Bespoke. For years, the word has been most closely associated with men’s custom suits, conjuring up images of swanky Savile Row studios and clothing of the highest quality (with a price tag to match). In the past few years, however, brands have begun throwing “bespoke” around a little too freely in our opinion. Bespoke bedding, bespoke white t-shirts, bespoke cocktails. (Can you sense our eyes rolling?) Back in 2016, a satirical video hawking “handcrafted water” went over some viewers’ heads and the director began getting requests to purchase the imaginary (and incredibly douchey) product.
So when we learned about bespoke shoe brand Stefano Bemer, we were a bit skeptical. Was this “bespoke” or bespoke? A quick Google search revealed that this was, in fact, the real deal, and a conversation with CEO Tommaso Melani solidified this notion.
Self-taught shoemaker Stefano Bemer started his company in Florence, Italy, in 1983 with the goal of creating the perfect Italian shoe. Simple enough, right?
Self-taught shoemaker Stefano Bemer started his company in Florence, Italy, in 1983 with the goal of creating the perfect Italian shoe. Simple enough, right? His eponymous brand quickly because associated with the highest standards of quality and style, and he began to attract attention from unlikely places. Daniel Day-Lewis worked as an apprentice in his studio for ten months, learning the craft of shoemaking from the master himself. But despite the odd bit of press, Bemer’s business remained a well-kept secret among a core group of consumers who were willing and able to commission multiple pairs of his handmade shoes.
And that’s where Melani came in. His deep Florentine heritage is evident – his family has run the storied leather workshop Scuola Del Cuoio out of Santa Croce monastery since 1950. When he and Bemer met, they bonded over difficulties in finding skilled craftsmen and Melani had an idea. Could Bemer’s studio, which was making just 300 pairs of shoes each year, expand from bespoke to ready-to-wear without compromising the experience or the quality that had become synonymous with the brand?
Could Bemer’s studio expand from bespoke to ready-to-wear without compromising the experience or the quality that had become synonymous with the brand?
Sadly, Bemer passed away in 2012 after a long illness, but Melani recognized what a tragedy it would be if his designs, styles, original construction techniques, and ideas were lost or – even worse – turned into a commercial venture. So he met with Bemer’s partner and associate designer to share his idea for building the brand in a way that respected and aligned with Bemer’s original vision. Luckily for Melani – and for us – she agreed.
Now housed in an old chapel in Florence, the Stefano Bemer brand, under Melani, continues the tradition of unparalleled made-to-order shoes, and now offers perfectly crafted ready-to-wear creations as well. While the showroom in Florence was sufficient to serve the needs of European customers, they realized that there was a growing need for a U.S. outpost.
So they opened a showroom on New York’s Upper East Side that not only houses a wide array of ready-to-wear shoes and offers bespoke fittings, but also showcases leather goods from the Scuola Del Cuoio alongside blazers and button downs. It’s essentially a “one stop shop for a gentleman,” Melani says.
It’s essentially a “one stop shop for a gentleman,” Melani says of the Upper East Side showroom.
With a growing customer base in Asia as well as the U.S., showrooms in Tokyo and Seoul may be on the horizon. Melani is acutely aware that different markets appreciate different facets of the brand. While the Asian consumer is focused on the quality and craftsmanship of the shoes, the American client appreciates the Stefano Bemer shopping experience, and trunk shows in various cities reflect this.
Now selling over 3,000 pair of shoes each year, the new approach is clearly working. A recent feature in Robb Report was named the publication’s most popular shoe story of 2018, and momentum continues to build. Our advice? If it’s in your budget, invest in a pair of these bad boys. If it’s not, start saving.