If The Shoe Fits: The Best Bespoke Shoemakers In The World
Putting your best foot forward is a whole lot easier when it’s bespoke — here, the master craftspeople and makers to turn to.
While there’s certainly no shortage of covetable footwear produced by luxury fashion houses and dedicated shoemakers, when it comes to fit—bespoke is best. Steeped in heritage and tradition, the world of bespoke footwear can be a difficult one to navigate. Traditionally, bespoke shoes refer to footwear made from scratch by a custom shoemaker following a consultation wherein a client’s measurements are taken and their desired style ascertained. The truly bespoke process involves the crafting of a personal last (a foot-shaped mould) prior to any production taking place; with the entire process often taking months or even years until completion.
However, the term ‘bespoke footwear’ is now also being ascribed to pre-designed styles that are made-to-measure. These can be produced in a far shorter time frame and are often priced at a fraction of their traditional bespoke counterparts.
To that end, there are only a select few truly bespoke shoemakers around the world. While England, Italy, and France are known purveyors of bespoke footwear, Spain and Japan are known emerging markets.
From heritage souters to up-and-coming makers, these are the best bespoke shoemakers in the world.
George Cleverley, England
Currently helmed by George Glasgow Snr and George Glasgow Jr, who inherited the company from George Cleverley himself, the eponymous company was founded in 1958. Known for its quintessentially British approach to bespoke shoemaking, each pair of George Cleverley shoes utilise resoleable Goodyear welting with footwear styles ranging from tried-and-true Oxfords and derbies to louche velvet loafers and double monk strap shoes. In keeping with the times, George Cleverley also offers a ready-to-wear range, however, the bespoke experience underpins the brand.
Founded in Spain in 1866, Carmina offers a viable entry point into the world of bespoke footwear. Since its inception in the mid-19th century, it’s earned acclaim across the globe for its assiduous attention to detail and handmade craftsmanship. Sitting in the made-to-measure category, the Spanish souter offers 15 lasts designed to cater for various foot sizes and aesthetics and uses resoleable Goodyear welt stitching. Taking on a streamlined, distinctly European appearance, Carmina shoes showcase contemporary appeal despite the brand’s heritage credentials.
Italian-born Alessandro Berluti founded his eponymous label in Paris in 1895. Although the maison has since expanded into accessories and ready-to-wear, bespoke footwear remains the cornerstone of the brand. Over a century since its establishment, Berluti’s dedication to craftsmanship hasn’t changed, with the truly bespoke offering requiring around 250 operations and 50 hours of labour. The ideal option for those who want their shoes to reflect their personality, Berluti’s artisans are able to accommodate each client’s unique desires—think intricately brogued details and original embroidery. Key to any Berluti piece is the patina, with the final step transforming the supple leather into the colour of your choice, with variances in shading details ensuring each pair of shoes is exclusive.
Founded in the shoemaking capital of Northampton, England by a trio of brothers, Loake has been producing Goodyear-welted shoes since 1880. Today, the brand has lasted thanks to its adoption of contemporary styles into its classic range–though no longer truly bespoke, they offer a solid entry point into made-to-measure footwear while combining machinated and handmade elements.
Edward Green, England
Also established in Northampton, England in 1890 by Edward Green, to eponymous company maintains its fastidious approach to craftsmanship to this day, making just 350 pairs of shoes a week. Taking a made-to-measure approach, the British shoemaker has a vast array of leathers and finishes to select from, with each pair of shoes using a Goodyear welt.
Stefano Bemer, Italy
Founded by Florentine shoemaker Stefano Bemer in 1983, the eponymous company offers both bespoke and partially bespoke shoes; the latter involving some machine-made elements. With a distinctly Italian aesthetic, Stefano Bemer shoes take on a slim-fitting silhouette, with burnished and patinaed leather aplenty. Expect to find classic silhouettes like derbies and penny loafers, as well as laceless ‘lazy man’ oxfords, Jodhpur boots, and bow-tie loafers.
