You grew up in Munich but it took you some time before you decided to dedicate yourself to shoemaking in Berlin. What initially drew you to shoemaking?
That’s always a hard question because in the end I really don’t know. I went to university and started studying but I started one course and then gave up about four times. Back then I moved to Berlin and I mean I had always been into handcrafted things, even when I was younger. I always fixed or repaired my parent’s cars even though I couldn’t drive because I was 15 or something. So I started tinkering at that time, just for me. I made some skirts for my ex girlfriend and then I gave up my last university course, which was music therapy, then I wanted to open up a Western Saloon with some friends of mine. We already had the location and there was an extra room which was slightly too big so we decided we could sell hats and boots, so I did a little research about boots and found out that there are some boot makers still in Texas, and they made these boots that were completely new to me and I thought, “I should make that.” So I went to a shoemaker here in Berlin and asked for work and she said, “no go away”. I came back the next day and I said, “I really want to work here” and she said, “no go away”. On the third day she said, “Okay sit there, don’t talk, don’t touch anything,” and then of course she gave me some work and from that moment on I knew I never wanted to do anything else again. This happened three days before I had to sign the contract for the Western Saloon, which never happened in the end!
I was always really into shoes; shoes always played a big role in my life. Not necessarily these shoes that I make now but nothing really has changed. Even now when I meet someone the first thing I look at is their shoes, it’s always important, it’s always been like this since I was a teenager.
Why did you decide to set up in Berlin?
In the end it’s because I like Berlin. In the beginning I was a little worried if it was a good idea to open up a place where you buy shoes for 5000 euro, but it turns out it’s the perfect place for that. I already had a shop in Munich when I was really young and unexperienced but in Berlin it’s going way better. The good thing is that 20% of customers come from Berlin and the rest come from all over the world. Everyone comes to Berlin at a point, I mean I have some customers who come here just to meet me, but most come to Berlin for other reasons and then come to see me while here.
As you were trained in Vienna, would you consider you process to be Viennese, or would you consider it to be quite German?
At the moment there is no such thing as a German style, in shoemaking there is no German style anymore. It completely disappeared after the Second World War. There was a style, but it doesn’t exist anymore. I was trained in Vienna most of the time but I also went to England. I also looked at a lot of the French shoemakers that I really adore and the Italians of course. Everywhere I go, when I go to a new city, I always go visit the shoemakers. My process comes from looking at the shoes and from working together with English people and the others, trying to make a mixture of all of them because that’s always where Germany is, in the middle. From the east you have Vienna and the Hungarians, they have these really short, massive shoes. You go to France and they have crazy, long elegant shoes that you actually can’t wear, so I’m trying something in the middle. I also try to keep things clean, I don’t like too many colours and broguing and everything else going on, especially in Italy. Maybe that’s a German thing.
Could you walk us through the process of how you make a shoe?
So the first appointment is where we take your measurements and the outline of the foot. The first appointment is always important to get to know the customer, and tell them to take their time, at least an hour in the shop, to see what they like and what they do. I find out what they like to do with their shoes. I see what they do with their old shoes, do they take care of their shoes, or do they just completely fuck them up as soon as possible? Are they clean? That’s always a really individual process, especially at the first meeting. Sometimes we go get a beer somewhere close by, that way you are together and you have to get to know each other.
There are also some things that you can’t really plan, they just happen. Especially when I do the last making of the shoe. I always try to have the customer in my mind, from how he looks to his personality. After this I make a shoe ‘mask’, right and left foot different of course, and then I make a pair of fitting shoes, which are a pair of leather shoes. In the first appointment you don’t need to know exactly what you want. It’s always different. Sometimes people come in and they say, “I want a shoe,” and I’m like, “hmm – blue, red, brown?” Other people come in with pictures and drawings, but the first appointment you don’t need to know exactly what you want. So I make this first pair of fitting shoes, sometimes even from the real leather for the final shoe, and the customer comes again, walks around a little, then I cut a little piece out, if it’s the fitting leather. I have a look and see inside the shoe with the customer’s foot in the shoe to check for stiffness. You can then feel if it’s too loose or too tight. I do this normally two times, but sometimes it’s once and sometimes I need a third pair. If it’s a really complicated shoe, if it’s boots with crazy expensive leather or if the customer has really sensitive feet, you want to make sure you don’t have to make it again. When I buy the leather, I have to buy a whole or half of a cow, and all the leather that comes from here (rump) I can’t use for shoes because it’s too stretchy and there’s wrinkles, but you can use that for bags, and I use that for the fitting shoe.
