Here’s a substantial review of all the amazing competition shoes – 29 black balmoral boots – that entered the World Championships of Shoemaking 2023. Info about the makers and the shoes, comments, pictures of the shoes and in some cases also the manufacturing process. So much shoe greatness.
It has taken some time, as it always does (I’ve spent more than 60 hours the past few weeks to put these posts together), thank you for your patience. But here it is, the summary of all contestant shoes 2023. Loads of shoe greatness for you to go through.
Part of the London Super Trunk Show at the beginning of May was the fourth edition of the World Championships of Shoemaking (see here for more articles on this contest and find the summaries of previous year’s shoes), organised by Shoegazing and The Shoe Snob. It’s organised in collaboration with online retailer Kirby Allison, book project Master Shoemakers, and private person Parker Schenecker, brother of the shoe aficionado Edmund Schenecker who sadly passed away two years ago. These contribute with the substantial prize money of £3,000 to winner, £2,000 to second placed and £1,000 to third placed (note that we organisers don’t make any money at all on this contest, the money is paid directly from the partners to the shoemakers). Also they receive one handmade awl by Phil Norsworthy.
The top three boots also will go on tour around the world now (together with the winning shoes in the patina championship), to be showcased for as many shoe lovers as possible. As usual a mix of some new locations and stores, and some that have been part of the tours previous years. The shoes will also be showcased on the New York Super Trunk Show on October 14. The still preliminary tour schedule is as follows:
|w31-32||Aug 1-12||Upper Shoes||Paris, France|
|w34-25||Aug 21-Sep 2||Viggo||Bukarest, Romania|
|w37-38||Sep 12-23.||Loake store||Stockholm, Sweden|
|w40||Oct 6.||Kirby Allison||Dallas, USA|
|w41||Oct 14.||New York Super Trunk Show||New York, USA|
|w42-43||Oct 17-29||Leffot||New York, USA|
|w45-47||Nov 6-26||Isetan Men’s / Mitsukoshi Ginza||Tokyo, Japan|
|w49-50||Dec 4-Dec 17||Bridlen Gallery||Chennai, India|
|w52-1||Dec 25-7||The Decorum||Bangkok, Thailand|
|w3-4||Jan 15-28||Medallion Shoes||Beijing, China|
|w6-7||Feb 5-18||Medallion Shoes||Shanghai, China|
|w9-10||Feb 26-Mar 10||Informale||Melbourne, Australia|
|w12-13||Mar 18-30||Mason & Smith||Singapore|
At the London Super Trunk Show all competition shoes were on display for the 1,300 people who visited the event during the day, and at the award ceremony in the evening the top ten were presented. The shoes and the competition always gain a big interest and admiration, and also afterwards the attention has been large. This contest has really found its place, which we are really happy about. The overall level continue to be raised. Which in a way is good not least for those who want to see superb craftsmanship, rather than shoes made by people early in the development.
The day before the event the shoes were reviewed anonymously by the jury, which consisted of (seen on the photo above, listed from the left):
Masaru Okuyama, bespoke shoemaker
Jean-Michel Casalonga, bespoke shoemaker, workshop manager Berluti
Kirby Allison, founder of the Kirby Allison webshop
Sebastian Tarek, bespoke shoemaker
Daniel Wegan, bespoke shoemaker, winner 2019
Justin FitzPatrick, The Shoe Snob
Jesper Ingevaldsson, Shoegazing
Gary Tok, author of Master Shoemakers
Dominic Casey, bespoke shoemaker
(A note on having JM Casalonga of Berluti part of the jury, when winner was from the same company. They work in different workshops, and Casalonga didn’t know Sephocle was entering. In fact, he didn’t recognise that the shoe was a maker from his company, which he was a bit embarrassed about. Either way, to secure things, we did points calculations where JM Casalonga’s points were removed, and it actually didn’t change a single position.)
