the blocking is done in batches, so as not to stress the leather too much, and it stays on the last for a long time.
Once it has been blocked and rested on the leather for a while, the next difficult step is to cut the opening. Since the leather is stretched from the top of the lasts, so to speak, it will contract and drop downwards once that tension is released. So when cutting the opening you have to calculate the correct amount for this, and cut a centimetre or so above where you actually intend the top of the opening to be. After it’s cut, the top leather is allowed to sit on the leather for a while longer and you make sure it contracts and sinks properly, before it’s taken off and stitched together with the lining and tongue.
Next is the actual lasting, but by then the top layer is already formed and stretched correctly so this step is not as difficult as the blocking. All the excess leather has already been removed. Then, of course, it’s extra important to get it even and good across the last, given the special construction. From here on, the shoes are then made like any other.
A seamless wholecut is far from the most practical shoe you can make. The leather will be under extra stress, there’s no getting away from that, and more creases and small cracks will form than usual. These are probably not the shoes that will last the longest. Regardless, they are steadily growing in popularity. It’s a model that fascinates shoe enthusiasts, and will certainly continue to do so.
Hej, Jesper. so interesting article 🙂
In Japan, in 2005, Nobuyoshi Seki who is Japanese veteran shoemaker also made the seamless wholecut (he passed away last year).
In addition, Union Royal made to sale the seamless wholecut in October 2009.
This is a limited edition model and the brand name is Soffice & Solid.
They made the seamless wholecut for the shoes contest in Torino 47-48 years ago and made it as a reproduction model in October 2009.
And, in March 2010, I saw Maftei was exhibiting some samples of the seamless wholecut, in addition, in October 2014 I saw Maftei was exhibiting a sample of the seamless wholecut boots.
I heard that Dmitri Gomez was exhibiting the seamless wholecut before March 2010.
And maybe in the early to mid 2000s, Peron ＆ Peron was exhibiting the sample of seamless wholecut at a Japanese shop.
It is so interesting model, I want to order this model in the future.
Tack for good article 🙂
And I’m sorry for my poor English.
Daisuke: Thanks for your comment, and as always great insight! Yeah, as I understand it a lot of those also came after those SF discussions, but can of course be that that was also sparked from somewhere. Something seemed to have happened in 2009 at least, that was sort of the “rebirth” year of the model on a wider scale 🙂
On the ready to wear side, I would like to mention Berluti and Santoni – they both launched seamless wholecut shoes at some point during 2018-2019.
Berluti’s model is called “Zero Cut”. It has a wood pegged outsole and cannot be resoled. Having said that it’s still quite an achievement for a shoe brand that has moved into men’s fashion.
In 2019, Italian shoe giant Santoni launched the “Uniqua” models, the seamless Oxford shoes and Oxford boots. From their videos the shoes seem to be hand-welted.
Interesting enough, some of the unsold Santoni Uniqua models are still available on outlet sites such as Yoox.
Tom HO: Absolutely, there’s both more bespoke makers and factories doing them than I mention above. Another example is John Lobb Paris who did four different seamless models as their Artisans’ series in 2018 (oxford, single monk, loafer etc).
This article was actually written back in 2014 for Swedish version of Shoegazing, then I updated it now when translated it and just threw in some of the names I had top of mind of who’ve done the model since then.
A Great research and article!
Can you give me a name of references/book which describes Seamless whole-cut shoes in the 19th century?
I have searched it in the past, on the way establish the easy technique and methodology, and I know one seamless whole-cut Ladies shoes that is most likely produced sometime between 1880-1900 in England, from the details metal eyelets which was invented 1880s, particular type of stacked leather Louis Heel popular 1880-1910, almost straight(non asymmetric ) old shoe-last, paper thin (less than 0.6mm) upper and glove-like kid lining, a old fashion way cut patterns etc.
And from my experience of making seamless whole-cut, I thought the original idea of Seamless whole-cut may come from primitive “Leg shoes/boots” which has no seam as the same, technically it is made by using peeled off leg-skin without vertical slit from an animal before tanning and re-last it onto boot last.
J: Thanks a lot! Sorry, don’t know any books etc covering it. Yeah there’s plenty of different types of seamless wholecuts that’s been made through the years. Don’t think anyone really can say how it first started, happened too long time ago and are one of those things that were made in various places without knowing of each other, so to speak.