Last month samples from eight different bespoke shoemakers were gathered at Gallery Quadro in central Tokyo, in ambition to open up for interest from a new group of people. Shoegazing visited the reception, and talked with a few of the shoemakers exhibiting: Nayuta Takahashi and Kiyo Uda who also run Tweed & Mouth, and Ken Hishinuma of Khish the Work.
Bespoke shoemaking is an old traditional craft that needs to stay on its toes to continue to be relevant in the modern world, and continue to attract new customers to order the products. There’s many who work for this, of course bespoke shoemakers and their pleased customers around the world do their part, and we have examples like the world champs of shoemaking where one very important aspect of the contest is to spread the word on the craft, Youtubers like Kirby Allison who showcase this world to a wide audience, ambitious book projects by folks like Gary Tok, Bernhard Roetzel, Hugo Jacomet and Sonya Glyn, and so on.
Last month we saw another example that also goes along this line. The exhibition “8 Shoemakers” which took place at an art gallery called Gallery Quadro, located in Meguro on a street mainly known for very exclusive furniture shops. The gallery owner is Jun Matsushima, who also has an interest in quality shoes. When he ordered his first pair of bespoke shoes from Eiji Murata of Main d’Or, and watched the beautiful samples he has on display in his showroom, he realised that this is something one could do an exhibition of in his gallery.
– My intention for this exhibition was very simple, I wanted to give an opportunity for various shoemakers to showcase what they do, to gather a lot of talent in one place, and hopefully make them reach an audience they might not have before, Jun Matsushima says.
Main d’Or was a given brand to include in the exhibition, the other makers were: Ando Shoemaker, Dmitri Gomez, Khish the Work, Minezo Sport Shoes, Norman Vilalta, T. Nayuta Shoemaker and Tweed & Mouth. So six Japanese makers, two European. Some established, many up and coming ones. During the reception almost all of the Japanese makers were present, and apart from Eiji Murata I hadn’t met any of them before, nor seen their shoes in real life, so it was an evening I thoroughly enjoyed. With a few of them I also had more time to chat.
Nayuta Takahashi is from the Kanagawa region soutwest of Tokyo, and has worked as an outworker for several brands for several years. He also run his own brand, where he recently developed a new set of samples and designs which all has a very special feature he calls “interwoven brogueing”.
– It’s a technique I have taken from papercraft, and merged with the classic brogueing on shoes, Nayuta Takahashi says.
Here the two pieces of leather are intertwined in various ways, combined with brogue holes and/or piping, best way to understand it is to look at the photos. In the shoe world it’s certainly something unique, and I would expect it to be copied a bunch in the coming years, which is usually the case when something like this appears.
Nayuta also has a project together with another great Japanese maker, Kiyo Uda, known not least for his excellent finishing skills. They went to a shoemaking school together, and has been friends since. They wanted to do something together, and ended up taking inspiration from a traditional British fabric when they developed their mutual brand Tweed & Mouth.
– Our samples use the colours from a green hunting tweed fabric, where we have five different models that people can order, says Kiyo Uda.
The five models are takes of various classics, like a punched cap toe oxford, wholecut, full brogue etc on two different lasts, one classic round toe and one soft square. With a limited selection to choose from they can keep the price tag at a really good level. The shoes are made to the same standard as the two makers bespoke shoes, Tweed & Mouth MTO costs €1,400 (200 000 yen) and MTM with last modifications cost €1,800 (260 000 yen), including lasted shoe trees.
Ken Hishinuma is from Yokohoma south of Tokyo. He used to work as an architect, but changed path to shoemaking. He is trained at Ishihara Shoemaking School in Asakusa, and has now made shoes for three years time. He runs his own brand Khish the Work which offers bespoke and soon MTO, where he does all himself, including the shoe trees, and he also runs a very popular Youtube channel called Crazy about Shoes. The style is a type of traditional but relatively playful Japanese, where he mixes more dressy shoes and sturdy stuff with Norwegian stitching and things like that.
One of the samples shown at the exhibition was a very cool, heavy derby shoe made in an exclusive bearskin. The character of the natural grain is sort of a mix between wild boar and deerskin. Ken Hishinuma about the leather:
– It is tanned by a Japanese tannery in Himeji, and is very expensive. About twice the price of regular, fine calfskin. I enjoy finding something special, either in material or in the way the shoes are made.
Price for his bespoke offerings start at €2,500 (363,000 yen).
During two weeks the 16 shoes from eight different bespoke shoemakers were on display for the conscious crowd browsing the area in hunt for fine furnitures and other exclusive design products, and hopefully some who never thought of ordering bespoke shoes got their eyes opened after visiting the Gallery Quadro exhibition. Gladly, the plan is to make this an annual event.