Finally, after several delays due to the pandemic, I’ve now been able to travel to Freiburg, Germany, and the Patrick Frei workshop, and the progress of my bespoke pair from them can now progress. In this article we’ll follow the fitting, modifications of the last, and second fitting.
The first part of this article series, with the measurement and ordering process, can be found here.
So, for those who’ve managed to miss it, Patrick Frei is considered one of the top bespoke makers around, who started his business about 13 years ago, and who became known to the masses after winning the World Championships in Shoemaking 2018. Today he works together with the Japanese maker Kazuya Kimura, who joined Patrick’s workshop two years ago. What’s sort of special is that, apart from lastmaking which mainly Patrick does, they both work together on all other parts – design, pattern making, upper making, bottoming, finishing, where there is a mix in who do what and they fill in each others work a lot. They are sort of merging German traditional shoemaking and Patrick’s highly personal style with Kazuya’s Japanese perfection. At the moment they also have shoemaker Pierre-Baptiste L’Hospital in the workshop, who is doing his Les Compagnons des Devoirs tour (the traditional French educational programme for crafts based on apprenticing years at various artisans). After being at Anthony Delos of Berluti and then Masaro in Paris, he is now here for one year as part of his training.
It was when I met with Patrick in London back in 2019 that the order process was started and he took measurements (read the article covering this here). Plan was to visit him and his workshop in the autumn of 2020 for the fitting(s) and to spend time in the workshop follow the making. Well, then the pandemic struck the world, and here we are more than two years later and I’ve finally been able to do the trip and be here in Freiburg for a bit over a week. What has happened though during this time is that after I started running a lot, my feet sort of sunk a bit resulting in especially the pinky toe coming out wider than before. So I was pretty certain that the measurements Patrick had taken wasn’t fully valid anymore. And that was indeed the case. The fitting shoes were way too tight at the pinky toes, also a bit snug for both inner and outer joint. Then there was some other things to sort as well, so Patrick Frei immediately decided that a second fitting pair was to be made.
The fitting shoe was made in the same pattern as the finished shoe is supposed to be in, which is a rather special one. It’s named “The Ghostford”. If you just take a glance it might seem like a regular plain cap toe oxford, but it’s in fact a wholecut, with what Patrick calls “ghost seam”. Here the leather is connected at the bottom of one side on all seams, and then in a rather advanced way the leather is tucked under itself, so it looks like the seam appears from nowhere.
When evaluating the fit, apart from looking, pinching and feeling the shoes, and of course talking to me how I experience things, Patrick also cut the shoes open in selected places as a final step. To get actual data of how much he would need to widen the shoes to fit well, and not just guess, which otherwise more or less is the case when you have too narrow shoes, he cut diagonal lines along the vamp of the shoe until I could say that the pressure disappeared. He then taped the area, and measured how much wider the shoes were now between two set markings. A quite clever way to do this, especially when there’s, as in this case, is quite a lot to be done.
After the fitting Patrick measured my feet again, and could clearly see how they have changed since the first meeting two years ago. With the new data from measurement and fittings, on to modify the lasts. Here one add thick leather pieces to the wooden lasts, and then shape it into one. It’s a constant comparing to measurements and notes from the fitting, not done in a hurry. Especially since it’s not only fit that has to be taken into account, it’s the look of the lasts, the balance, etc.
After this, a new fitting shoe is put together, again with scrap uppers, but the real pattern again since one anyway wants to have the pattern made for the lasts with changes done. They are cemented, but a proper leather insole and same type of leather heel stiffener as in the final shoes are used, since this is needed to be able to evaluate the fit properly. However, the outsole and heel is just cork attached, and the toe stiffener is made of celastic.
Now, the second fitting shoe was more how a first fitting normally is, which is quite logical due to the issues mentioned above. They were still a bit snug for the pinky toes, and some other small things that one wanted to correct further, but now we had rather good fitting shoes with normal things to sort. The procedure with this fitting is the same, only that I wore the shoes for longer, and since less things were to be addressed he didn’t cut them open in the same extensive way as the first ones.
Next article will cover the final small last adjustments and then, the big thing, the making of the final pair. This will be highly interesting I think, not least due to high level of craftsmanship we’ll see, but also due to some really cool old-school techniques that they use, with some impressing results, plus the use of some quite special materials. Stay tuned for this later this year.