The criteria that were set out for the competition shoes were as follows:
– Balmoral lace up boot model, closed lacing, with a brogued / punched cap toe (3-5 separate leather pieces excluding tongue, only brogueing / punching along the toe cap)
– One left shoe, size UK8 (or corresponding size), maximum 2 width sizes up or down from an acceptable standard width
– Smooth black box calf / aniline dyed calf upper (so not surface-dyed black)
– Leather sole
– Hand welted, handmade sole stitch
– Black sole and heel edges, natural coloured bottom (decorations with for example wheels or nails are ok, but no dye or burnish)
– Finished inside of the shoe, with sock lining etc.
– No branding
Errors in respect to the above specifications resulted in deductions of points, 5% deduction of total points for small errors, 10% deduction of total points on larger errors. If the shoe w0uld not follow specifications at all, it could be disqualified, but have never been the case yet.
Competitors could enter both as a company or as a person. All persons that have been part in the making of the shoe should be stated, and which process(es) each person have made.
Criteria that was judged:
Degree of difficulty (maximum 10 points per jury member)
Jury look at how complicated construction methods that have been used, how advanced they have been built both in large and in smaller details, etc.
Execution (maximum 10 points)
Jury look at how well the various parts of the shoe construction have been made, how neat and clean the work is, how well executed the level of finishing is, etc.
Design / aesthetics (maximum 5 points)
Jury look at the overall aesthetics of the shoe, proportions, balance etc.
So, below first the full list of results, then a walkthrough of all competition shoes, from position 1 to 29 (1-10 in this post, 11-30 in another post). Do take your time and look through things, study the photos etc, to really appreciate things. There’s more pictures and text on the top position shoes, with so many entries I have to do things a bit more condensed to make it workable, but all have a brief summary and at least four pictures of the shoes from various angles. In some cases of the top ten shoes I’ve also included pictures of the making process. Click the pictures to see larger versions, to really see the wonderful details that’s to be found.
(Click on maker/brand to go directly to summary, go here for positions 11-29)
1. Athanase Sephocle
2. Victor Vulpe
3. Louis Lampertsdörfer
4. Nayuta Takahashi
5. William Efe Laborde
6. Acme Shoemaker
7. Yoann Pannelay
8. Kenjiro Kawashima
9. Yim Shoemaker
10. Andrey Kaveshnikov
11. Attila Shoes
12. Jihoon Yun
13. Daiki Fujiyama
14. Kim Junghwan
15. Dmitry Avdyukhov
16. Calzoleria De Fumo
17. RAB Bespoke
19. Yasunari Shimozaki
19. Zhencheng Wang
21. The Last Shoemaker
23. Ryota Hayafuji
25. Karol Stanios
26. Marat Ablakov
27. Badhatbrothers & Co
28. Kim Kyungseok
29. Lisa Teng
1. Athanase Sephocle
The winning shoe this year is surely is intriguing. Made by the Frenchman Athanase Sephocle, who works for Berluti. When you look at it, first impression is a fairly traditional old-school balmoral boot. You look closer and see that it’s definitely very well-made, you see the seamless vamp piece, the Wegan-inspired ridge back, hand braided top-line stitch, and so on. A great shoe, no doubt, but to put it bluntly, nothing that stands out so much that you understand why it’s the winner. Then you pick it up and turn it over to see the bottom…
Here, it’s everything but classic and traditional. Here it’s bells and whistles, exaggerations, drama, creativity, and both very high difficulty and high level of execution. Remarkably enough it doesn’t clash at all with the more classic upper part, they work great together. It’s a bit hard to explain the sole, waist and heel in words, much better to just look at the photos, where you can more appreciate the spectacular design with a front sole part done only at the edges, then a cross-sectional super slim waist going over in a horseshoe heel that ends in a very delicate thin outside part. You have braided decorative stitching with brass thread (!) inside the heel, and a lovely brass plate toe tap.
– I like the emotions the boot creates, with the simplicity of the model and the surprise effect of the outsole, Athanase Sephocle says.
