Ludwig Reiter shoes – Factory visit

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Thursday, December 15th 2016
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hammering-a-shoe

Ludwig Reiter is an old shoemaker used to catering to a wide variety of customers. It sells bags, sandals and trainers alongside oxfords and brogues, for both men and women.

Many of the styles also look a little old fashioned, but there are some hidden gems in amongst them - in particular the boots.

The company has dozens of stores and resellers in Austria and Germany, but recently opened its first store outside the German-speaking world, in London.

Hence the broader interest, and the contact that led to us visiting the factory outside Vienna last month.

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It shouldn’t make a difference where a factory is located, and it’s certainly rare that it influences the product. But when you arrive after a long journey and the destination is picturesque, it is nice.

I visited the Kiton factory three times in total, a few years ago, and nice as it is, the experience was always coloured by being in the middle of an industrial estate. It’s nothing on Zegna or Cucinelli.

Ludwig Reiter used to be in the centre of Vienna, but moved to an industrial estate 20 years ago, before buying this old manor house and converting it into a factory.

It’s a Viennese summer residence, and works surprisingly well for manufacture. The stables and the corn store are used for different stages of production, and the owner’s house is now the office.

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Ludwig Reiter’s history is in practical footwear. Shown above is an archive shoe that was supplied to the Austrian army. (Like Adidas, it has stripes on its sides that helped support the upper when the laces were pulled tight.)

They used to make boots for cable-car operators, for forest workers (with chainsaw protection) and so on.

But those markets are often regulated today, and so expensive to operate in. It's only feasible if you're making large volumes at lower prices.

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The range still has a huge number of practical pieces though, including felted winter boots and oiled-leather riding boots.

A model made in the latter - the Husaren, shown above - was made (moderately) famous by Brad Pitt's wearing it during the film Inglorious Basterds.

Its distinctive style comes from excess leather around the ankle being pulled together by leather laces - actually, a single lace that pulls through all the eyelets and then wraps around the ankle.

Although I liked the style of the Husaren, it was a little too chunky and rugged for me; the polo boots, pictured below in tan, were more appealing.

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The lovely Till Reiter, who took us around the factory, had clearly been reading up on Permanent Style.

As we went round, he was interested to compare Ludwig Reiter's processes with those of Edward Green, which he had seen on their recently posted video.

For example, he compared the cutting of the uppers, which at Green is largely done by hand, with some punched out with a press knife.

At Ludwig Reiter, some smaller runs are done by hand and press knives are used, but a good portion are also cut by a computer-guided laser (below).

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Reiter has other machinery that is more modern than most English makers - such as the new, electronic lasting machine. But others, too, are older, like the brogue-puncher that dates back to the 1940s (above).

"Old machines are often more reliable, because you know how to use them and how to repair them," says Till. "But you have to keep investigating modern options, because if they work they will save you money in the long term."

Machinery is also about capital, first and foremost.

People touring factories often assume that every machine has been picked out by the company for its particular job, above all others. But the reality is that it takes years to save up for a new machine, and a decade or more to transition a whole system.

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For Till, the biggest advantage of having more of their own stores is bringing everyone closer to the customer.

"It will help a lot with figuring out which of models best suits different markets," he says. "We have a big range, and it needs to be targeted."

I couldn't agree more. While there is a lot of competition for their more standard oxfords and brogues, there is an opportunity for specialty pieces - particularly given the price point and advantages of running a factory (eg made to order and size/width range).

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

til-reiter

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Norbert

You were very close to Hungary, I hope one day you will be visiting the Vass shoe factory too!

ANM

Short of starting a trend of using industrial/utility footwear as a fashion statement (like Sorels’ have done in Canada), I am left with a feeling of “what’s the point?”

Some years ago, I read an auto writers’ take on Volvo.

The general conclusion was that for every specific Volvo model one could find a German equivalent in Audi, BMW or Mercedes, which lead to the author wondering why it existed at all.

While not quite the same, Simon, why did you write this article ?

Anonymous

Are you wearing the caliendo super heavy trousers?

