Stivaleria Savoia bespoke shoes: Review

Monday, November 13th 2017
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When I cover an artisan where I’m genuinely interested in the product - its quality, design and often heritage or story, I have something made.

I then tend to cover the maker in one, initial post that explains their product and background; and a second post that more fully reviews the final product.

These posts can be months apart, but it’s only after that second post that I feel a reader can get a real feel for the product, and a true recommendation.

Stivaleria Savoia, a bespoke shoemaker based in Milan, is a tricky one.

I first covered them in June, and wrote about their wonderful history and time-frozen atelier.

It’s a lovely place - warm, welcoming and steeped in history - and one you'd hope will never change.

The world would be a lot poorer without these living embodiments of craft and tradition.

But unfortunately it might be that Savoia's deep roots have stopped them moving forward - and that this is reflected in the product.

The brown-calf cap-toe oxfords I had made were a good fit. Solid.

Not perfect, but then a first pair of bespoke shoes rarely is. It’s a developing relationship; the last is refined, and generally the second pair will fit better than the first.

This is the nature of bespoke, whether tailoring or shoemaking.

It breaks all the bonds of process-driven manufacturing, creating freedom but also risk.

Over time, that risk is reduced and it’s possible to get much closer to perfection than you can with an average-driven manufacturer. But the first time is rarely perfect.

That said, most bespoke shoes I’ve had fitted better than any ready-made pair, and these from Savoia were no exception.

The general issue I have with my ankle being too narrow for the width of my joints was easily solved, and the shoes fit well around the ankle, holding me in tight.

The fit was also great through the arch - often a problem with a first pair.

The only issue that would be corrected next time is there needed to be more space across the top of the joints, where the toes bend. Here the shoe is a little too close, and a tiny bit uncomfortable.

(Again, any ready-made shoe on me will have more than one equivalently small point of imperfection.)

The make of the shoe is also solid, although points like the segue between sole and heel on the side of the shoe (above) could have been neater.

There is also not a lot of finesse in the waist of the shoe, or the angle of the heel stack, which are aesthetic attractions of many bespoke shoes.

Fausto Risi of Savoia did offer me two options in terms of how the waist was finished: square or rounded.

I went for the rounded option, and there is a nice shape to the waist, as well as a subtle cut inwards on the side that is usually a sign of a hand-made sole.

And it would be harsh to judge the shoes on the basis of the finer making points like an ultra-slim welt or sharply bevelled waist.

It’s not the style of Savoia and not something they’re trying to achieve.

But at the same time, I do think these points are a reflection of a general lack of style, both in these shoes and the rest of the Savoia range.

The shape of a shoe, particularly its toe, is defined by infinitesimal changes to line and curve.

Tiny alterations in the length of the toe, how quickly it narrows, and the angle of the very tip (not just in width but in height) combine to create a look that is often as subtle as it is distinctive.

It’s not an easy thing to get right, and perhaps the most instinctive part of the shoemaker’s art.

Good lasts can last generations, and ride out many swings in fashion. But they do also need to be updated occasionally, with a fresh eye.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I like my Savoia shoes in many ways, but they feel rather dated.

It is possible to do a classic, round-toed oxford in a very modern and elegant way. Saint Crispin’s are particularly good on this.

It is also possible to do a sharply squared toe that is not too extreme (Gaziano & Gaziano, for me), or an elongated shoe that also doesn’t feel extreme (I’d highlight Corthay).

None of these, I feel, are present at Savoia. They also lack the alternative attractions of patinas or subtle burnishing.

Bespoke Stivaleria Savoia shoes are very good value: €2000 for a hand-sewn shoe made on a personal hand-carved last, all in the centre of Milan.

If a reader visits and likes the styles, they might make a really interesting option for a first foray into bespoke.

But I feel that's the only point on which I can recommend them.

Photography: Jamie Ferguson (shoes being worn) and Permanent Style

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Don Ferrando

Good review.
De gustibus non est disputandum.
Actually I like the style of those shoes!

Joseph Tay

Hi Simon, is there a reason why the left cuff appears to have more break than the right pant cuff (in both the 1st and the 4th photo) – is that down to your posture, or is something off with the pants? Just curious!

Joseph Tay

Right on. Thanks for the clarification, and appreciate the thoughtful and well-depicted review as always.