When it comes to the final shoe, the customer always gets a pair of bespoke ‘shoe trees’, which are made to measure and fit the shoe exactly, which is really important to make the shoe last longer.
How long does a shoe normally last?
I can make a really crazy complicated shoe that lasts two weeks, but I can also have a shoe that lasts forever, it depends on what you want. It depends on how fine or thin the leather is, or how fine the stitching is and how long it takes to make the shoe. When I was trained in Vienna, sometimes I would have shoes in my hands that were 30 years old that just needed a new heel and so on.
How long does it take to make a shoe approximately?
For the customer it’s about half a year, sometimes if someone is getting married we can make it a little faster, but normally half a year. For the working hours, and us, it depends on if the customer is getting their first pair or their second pair, because all that we do with the fitting shoe is already done, you don’t have to do it for the second pair. We also already have the shoetree from the first pair. But for the first pair it is usually approximately 100 hours.
How would you say your process differs from others, from people you’ve learnt from or people you admire in the shoemaking business?
Well I’d say what we do here is we really work completely without electricity, so far I don’t know any others who do this.
And why do you do that?
I’d say it’s probably my personality. If I do something, I want to do it the proper way. Of course I could put some machines in the workshop, which are grey and ugly and loud. I could make the shoe in half the time it takes to make now and the result would be exactly the same, but I don’t. If I can’t do it like this I could work in a bank or something, I could do something else. I want to do it like this, this is what I want to do, and I’m not really into compromise.
Why do you make the heel look the way it does?
There was one important thing that I experienced when I was 16 when I bought my first pair of cowboy boots. I put them on and I thought, “Oh wow this is a different feeling.” I don’t know if you’ve ever worn boots like that before but they just feel amazing, you feel pretty cool. So I thought, “what is it, what makes this feeling?” And I think most of it comes from the heel.
As you’ve said, your passion was originally for cowboy boots and the Wild West. Have you had any customers that have enabled you to really lean into that passion through the creation of their custom shoe?
Yes and no. I have made some cowboy-esque boots before. At the moment we are making the first pair of real cowboy boots. We have one customer who saw that I wear cowboy boots from time to time and so he wanted some and yeah, it’s exciting. It’s going to be pretty clean, there won’t be too much decoration but still in general it’s a real cowboy boot. They do these funny things; like they put this huge nail in the middle of the sole, funny things like that I’ve never done before, so it’ll be fun. It’s a different way of shoemaking. I have some friends in Texas who make cowboy boots still in Texas so I call them and ask questions, which is really nice.
How long will this shoe take?
Crazy long, because I want to do it right. But it’s okay because I want to do it and it’s cool – finally a real cowboy boot!
Considering your process is so personal and takes so much consideration, what is your relationship usually like with your clients?
Well this customer actually, I think he calls me once a week and we just talk. I always tell my customers to send me anything they like – food, music, things they find interesting. I have one customer who gets two pairs of shoes made every year. He comes here twice a year and picks up one pair of shoes and orders the next pair. He always just gives me a direction and then he says, “and now its up to you.” I really like that, we are kind of friends already, and he always sends some inspiration, whatever it is, so I get a more involved picture of him and his personality, which helps me to design.
So there’s still a lot of creative licence for you?
Definitely. As I said, sometimes they come here and just say, “I want a shoe!”
There’s been a lot of discussion in the fashion industry recently about how detrimental COVID-19 has been and will be to retail in particular and fashion as a whole. What is your take on this and how do you relate to this?
The fashion industry and Coronavirus… I don’t know. Maybe people will start thinking a little more about what they wear and buy, but to me the fashion industry is something I don’t really think about. I don’t see myself as a fashion designer, I’m more of a craftsman, not only a craftsman, of course, but that’s what I do. Asking about the fashion industry is like asking me about art, it’s not my thing so much. I don’t have anything against it but it’s just not for me. What you get here, these shoes that I make, these shoes are not fashion inspired, most of them are timeless classics. There are no seasons; it doesn’t exist. You know I’ve been wearing these trousers and buy new ones, the exact same ones, for the last 12 years, so yeah…that’s kind of what I do.