What all the shoemakers of the jury were most amazed of was how Athanase managed to last the waist and heel part of the upper in such a perfect way, following along so far underneath, something very difficult to achieve. And to braid stitch a rather thick, stiff brass (I believe it’s brass, or some other gold coloured metal) thread so delicately. Overall, it’s also a very beautiful boot, well-balanced with excellent proportions and carefully added design elements. A superb shoe in all regards.
Athanase Sephocle started his journey in shoemaking within orthopedic shoemaking and making show shoes, he has done a Compagnons du Devoir trainee programme, and now since almost ten years, he’s been working for the French luxury house Berluti, in their second bespoke workshop run by Anthony Delos in Main et Loire. He’s mainly doing bottom making. He entered the shoemaking world champs in 2019 as well, and finished in 15th place, which was a big disappointment to him.
– I realised that to win this contest, I had to relearn everything. I built up a workshop at home to be able to spend more time doing shoes and do it with concentration, and worked on my technique extensively during these three years, Athanase Sephocle says.
Around 200 hours was spent on making this contest shoe, a serious effort. Lyse Simon stitched the upper, the rest was made by Athanase.
– I learned a lot of new techniques, and pushed my mental technical and mental limitations. I have to keep working to learn even more. And for the future, for me this contest is like the “Champions League”, I won my first star but I hope not the last.
Athanase Sephocle is the first winner from France, there’s been two podium placed though, Christophe Corthay’s second place 2019 and Philippe Atienza’s third in 2018. The least known name for sure, but working for the most well-known firm that ever had representatives in the contest. With the amazing shoemaking heritage France has, and knowing how much the French love and appreciate contests, it’s an extra nice thing to finally have a French world champion.
More photos of the masterpiece.
2. Victor Vulpe
Romanian Victor Vulpe’s boot is perhaps the most spectacular entry of this year’s contest, with so much great features and techniques showcased. He made everything himself. It received the highest points on difficulty of all shoes in the contest, but jury gave it a bit lower on execution and design / aesthetics compared to Sephocle’s boot, which meant it finished just behind in second place. An interesting thing is that perhaps the most eye-catching thing of the whole boot is something that some might not even understand what it is. The fact that the top piece covering the opening is actually the tongue of the boot.
The shoe is made with a so-called “full-close construction”. The tongue goes up and covers the entire opening, and not only that, it’s also stitched to the upper. There’s no way into the boot. How the last has been removed, is…magic! Victor Vulpe had been told about this type of construction, about how a Romanian shoemaker had won a large shoemaking contest in Vienna in the 1930’s with a boot made this way.
– It took me a long time to figure out how to make this, and to make it well. The championship is the perfect place to showcase this strange thing, not many people have seen something similar, Victor Vulpe says.
This is certainly not all on this shoe. The upper is superbly decorated in many ways, with holes at the shaft to reveal the empty inside with hand-stitched “button hole” seams, double layer punching at the toe cap, the main seams has a machine-stitched centre thread and then hand braided gold thread, back centre seam has an intricate beading, and so on. Moving down on the shoe, the sole stitching of 30 spi of course is seriously incredible. And on the bottom, the heel is a world in its own, hard to describe in words. The high level of difficulty has resulted in some parts with small issues, some uneven welt areas, heel tapering a bit irregular, etc. That’s when one is really nitpicking. Cause rest assured, this is a masterpiece worthy being in a museum.
Victor Vulpe from Romania has worked as a leather craftsman for almost 30 years, and since about 15 years he started to make shoes as well. Amazingly enough trained by himself by looking at other shoes, reading lots of historic books and so on. He finished fourth in the world champs 2019, and for this year, he decided to put in even more efforts.
– I think I’ve spent around 300 hours on the making of this boot. It became an addiction, and I’ve learned a lot of new techniques and developed my skill making it, Victor Vulpe says.
If you look at Victor’s Instagram you’ll see that most of his work are rather special stuff, cool designs with special techniques used. For a small niche bespoke shoemaker like him, based in Romania, he says that the world championships basically is vital for him to be able to continue making shoes.
