The American boot and shoemaker D.W. Frommer sadly passed away this week, at the age of 76 after more then half a century in the trade. He has played an important role in the shoemaking community for decades, not least in his work with passing shoemaking knowledge on globally through his books and work online.
Through history, a huge amount of crafts, techniques and materials have been discarded when time has had its toll. The ones that survive as decades and centuries pass by do it because of a reason. Because they are better than new crafts, techniques and materials. To make shoes by hand, especially using the welted construction, in leather has lived on exactly due to this. This, and the fact that there are people who devote their lives to make sure that the knowledge is passed on to coming generations. People like D.W. Frommer.
D.W. Frommer II was born in 1946. After high school, a few years in the army and then university, he found his way into shoemaking in Oregon, first through work at shoe repair workshop but eventually he learned western bootmaking in Montana by Mike Ives, which then was what Frommer devoted his life to. The past decade or so he has also made bespoke men’s dress shoes. He has published three books about boot and shoemaking, and trained many shoemaking students.
In the 90’s he started working with The Honourable Cordwainers’ Company, the H.C.C., which is inspired by old medieval guilds, with the declared goal to “preserve the traditions and the techniques that inform best practices in shoemaking”. The largest impact it has had is through the website and shoemaker’s forum that Frommer built for the organisation already 25 years ago. Back then, information on shoemaking online was way more sparse than it is today, but here aspiring and established shoemakers could find loads of info on shoemaking, download free PDF versions of some of the most acknowledged shoemaking books in history, and talk, discuss and ask questions in the forum. It’s not updated as much in recent years and other forums have taken its place, but I know for a fact that many aspiring makers today still head to this site to gather info.
Speaking of forums, for many D.W. Frommer is mostly recognised for his presence on Styleforum, where he for over a decade spent impressively large amounts of time to educate and talk to other members about shoes. His posts and responses to questions here not only benefit those who asked, they will forever be available for people to read and learn from. For those who google on shoemaking questions, I’m sure you’ve often ended up on a Styleforum thread where Frommer has talked about the things you were looking for.
The forum is also where I got to know him, and through the years we’ve had many good talks but also heated discussions when in disagreement, although we always came back on good terms with each other. He’s also been one of the shoemakers I ask questions when I do research for articles on the blog, which he always took the time to answer thoroughly. He was also very happy when we introduced the World Championships of Shoemaking, and often praised the importance of such things for a craft like this.
On January 31st D.W. Frommer suddenly passed away, after suffering a heart attack. He was making shoes all the way, and actually had a meeting with the H.C.C. just the evening before. His children posted an announcement on his Instagram, and shoemakers from all over the world has shared their condolences and acknowledged his importance for the trade. The shoemaking community is a little poorer today.