Bespoke shoes from Maftei. Part 3 — The shoes are finished

Lucian Maftei works fast even though he makes shoes for a fair amount of customers. My Derby shoes were ready in July despite the general delay caused by the lockdown but I didn’t have the time to collect them. A speedy delivery is important in the bespoke business. The anticipation can quickly turn into impatience when the whole process takes too long. Tailors run the risk that the customer’s weight changes over a couple a month. This is less of a problem for bespoke shoemakers (even though a major weight loss will affect the feet as well) but all bespoke makers run the risk of the customers spending their budget on other purchases if they have to wait for a very long time. This can lead to criticism of the finished pair of bespoke shoes simply because the customer somehow wants to get out of the deal because he doesn’t have the money anymore or no longer wants to spend it on the shoes he has ordered 6 months ago. It also happens that a new life partner who doesn’t share the enthusiasm for bespoke orders has entered the scene in the meantime.

I am convinced that the right chemistry between craftsman and customer is very important. I don’t know anybody who likes to have clothes or shoes made by someone he dislikes. Even though Germans tend to be more tolerant about a craftman’s moods and idiosyncrasies. I do like Lucian Maftei, not least because he doesn’t make a fuss about his skills even though he seems to know very well what he is doing. He doesn’t lecture or philosophise, he takes the measurements precisely and scrutinizes carefully the shape of the feet instead. His aesthetic sense is similar to mine when it comes to the proportions and shape of shoes.

»basically the shoes should fit from the very first moment that you put them on«

Lucian Maftei

We have an appointment at the made-to-measure shirt shop Campe & Ohff in Berlin. It is located at Walter-Benjamin-Platz in the district of Charlottenburg. When I enter the shop 10 minutes before our appointment Lucian Maftei hasn’t arrived yet. He has gone out to meet a nearby customer in his office but he has the left the message that I should please try the shoes on already. The Bordeaux boxcalf leather looks better made up than I had expected from the sample. The shoes haven’t been finished with a mirror polish which is okay with me as I am not a huge fan of extremely shiny shoes anymore. The rubber soles from Vibram have been cemented to the leather midsoles which are handsewn to the welt. Lucian Maftei has told me that he doesn’t like to sew rubber soles unlike many manufacturers of Goodyear welted shoes. Looking at the shoes from above the rubber soles are hardly visible. The lacing was changed after the fitting to an 8 eyelit configuration which creates a less elongated shape. The visual impression of the shape, proportions and finish get a grade A. But how will the shoes fit?

I sit down on a chair and open the laces. I try to slip into the right shoe but I cannot get into it. I loosen the laces further and succeed at the second try. The shoe fits exactly as it should, snugly at the heel and around the midfoot, the toes have enough room. Now the left shoe. It fits equally well. My left foot is a tad shorter than the right and if I have issues with the fit of a shoe it is usually on the right foot. I get up and walk around in the shop. At this moment Lucian Maftei enters the store. He sees the expression on my faces and smiles. He watches me walk around and then gets on his knees to palpate the heels of the shoes to check their fit around my heels, ankles and instep. “Is it necessary to break in a pair of bespoke shoes?” Lucian replies with a shrug and a smile: “Not really. I can build the shoes so that they feel just a little bit tight and soften up after a you’ve worn them a couple of times. But basically the shoes should fit from the very first moment that you put them on”. This is also my opinion. This doesn’t mean that new bespoke shoes should be worn for a five hour walk around town the first time you put them on. Nevertheless you should still be comfortable wearing them after two or three hours. If you have very sensitive feet you should be more careful of course wearing in your new shoes.  I started wearing the shoes regularly immediately after I had picked them up and I didn’t have any problems, still the shoes became more and more comfortable every time I wore them.

My shoes came with unlacquered bespoke shoe trees and a pair of dark blue drawstring shoe bags. Maftei charges far less than his competitors in Vienna. According to the price list presented at Campe & Ohff a pair of boxcalf shoes cost 1150 Euro including the making of the bespoke lasts and bespoke wooden shoetrees. Reorders on the same last cost 950 Euro, the surcharge for Cordovan is currently 350 Euro. Maftei is a Viennese shoemaker but his workroom is located in Romania. We all know that excellent shoes are made in Romania, Saint Crispins is probably the most famous brand that makes its shoes in this country. Maftei has been travelling to Germany since the late 1990s working with some of the best German menswear stores. If you need more credentials then let me tell you that a number of famous bespoke shoemakers use Maftei’s workshop, including one of the most famous. There is probably no other bespoke shoemaker offering better value for money. This is of course no guarantee that everybody will be as happy with Maftei as I am.