– This contest is a great opportunity. Without this I would have to put down my tools and stop making shoes all together. The attention that my work get from this is absolutely vital for me, and I think it’s important that all you guys involved in the contest know this.
3. Louis Lampertsdörfer
Louis Lampertsdörfer from Germany, who run the brand Mogada, has made the most classic and toned-down shoe in the top three, but it’s so clean and well-made. I think it’s good for the contest, this mix of more dramatic showpieces and more classic stuff, there the lather still can reach very high if done to top-standard. Earlier examples of podium positions with more subdued entries, we have Philippe Atienza in 2018 and Eiji Murata of Main d’Or in 2019. When asked about what he’s most pleased with about the shoes, Louis says:
– How last, pattern and the shape of the bottom work well together. That is always my main objective when making a shoe to have these three things in harmony. With this competition shoe I was very pleased how the curves of the pattern pick up the last shape and everything just looks balanced.
This boot is truly timeless. A lovely sleek soft square toe last, where the narrow waist make the upper come in beautifully in the middle part of the shoe. The vamp is made of a seamless piece of leather, so it’s been pulled over the last in one part and then cut out, raising the difficulty level. Also the excellent 20 spi sole stitch shows skill. Here it was execution and design that were the main point gatherers, it’s superbly well put together and the aesthetics if flawless.
The upper making was made by Raz Maftei in Vienna, the rest by Louis Lampertsdörfer. The big trend with horseshoe heels we have also here, even if a more conservative version, but personally I have to say that I think the boot would have looked even better with a classic heel, it would have harmonised even better with the rest. But otherwise in general, when you look on this boot, you don’t find any flaws in any ways, which is quite impressive.
Around 150 hours was spent on the making of the boot. It’s Louis second attempt in the contest, his first in 2019 he finished sixth. Then he was just finishing his apprenticeship at Gaziano & Girling’s bespoke department, for which he then worked for a while. But the past two years or so he’s been back in his home country Germany, in Munich, where he has set up his own bespoke brand (and now also a small selection of RTW) called Mogada.
For Louis Lampertsdörfer, the contest is an excellent way to push himself. For his 2019 entry he was challenged by a 16 spi sole stitch, now that’s a standard thing to do. Here he had to train a lot to do a seamless upper part, something he now feels he can handle comfortable.
– The competition always gives you a little push to try things of which you first were afraid because they seem hard but you really grow from doing that and it gives you a good and secure feel towards your normal work, knowing you are able to do such things. Thats why it is amazing to have such a competition, and I am already looking forward to enter again.
4. Nayuta Takahashi
Last year we had three Japanese makers in the top, this year the highest placed ended up just off the podium. Nauyta Takahashi’s entry has a very classic base, with round a round toe last and very classic proportions. The execution is exemplary, while difficulty a bit behind the highest ones. Along the top line and facing he has made a really interesting decorative detail with twisted leather pieces, this certainly has required an effort.
Nayuta Takahashi is from the Kanagawa region soutwest of Tokyo, and has worked as an outworker for several brands for several years. He also runs his own bespoke brand, where especially this type of intricate upper details, special types of brogueing etc is his specialty. Nayuta also has an interesting project together with Kiyo Uda, called Tweed & Mouth, with superbly beautiful shoes. Nauyta Takahashi has made all parts of his entry himself.
5. William Efe Laborde
This boot could literally have been made many, many decades ago, both in terms of design and materials used. London-based bespoke maker William Efe Laborde has created a typical Victorian model made entirely from vintage and self-made materials, down to every detail including vintage boxcalf upper leather and linen thread and nails dating from the 1950s. It’s a class boot in all regards, from the superb 20 spi closing by Lucy Smith, to all the bottom work and finishing by William Efe Laborde. Sole stitching at 21 spi, a high Victorian heel with thin lifts, and so on.