Andrew

Hi Simon,
In your opinion, and looking from the angle of fit, for a man with feet of pretty ‘average’ size and shape what advantages(should there be any) do bespoke process have over MTM(in which a pre-existing last is further shaped and refined to fit one’s feet). After reading all of your reviews on bespoke shoemaking it seems bespoke shoe making is hardly perfect (in terms of fit anyways which is what I am after). Therefore I conclude for a person with ‘average’ size and shape feet he should be able to achieve ‘close to perfect’ fit by going MTM as described above.
What’s your take?

Burt

I’ve had the same question for a while, i.e. going to a bespoke maker vs. MTM in London. At GG they suggested mtm to begin with. However, heel cups tend to be too wide on many RTW shoes. But then staff at GG said the heel cups of their shoes are fairly narrow by default, which I felt to be true compared to EGs shoes. I’m still a little in doubt, though.
By the way, thanks for an interesting article 🙂

DKP

Quite like the look of the shoes myself. Suppose that makes me old fashioned!

With regards to the trousers shown in the first photo, I’d be interested to know the dimensions of the trouser leg & cuff, ie what would I tell a tailor if I wished to replicate?

DKP

were you able to check the width?

rups

They look really good to my eye. Your right they dont have the fancy bespoke shoe tells like the really slim welt or angled heel stack but these to me are just superficial. The shape looks attractive and if they are comfortable and made with good materials 2k sounds really attractive for a hand made shoe in Italy. other makers are charging 2/3 times that much!

Anonymous

I would say slightly unfair review. This seems to fit squarely in the camp of permanent style, and the other areas you are described are almost certainly more cyclical and fashion focussed. I would define this as core good taste, not exciting but just about perfect at simply ticking the boxes.

Anonymous

Sorry Simon, I think we only got half your comment here?

Anonymous

Ok. I would broadly disagree. these variations are still cyclical, always playing off the original. We saw that in 60s / 70s with different suit styles etc (even on saville row). These shoes are a core classic, without the cyclical variation. I think perhaps Simon, you can’t see that forest for the trees and view the current styles as mainstays. They are not permanent upgrades to the originals, but merely momentary (even if momentary means 15 years!) variations. Thoughts?

Hristo

Thank you, Simon, for this article! I expected it for some time.
Can you give a short comment on the delivery time for bespoke shoes (fastest and average time).
It is already 1,5 years and my bespoke Meccariellos are still not ready. And I recently inquired at Ryota Hayafuji who lives in my town and he also said that it takes 12-15 Months.
Is it always so slow?

Hristo

And with other brands you tried like GG and Cleverley?

Burt

I was quoted 1 year at GG last week

Hristo

Thank you, Simon, thank you Burt!
As GG has increased their prices again I decided to give Ryota a try.
Best regards
Hristo

Barry Pullen

I agree that these aren’t the most stylish shoes out there, but they have a certain charm that is not at first readily apparent (btw, they look exactly like the fabled old Gatto bespoke shoes of Rome). I was fortunate enough to score a pair of Santoni’s in this identical style: they are the least ‘stylish’ shoes I own– but they are my favorites.

I suppose it is best explained this way: if you’re wearing a pair of shoes by il Micio, people will look at your feet and say, “Oh; he has money.” If you’re wearing Stivaleria Savoia, the response will be, “Oh; he comes from a FAMILY that has money.”

I guess that’s the difference.

Gonzague

I find the post and the comments really interesting : I agree with you Simon that many bespoke artisans (tailors, shoemakers) should care more about style. To me, a classic without style becomes ordinary.
Still I am not surprise that many like these shoes. I think it is not so much that they like the look, they seem to care essentially about the fit and the make, not the style. And tend to treat style as fashion, i.e. something superficial/bad. I find it odd as the beauty of a bespoke apparel comes from its lines and volumes, both largely influenced by style.
These shoes are not ugly but boring and it seems from the top view picture that the sole is too wide vs the shape of the shoe and that it does not enough follow the contour of the shoe.

Luca

Hi Simon, how is the quality compared to Vass Shoes that, as far as I know, are also fully handmade (not bespoke though)? Thanks.

Reuven Lax

To clarify, you’re saying that Vass quality is better?

