Gentlemen looking to incorporate a wow factor into their wardrobe in a subtle yet elegant manner should consider adding a pair of bespoke shoes to their collection. Designing and working with a master last maker or shoemaker to create your very own pair of shoes is a completely new and different experience from stepping into a shoe store and choosing from a line of ready-made shoes.

We spoke with Francois Maddonini, the last maker for John Lobb, Jean-Michel Casalonga, the master sheomaker for Berluti, and Tommaso Melani, CEO of Stefano Bemer, to find out what to expect before picking up the phone to make an appointment. Both Maddonini and Casalonga are masters at providing bespoke services and personally make trips to Hong Kong a few times a year to meet with clients. Stefano Bemer’s unique bespoke shoes experience is expected to make its Hong Kong debut some time next year. 

1. The bespoke service is all about creating a personal experience focused on you

Unlike the common man who needs to remember whether his shoe size is an EU 40 or US 9, the gentleman who opts for a pair of bespoke shoes doesn’t need to fill his mind with such frivolous facts. The bespoke experience is a personal one, which means every nook and cranny of the shoe is fashioned to complement each curvature of your foot.

“There is no size,” says Maddonini. “Each pair is made to the measurement of the customer, and the customer can choose everything about the shoe: the leather, thickness of the sole, height of the heel, style of the shoe, colour of the lining. Each detail is decided by the customer.”

“The client is at the very centre of the process, and the future shoe will be created according to the morphology of his foot,” Casalonga says.

2. Have patience

If you were thinking of spoiling your man for his birthday, we hope you plan this at least half a year ahead. Each pair of bespoke shoes require three appointments set across a period of six to nine months, so this isn’t something you can add to your last-minute shopping list.

In the first appointment, the client meets with a master last maker or shoemaker. Apart from measuring your feet, the master shoemaker will also discuss designs and make suggestions. In the second appointment, a prototype model of the shoe is used to test the fit against your feet before returning to the main workshop for final adjustments. If all goes well, the final reveal happens in the third meeting. Otherwise, a fourth follow-up meeting is required, but rarely so.

Maddonini calls the big reveal a “golden moment” for the client. “And for that [moment to happen] it takes time to try and make the best shoes possible.”

3. There’s no luxury without comfort

Bespoke shoes, made from luxurious materials like leather supplied by Hermes for John Lobb or Venezia leather developed exclusively for Berluti, are the epitome of subtle luxury. Stunning without being gaudy, handmade bespoke shoes balance comfort with elegance.

“We often say the making of bespoke shoes is by four hands, or two pairs of hands. That of the bespoke shoe master as well as the client to shape the last, design, little details, etc,” Casalonga says. “Basically it can be of any style – comfort and elegance that fit perfectly.”

The John Lobb philosophy behind bespoke shoes, Madonini says, is “to find the balance between comfort and style”.

4. Whether you are a first timer or a connoisseur of the bespoke experience, choose styles that never fade

If you’re unsure of which style to order, choose a timeless classic like a formal Oxford or a more relaxed Derby. These never go out of style and are something you can wear multiple times.

“There is a large return to classic lines and patterns,” Melani says. “A new, younger audience is now looking at bespoke shoes and taking inspiration from different ages and fashion styles.”

5. Get creative: allow yourself to splurge on a design you’ve always craved

Now that you’re the creative director at the helm of designing your very own shoe, you can and should get as creative as well. “A pair of custom-made shoes brings out the vision that we have of ourselves,” Melani says.

To express yourself, feel free to choose from a wide range of materials, from traditional box calf leather to snake or whatever else you desire.

“Some people want crocodile, some elephant,” Maddonini says. “Last month, one customer asked me for hippopotamus!”

Bespoke shoes start at:

HK$76,000 from John Lobb

HK$67,000 from Berluti

€1,500 from Stefano Bemer (HK$13,240)