During our trip to Florence earlier in the month, it was lovely to see how far Stefano Bemer has come since its takeover last year by leather-makers Scuola del Cuoio. The bespoke and ready-made shops, together with workshops and offices, have been combined in one building on the south side of the River Arno.
It is in fact a deconsecrated church, and the ground and first floors have been made by dividing the height of the space in half. You can still look up between the two when you approach the altar. Little else reminds you of its once-holy status, however. Indeed, its last use was was a steelworks – you can still see the deep scars on the stone of the ground floor where the machinery used to be.
The shop is downstairs, the workshop between the altar, the office and bespoke fitting room on the first floor, and on the very top my favourite bit: the school.
When we were there, the first students were due to start in the school on Monday. These desks will now be filled with eager students, carving their names into the desks and leaving nasty surprises for each other in the shoeboxes on each one. Or perhaps that was just me.
The shoeboxes actually hold each student’s tools, including knife, thread and glue pot. There is a broad range of current students, though most already have at least some experience with bespoke shoes.
While we there, a surprising number of American and Japanese tourists came in seeking out Stefano Bemer shoes. They really must have been seeking it out, because the shop is a long way from the shopping centre of Florence – in fact, very close to the atelier of perfumer Lorenzo Villoresi, whom I interviewed two years ago now.
It was lovely to see such people coming in, people who already appreciated the handwork that goes into Bemer shoes (every shoe is made to the same standard, whether bespoke or ready to wear). I think one even ordered my favourite – the storm-welted basketball shoe (as in made with basketball leather, not for playing basketball).
Below, Tommaso hard at work in the office, with customers’ lasts providing the backdrop.