John

Hi Simon,
Thanks for this sober review. Personally and as a matter of taste, these rather conservative punched cap-toe oxfords are what I would wear, if they were black.
While reading your review and few comments above, I realized how our taste and sense of style have dramatically evolved in the past years. And the question that still puzzles me is whether such a change came about because few bespoke shoemakers started producing sharp shoes or rather because consumers started at some point to prefer sharp shoes. Frankly, I don’t know! To me, GG, Corthay, the late Bemer and Bestetti, Fukuda and others, a new generation, that is, have shaped and have been shaped within the process. And obviously, their customers mostly belong to a new generation too!
I remember having seen a very exquisite sharp brown brogues made by Savoia. So I assume they could make such shoes too, if they received requests from the new generation more consistently. Lacking a RTW line alongside their bespoke isn’t helpful in that regard. For they would have received more pressure from clients until they bent to their tastes. But to be honest, I really don’t think that pointy shoes have a future.
John

Bob

Apologies for the slightly noddy question but how does bespoking shoes work? I mean with a suit a tailor can clearly see fit and how it moves with you and so in theory needs little input from the customer on fit (just style/personal preferences).

Shoes are obviously more opaque/made from a stiffer material etc and so I imagine much harder for the shoemaker to judge. I’d somewhat question my own ability to know whats good given only ever had a relatively limited range in RTW shoes and whilst I can spot a couple of obvious issue I am not sure I’d really know what the “correct” height arch, heal etc should be.

For example I’ve also found many a shoe is fine brand new but can “bite” a little after broken in which I’ve never been able to predict and so how do I avoid this with bespoke.

Tim

I quite like the traditional last, though the curves aren’t as handsome as others I’ve seen. The color also looks a bit bland right now. Perhaps they’ll acquire a nice patina over time.

Anonymous

An unrealted question, and one I’m sure you haven’t had to think about for a little while: when you do your first big order of shirts after finding a new shirt maker and liking the trial shirt, how many shirts would you say is reasonable/respectful to order in the first go? I say this in the context of Italian shirtmakers who don’t ask for a minimum order, but presumably put some cost into the development of a pattern-costs which they would like to recoop and then make some profit. If we are going off the English tailors who charge a minimum, this would be 3-4 shirts (assuming 4-5 minimum order including the trial shirt). This is one of those etiquette points that sometimes makes new bespoke customers uncomfortable in a foreign world.

Anonymous

Good clear review thank you. I note a slght amount of scuff on the sole toe ends – this can suggest that they are slightly too long (more than 1 1/2 inches beyond end of big toe) – if so this places extra tension on the upper mid foot when the shoe is flexed during walking and may be the explanation as to the shoe feeling too tight in this area. That aside they look good though lack the style of Cleverley et al. You have paid €2,000 for them – I know that Trickers will do bespoke starting around £1,000 with a Springline last – this being so, on behalf of readers might you try them? Traditionally they produce thicker, country style shoes but are capable of finer, ‘city’ style shoes and their quality is always high.

Gordon Houseman

Trickers now start at £1,500.

Litigator

I am in the camp that quite likes the look of these shoes! Yes they are (very) traditional, but that is no bad thing. There are so many shoes out there that, although finely made, are chiselled to the point of hyperbole. There is something very honest and charming about them. If I find myself in Milan I will certainly pay a visit.

I know what you mean about

Laurent

Thank you for the review, I was also very curious about the result!
It sounds better than it seems though, as always it is a point of perspective. These shoes are classical and might lack some “je ne sais quoi” in their shape, but they are solid as you rightfully say. So, compared to MTM prices at the upper echelon, these shoes are only slightly more expensive and thus a great opportunity to support an artisan maker, as well as to have your shoes made bespoke.
Assuming you get to Milan from time to time.
Agreed, the make seems a bit sloppy, that segue you point out is really bad. At least the heel seems to have been built from individual leather sheets and not from a read-made block (some bespoke makers do so, believe me).
All in all an interesting option and a great way to assess what we, today, deem important.
Obviously some makers are more about “design” and “marketing” and they are pushing the “industry” in general. But just as much, it is nice to see some continuing on their treaded path, hoping that they shall be there for a long time.
Finally, how would these compare to Lobb London, have you ever considered them?

K K

I’d like to add my voice to those that have already expressed favour with the design of these shoes. To my mind they look perfectly decent in an understated way without the fastidiousness of anything too “fashiony”; they would have been quite wearable 50 years ago, and will probably remain so 50 years hence, and that must be in their favour.

Simon, I have a request for a review of another bespoke shoemaker, where I think the aesthetics will be worth microscopic analysis: Amrik Chaggar. He trained with Terry Moore at Foster’s and, probably uniquely, is an equally experienced bespoke tailor. There is certainly plenty of shoe porn on his website and I think the question of style and the intuition behind it is one that will be fascinating to explore in depth with someone like him.