Yohei Fukuda, Japan
Founded by Yohei Fukuda in Tokyo in 2008, the namesake brand offers both bespoke and ready-to-wear footwear (the latter is produced in a limited run of 200 shoes per year). Each pair of bespoke shoes is handmade by the company’s in-house artisans and take approximately three to four months to complete. Reconciling heritage shoemaking techniques with contemporary tastes, Yohei Fukuda brings a unique eye to the world of bespoke footwear, with sleek designs set to stand the test of time.
John Lobb, England
One of England’s finest shoemakers, John Lobb founded his brand in 1866. Today, the company operates independently in England and as part of the Hermès group in Paris. Representing (and defining) the archetypal English shoemaking style, John Lobb shoes are understated and steadfast in their design. With several styles remaining unchanged for almost a century, a pair of bespoke John Lobb shoes is a failsafe investment.
Gaziano & Girling, England
With a century of shoemaking experience between them, Dean Girling and Tony Gaziano founded Gaziano & Girling in Northampton in 2006. Combining Italian comfort with British craftsmanship and sturdiness, Gaziano & Girling shoes are known for their commitment to exclusively using oak bark on their soles. Available both truly bespoke and made-to-order, each pair of shoes exudes heritage style while being perfectly at home in the contemporary era.
Paolo Scafora, Italy
Established by Paolo Scafora in Naples in 1956, the brand remains in the family to this day—currently run by his grandson of the same name. Beginning with handmade ready-to-wear footwear, Paolo Scafora has been offering a made-to-order service for the past decade. The key draw card? The comparatively quick turnaround time, with the souter able to produce shoes in just four to six weeks thanks to the use of plastic lasts rather than wood.
Founded by André and Renée Aubercy in 1935, the bespoke and ready-to-wear shoemaker has an illustrious past, with footwear initially designed to meet the tastes of high society clientele in Paris. At the turn of the millennium, the shoemaker introduced a bespoke service. Embodying quintessential Parisian style, the Goodyear welted shoes exude old-world elegance.
Hiro Yanagimachi, Japan
Another key player in the emerging Japanese market, London Cordwainers College alumnus Hiro Yanagimachi has been offering a truly bespoke service since 1999. Each pair of shoes is fully handmade at the Tokyo atelier, with made-to-order, made-to-measure, and bespoke services available (the latter involving a last made from scratch). Incorporating Japanese traditional Japanese design principles, materials are selected to beautify with age while handmade details are celebrated.
Crockett & Jones, England
The brainchild of brothers-in-law Charles Jones and James Crocket, the heritage British company was founded in Northampton in 1879 and today is owned and operated by the fourth generation of the founding families. Employing an eight-stage construction process and utilising the tried-and-tested Goodyear welt, Crockett & Jones shoes have been worn by two generations of the royal family—King George VI and Prince Charles—as well as unofficial royalty in Daniel Craig’s James Bond who sported them in Skyfall and Spectre. Pillars of traditional British style, Crockett & Jones footwear is primarily ready-to-wear, however there is also a made-to-order service available which allows for personalisation.
Alfred Sargent, England
Another Northamptonshire shoemaker (are you sensing a pattern here?), Alfred Sargent was founded in 1899. Handcrafted in the traditional English style, Alfred Sargent specialise in Goodyear welted dress shoes.
Who are the best bespoke shoemakers in the world?
John Lobb, Paolo Scafora, and George Cleverley are among the best bespoke shoemakers in the world.
Who are the best Japanese shoemakers?
Japan is steadily emerging as a key market for bespoke footwear. Yohei Fukuda and Hiro Yanagimachi are two of the best Japanese bespoke shoemakers.
What is the oldest shoe brand in the world?
The oldest shoemaking company still currently in operation is Ed Meier. Founded by Hans Mayr in Munich, Germany in 1596, the company began as a fully bespoke service, primarily serving the supper class and going on to earn a Royal Warrant through its service to the Saxon royal house, the House of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, and the Bavarian royal house. At the beginning of the 20th century, Ed Meier expanded into ready-to-wear footwear.
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