Scheer —
Bespoke shoemaker in Vienna

Markus Scheer looks like a medical practitioner in his trademark white lab coat. But he is craftsman, an intellectual craftsman. He runs Vienna’s oldest and most prestigious bespoke shoemaking business. Founded in 1816 and still owned by the same family. The quintessence of Viennese style.

BR: What is the greatest challenge for a bespoke shoemaker?

MS: Trying to understand the foot. That is a big difference to just trying to measure the foot correctly.

BR: What do you mean by „understanding the foot“?

MS: Understanding means looking at the subject from several angles. Not only because all feet are different. Even if you found two identical feet on two individuals, measured them and built identical shoes for both of them it might happen that one customer would reject them because he finds them to be way too tight while the other says they are so wide that he nearly loses them.

BR: Sounds like a difficult challenge.

MS: You need a lot of knowledge about anatomical preconditions. You also need to know how feet develop during the day. You may allow some feet to have more room in their shoes when the day ends, for some feet this is totally forbidden. Habits also play a big role, climate zones, travel. All of this goes into the shape of the last.

BR: How do you manage to understand a pair of feet very quickly? Usually you see the feet for the first time when someone turns up for the first time.

MS: The approach has developed over several generations. The requirement have also changed. For my great-great-grandfather understanding the foot was not an issue yet. My grandfather started working in that direction but our current approach was developed really in the 7th generation because the requirements are far more complex than they used to be in the past. My personal method is the result of the past 25 years of my work. I visually record the encounter with the customer in my head which allows me to recall every detail afterwards as often as I want.

BR: Which details are most important?

MS: I need to see how the customers walks into the room. There is no time to stroll around Vienna with him, I must take in everything within 30 minutes. Sometimes I watch the customer walking down the street after he leaves. I always do that after they collected their first pair of finished shoes. I analyse how their way of walking has changed as a result oft the lasts I have created.

BR: When you see the customer walking down the street on his way to meet you, can you tell that he is excited by the way he moves?

MS: Usually they walk fast when they arrive and walk slowly when they leave. We also notice that people look proud when they leave the shop in their new shoes. They stop in front of the shop windows and look at themselves. We always try to influence the way they move. With some people, we try to slow them down.

BR: Are you alone with the customer when you measure him?

MS: There is always an assistant by my side when I work but not while I measure the feet. I need the assistant to make notes if I suddenly recall an important detail. Very often I ask the assistant to quickly get a pair of lasts that I am working on in order to make an improvement. This is typical of our method and probably rather unusual.

BR: You make every last?

MS: Yes. And I take a lot of time for every single one.

BR: Do you make a pair of trial shoes.

MS: Yes.

BR: Why? Do you need a fitting or is it intended for the customer?

MS: The trial shoe has been invented as the second step after taking the measurements. With our shoes we intend to perfectly preserve the shape of the foot in its natural shape. Nowadays the trial shoes serve a secondary purpose also. People find it difficult to trust someone, trial shoes are made to build trust.

BR: Is that necessary in your case?

MS: People usually come to us because of our reputation or because of a recommendation. They come here to entrust us with a big amount of money without any type of guarantee. In the past people usually assumed that expensive things are well made, this assumption has been lost in the recent decades. The trial shoe relieves a lot of tension, when it feels good people relax. They look forward to the finished shoe, glad to have made the decision to order shoes at Scheer.

BR: Could you explain the procedure oft he fitting?

MS: I start by explaining the difference between the trial shoe and the finished shoe. Then I sit back comfortably in my chair and tell the customer to walk around a bit. Some of them feel like walking a few kilometres, they start walking up and down the room. It is really interesting time and time again to watch people during this moment. How far they walk, around the table, next door or just a few careful steps. Some feel pressured to make a judgement or find something that they can say. But what can he say? He must follow his intuition. That is all a customer can do.

BR: Has the shoemaking process changed in the past 100 years?

MS: We still use the same tools and the same methods. Some techniques are applied in a different way though. Techniques that were used to make slippers 100 years ago are now used to make sneakers or summer shoes. Lightness and flexibility are very important in our times. We only use natural rubber but we do look out for new materials from various fields. For example materials that are used in space to avoid the waste of muscles in zero gravity. We also need to cater to people with allergies more than in the past. Throughout the history of our business we have always strived to give the maximum, this unites all generations of the Scheer family.

Photography by Martin Smolka.