ANM

Hmmmmm….complaints about the style, yet it is a bespoke shoe…Could you not have requested certain changes to make the final product more to your aspirations?

I find it surprising that you were faced with the simultaneous offering of bespoke fitting, but off the shelf style…..one without the other defeats the purpose, does it not? What was it that originally convinced you to order a pair?

The “any colour want, as log as it is black” restrictions (on style) would have been a complete turn off for me…

Andie Nicolas

Thanks for your honest appraisal Simon. The pictures confirm poor workmanship in a few areas and the shoes do look drab, especially as they are presumably in the order of 2000euro in cost. Which brings me to the bespoke process whether shoes, shirts or shoes. To me, using the first bespoke suit, shirt or pair of shoes as the “test” is not economical taking the cost of the article in the first place. It is good to say that the next suit etc will be better but the fact remains many cannot afford the cost of going through the process again in order to get a better article. Bespoke might be something that a person utilises once every few years (and perhaps only once) and even so, when you do go back for the second suit etc your body shape or foot arch may have changed so you have to virtually start again. Which may make it better to go MTM/MTO unless you are film star/magnate with loads of money or have a unique body or foot shape which only warrants bespoke!

graham

One always hears/reads/sees the comment about bespoke shoes: “the first pair never fits well”. The second pair is better…so logically throw away the first pair. It is a great business model, to make something very expensive that requires another purchase. Recently I was in in John Lobb NYC with a chap who only wears Lobb. He was buying some sneakers. We started chatting. He said he had several bespoke Lobb (yes, several), but did not like them, so has gone back to their standard lasts….what!

Fabrizio

Excellent article. I have 12 pairs of shoes made by Stivaleria Savoia in 1982 through 1985 when the Ballini family owned the store. They have been resoled many times and still look great. I love their “aged look”. Even though today’s prices for their bespoke shoes are very attractive, I wouldn’t go back since the company has been acquired by the Neapolitan necktie maker Marinella, in line with what is going on with other great shoemakers in Florence and Rome (unfortunately Gatto has been acquired by Lattanzi, Stefano Bemer and Ugolini by other companies). All this raises the prices while the client is forced to deal with a “director” or “general manager”. My five cents…

Fabrizio

Thank for answering Mr. Crompton. They were going out of business not for the first reason that usually comes in mind, i. e. a failing business. Last time I was there (before leaving for America), Mr. and Mrs. Ballini told me that eventually they would have to sell because their son refused to work in the family business. He didn’t want to “make and sell shoes”
and preferred to have a regular office job.

Jan

Hi Simon,

Thanks for this very informative review. Just a thought/question – have you ever been in touch with Benjamin Klemann in Hamburg, Germany? Any views on the quality that he offers? May be an alternative for a first bespoke pair, roughly similar prince range (2500 Euros + 500 Euros one-off for the last, incl. VAT).

Fabrizio Gatti

Hi Simon. I noticed that you have recently sold this pair of shoes. I am curious to know the reason behind this decision, if you don’t mind stating it publicly. Unfortunately, I wear 91/2 and could not buy them. Many of my shoes, as I have already mentioned in other posts, were made by Stivaleria Savoia during the era when the Ballini family owned it. The only thing I can tell is that they are precisely made this way (no ultra-slim welt nor sharply bevelled waist) and lack the style and patina that the other shoemakers you mention have (Saint Crispin, Corthay and Gaziano & Girling), which, by the way, I don’t really like) only because they symbolize the true understated Milanese style. In fact the city’s style is not the bright, dandyish one that the Instagram experts are nowadays showing, but that of a hard working, bourgeois, middle-upper class person, who loves to pass unnoticed and/or only noticed if one gives them a well-deserved second look. Let’s not forget: Stivaleria’s shoes are the product of a particular cultural way of life and local social class. I understand very well why nowadays they are no Instagram darlings. Regards, Fabrizio

Fabrizio Gatti

Thank you, Simon, for your honest response. You are right: to put, in my own words, even though the majority of its clients nowadays is foreign, Stivaleria remains a local product, hard to sell to people who love Northampton shoes (I do like many of the Edward Green models). We, Lombards, and most of the true Northern Italians, are alpines, and Stivaleria is the expected product, a bit rough and stocky 🙂