In the quest for finding your “perfect suit” or “perfect shoes”, we have found in our experience that you will typically have already tried a handful of other artisans whose work has not fulfilled your expectations before you eventually find something that is to your liking. This does not mark the end of your journey however, as finding something you like always leaves you wondering if that is actually the best out there or merely just the best you’ve experienced. According to Socrates, finding love is like walking forward into a wheat field without turning back to pick the most magnificent stalk – one has to simply stop and believe that the stalk they happened upon is more beautiful than the stalks they passed over and those that lay further afield. Fortunately we do not have to exercise the same level of restraint when it comes to personal adornment and can enjoy the journey of finding objects that bring beauty into our lives.
The world of bespoke shoemaking is a relatively complicated one, with each shoemaker employing his or her own aesthetic and pair of hands in the creating what they consider beautiful. Among shoemakers, I particularly admire the Japanese artisans who travel the world to pick up the technical craft and to develop their own aesthetic, along with their trademark fastidious attention to detail. This spirit and determination is manifested in their work, bringing beauty to life on the feet of their customers.
Of particular note is legendary shoemaker Mr. Nobuyoshi Seki who is considered by many to be “Japan’s Pinnacle Bootmaker”. Rising out of the heyday of Western goodyear-welted shoes in Japan, Seki-San was among the first Japanese bespoke shoemakers to fully handcraft shoes of the finest quality. His contributions to Japanese shoemaking are significant beyond bespoke shoemaking. Not only is he a reference point for budding Japanese bespoke shoemakers, but he is also closely linked to several important Japanese ready-to-wear shoemakers.
Unfortunately two years ago, Seki-San suddenly announced his retirement and has since turned away customers old and new. Although this leaves us with a sense of regret that we will not have a chance to experience his work, his craft and legacy live on through his students.
One such student of Seki-San is bespoke shoemaker Mr. Keitaro Takano of Clematis Ginza who we visited during our trip to Tokyo in May of this year, pictured alongside his assistant Ms. Chiemi Chiba. Wearing his green work coat, Takano-San has a quiet disposition that he interestingly seems to share with quite a few other Japanese artisans. Somewhat ironically, one will quickly find out that his work does not reflect this perceived conservatism from a cursory glance at his bespoke samples in-store.
Takano-San’s work is characterised by aggressive shaping, relatively elongated lasts, creative designs, and of course fine handwork. Aside from the exquisite finishing, what particularly caught my attention were his innovative details.
Take note of the apron stitching on his bespoke Chukka sample for example. From afar the stitching almost looks like a series of broguing, which takes on the appearance of a series of cross-stitches from a moderate distance and only when you get up close will you clearly see that there are actually three parallel lines of stitching. Although unusual, the apron stitching is not ostentatiously decorative for the sake of decoration and effectively shortens the vamp visually, balancing the elongated last and offering the entire shoe a sense of harmony.
It is a tragedy nowadays that real world reviews have given way to laymen portraying themselves as pundits behind the veil of the Internet casually spewing hyperbole (“quality”, “luxury”, “fully handmade”, etc.) about over-marketed brands and products without having first experienced and understood the topics in discussion. With that said, we take comfort knowing that artisans of integrity still exist and continue to thrive despite the lack of appreciation they deserve and that we can experience their work with our eyes and hands and the joy and satisfaction that they bring.
Stay tuned for the next instalment to find out what we ordered and to check out the fitting process!
NEWS FLASH: We will be hosting Clematis Ginza for a Hong Kong & Shanghai Trunk Show from 19-21 August in Hong Kong and 22-24 in Shanghai with Takano-San and Chiba-San on hand to take orders for made-to-measure and bespoke commissions. For more information or to make an appointment, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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