Anonymous

You seem to wear them a lot. If I wanted to get bespoke trousers to be worn like more formal khakis, but could not justify the cost for such inexpensive cotton cloth, would this be a good option?

Stephan

Simon, who would you compare Ludwig Reiter to? Crocket & Jones?

Katharina Faber-Castell

Thank you for this interesting article and beautiful pictures!

Ludwig Reiter kindergartner

Dear Simon,
You neglected to ask Till Reiter about the history of the Reiter family enterprise and how his grandfather or whoever was involved in the aesthetic development in Vienna and Middle Europe. Till Reiter himself is a very polite and considerate person which I know from my own experience. You are on the right track by searching for cultural roots in German speaking spheres which have been battlefields of light and as the German language expresses for its counterpart Finsternis. Three wars due to leadership lacking in awareness has destroyed much in Middle Europe, but your judgment about Ludwig Reiter shoe design is, pardon me, a very serious error which you can surely correct by deeper study. Ludwig Reiter design expresses a beautiful harmony. I would consider it a privilege to wear any Reiter shoe of leather. The elegance of the Reiter monk design is superb, and in very subtle manner perfect.

Anonymous

Dear Simon,
I don’t know know if I want to agree to disagree because I’m not sure if we disagree. I do not quarrel with persons like Swiss who have a psychological need for certain shapes and colours. Europe is an expression of the various parts of the human soul, the various ethnic collectives each have a strength in one of these soul limbs. So there may be dissonance in the music but that is not intellectual disagreement but artistic dialectic in the sense world – Goethe’s idea of metamorphosis.

Anonymous

Hi Simon nice piece, thank you. It was the Husaren I had in mind to go with your Sexton great coat. You could face any weather with that combination.

J

Hi Simon

A few years back I enjoyed a slightly boozy day at the Cowdray gold cup, during which I managed to acquire a pair of polo boots similar to those pictured in this article. Do you have any tips on what to wear them with? To date they are relegated to fancy dress only which is a shame as they are beautifully made but just feel a little to ‘novelty’.

Many thanks!

J

Yes and I also find that trousers get creased within the boots so if you are going to wear them you really have to commit for the day. Please keep us posted with any thoughts here.

J

Hi Simon

I couple of years on I’m wondering how you are getting on with these? On such a dark wet day my polo boots might get a rare outing, but I enjoy looking at them more than wearing, which is a shame.

Best,
J

J

Ha, thanks I’m not doing something wrong then. I’m looking at Ludwig Reiter’s Maronibrater boot for the same reason. On the upside the polo boot makes a good door stop.

Oliver

On the topic of the polo boots, I can’t see these on the website, or indeed anywhere else. Are these made to order only? Issues of practicality aside, I think they look wonderful.

Martin

I read somewhere that Ludwig Reiter`s neakers are not produced in their own factory but by some other firm. Can you confirm that? And how do their oxfords and brogues compare in quality to those by Alden or Crokett & Jones? Beautiful and interesting photos, by the way.

Winot

I bought a pair of the Husaren boots a while back when they were being sold via the Rake. The intention was that they would be a substitute for Wellington boots. I like the style but the jury is still out on fit – they are quite tight round the ankle. Probably need a lot of wearing in (and that may take a while).

Graham

Nice to see some attention paid to this brand. I stumbled across them, so to speak, by discovering their Zurich shop. I thought the designs were lovely, and the quality and price excellent. The chap in the shop was super friendly too – he re-openned the shop after closing time when I knocked on the door.

Graham

I returned to Zurich in May 2017 and bought their Norweger sportive in brown Scotch grain. Already they have proved to be a good purchase. The same chap was working in the shop (always a good sign), and he, Daniel, gave exceptional service.

ANON

Greetings Simon –

Just picked up a pair of the Maronibraterin shearling lined leather boots.

The shearling lining aside, can you speak to how comfortable LR’s boots are in general?

I’ve read that LR shoes (and boots) can take a while to break in. Is there much arch support?
Does the sole offer much shock absorption? Are these boots where I’m going to feel the ground, so to speak?

Thanks