William Efe Laborde was born in France but has now lived in England for many years. He started his venture into shoemaking at a course with Carréducker a bunch of years ago, now he’s running his own brand out of London, as well as making freelance work for some famous UK bespoke brands. He’s fascinated by historic shoemaking and has done a lot of research on this topic, as well as running a side business selling vintage tools and materials, which makes it a given his entry would look the way it does.
6. Acme Shoemaker
The Chinese brand Acme Shoemaker has created a boot that is well in line with their regular RTW to bespoke offerings, just pumped up in terms of difficulty. One such thing is the way the joint between the vamp and shaft is hidden under a hand braided stitch, almost invisible. Another is the seamless wholecut vamp piece they’ve used, and the tight sole stitching. The shoe is also overall really well-made.
Acme is a workshop based in Beijing, which has a setup where each worker specialise in a smaller part of the making. That’s why the list of persons being part of the making is longer than usual. Shoe design: Yin Junqun, Xue Zhong. Upper Making: Li Hailiang. Lasting: Sun Jianhua. Stitching welt: Chen Xiangsheng. Rest of bottoming: Zhou Zhihai. Finishing: Zhou Xing. Acme has made a name of itself by offering RTW made to proper high bespoke standard at a relatively good price, and now also has a more affordable, still fully handmade range.
7. Yoann Pannelay
Yoann Pannelay from France has made a booth that is both really nice looking – received high points on design / aesthetics – and very well-made – received high points on execution. It has various special design details that works well, and gives it a unique character. I’m particularly fond of the way the tongue and back piece matches each other in shape.
Claire Daubé made the closing of the upper, Yoann Pannelay the rest. Yoann went through the Les Compagnons du Devoir trainee programme between 2016-2019. He then worked for the company Cordonnerie Raineu in Nantes for a few years, now works as a shoemaker in Paris, Les 2 Lutins.
8. Kenjiro Kawashima
Last year’s bronze medalist Kenjiro Kawashima, who made the entire boot himself, has made a very impressive entry this round as well, but as always it’s tight in the top, so a bit further down in the results list this year. The creativity sure is there, with so many great features, many that I’ve never seen before. For example the hammered sole, the way he has carved the leather top line to look like elastics, the various ways he connects the leather pieces of the upper, and so on.
Kenjiro Kawashima comes from Japan, but he lives in South Korea since a few years. Between this he trained under Norman Vilalta in Barcelona, and he is his main bespoke shoemaker. Kenjiro is now also building up his own bespoke brand slowly but surely, which looks quite interesting with some special stuff going.
9. Yim Shoemaker
Yim Shoemaker from China has made a boot that is high in all regards. A high heel, high shaft, high toe box. Especially execution is terrific, more or less flawless making. There’s skilful hands behind this boot – no doubt about that. The sweeping seams on the upper shaft also gives it a bit of a personal character, together a small thing like how its laced.
Yim Shoemaker is the brand of Gray Yim, a shoemaker from Guangzhou. One of the first Chinese makers that made a name of himself internationally, first through a collaboration with Japanese firm Hobu, later through his own Instagram. And things go well, he is so busy with work that he still hasn’t removed his Instagram info on that he hasn’t started to accept orders yet, which has been there for years.
10. Andrey Kaveshnikov
Andrey Kaveshnikov from Russia has an entry that certainly stands out. One part is the upper with its peaks, stars and overlapping leather pieces – one part is the bottom with my personal favourite pieces of the entire contest, the “glass” parts with golden glitter layers. Especially at the heel where the green colour adds depth and really makes it feel like an ocean crate. Something I’ve never seen before on a shoe, which is one of the things that I love about this contest, new stuff.
Andrey Kaveshnikov has the bespoke brand Moscow Shoemaker, and also hold shoemaking courses, including online courses. He’s one of the more famous Russian makers. He’s been entering the contest several times, and been improving his position every year. Four people were involved in the making: pattern by Nadezhda Artemova, closing by Galina Krutukha, glacage by Alexey Vrublevskiy, all other work plus design by Andrey Kaveshnikov. The shoe received a 5% points deduction due to now having a natural sole finish.