|Ponte Vecchio & Arno|
From the small city of Florence surges an unassuming creative energy that courses through the hands of many artisans from the region who are all masters in their own right – one such Florentine shoemaker is Roberto Ugolini whose work we will be discussing today. Although his shoes cannot be said to feature the most delicate handwork, his unique ability to sculpt lasts that perfectly balance aesthetic beauty and comfort is perhaps the best in Florence and second to none.
To him, he would much prefer to admire his creations on the feet of his customers rather than set on a pedestal. For Roberto, shoes are for wearing and his ultimate goal is to craft shoes that not only look good but also feel great on the feet of his clients.
|My own personal bespoke last by Roberto Ugolini|
|My bespoke wholecut oxfords by Roberto Ugolini|
With this reputation, Isetan Department Store from Japan reached out to him more than 10 years ago to design an exclusive last for their luxury shoe line. These shoes quickly gained Roberto a strong following and many fans, some of whom ended up traveling to his workshop in Florence to learn the trade. Notable students over the years such as Koji Suzuki (Spigola) and Atsushi Qnai (il Quadrifoglio) have earned him the moniker “Master of Masters”.
|A 20 years old Japanese guy who’s working for Ugolini, he has been here for learning shoe-making for more than two years|
|Roberto Ugolini’s partner, the another Roberto in the workshop|
When we first met Roberto, he was already in the trade for more than 20 years. Driven by his passion for shoemaking and unhindered by his experience, Roberto continually pushes the envelope and is always keen on experimentation. No matter how wild or fanciful a customer’s imagination may be, Roberto somehow always manages to deliver. Perhaps because of this passion, Roberto continues to work every day, hand shaping last after last and hand sewing shoe after shoe with waxed thread. As it is with tailoring, bespoke shoemaking is a collaborative effort between client and maker – a combination of both the maker’s expertise and style as well as the client’s individual tastes and requirements. Although a beautiful concept in theory, this is not often achieved in practice, usually due to a client’s inexperience or miscommunication of what he or she is looking for. Makers who are able to listen to client’s needs while also offering a plethora of suggestions and guidance to find out what the client is really looking for are diamonds in the rough and we can say for certain that Roberto is one such maker.
|Pic.1 : Ironing the shoe upper. Pic.2 :Trial shoes fitting for Jerry, one of our editor|
What we found particularly surprising above all with Roberto’s fame and experience is a genuine humility. Never one to scoff at the work of other makers, Roberto loves studying and appreciating the work of other artisans to find alternative methods of crafting shoes and solving common issues other shoemakers run into. We have personally accompanied him in visiting the ateliers of other shoemakers to learn how they work and perhaps how he could improve his own work. This modesty coupled with his tireless work ethic and relentless hunger to create the best shoes possible is what really sets Roberto apart for us and is something we believe we should aspire toward. As such, not only has he become one of our favourite shoemakers, but also one of our closest friends. Roberto is a constant reminder that work and play are not always mutually exclusive and that above all, doing something you love is perhaps the best calling an individual can answer.