An Interview with Leonard Kahlcke


April 5, 2019 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?
LK: I was born in 1975 into an urban situation, growing up hustlin’ and grindin’ until my late 20s just to finally find my peace – I became a lastmaker and shoe designer. I’ve been involved in street culture a lot and ran a night club for about six years while studying. Since 2016, I’ve run a made-to-order and bespoke shoe business in Frankfurt am Main, the city I grew up in.

VR: Your educational background?
LK: I hold a diploma in Fine Arts and studied with a scholarship at The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers at Cordwainers College – London College of Fashion, where I graduated with distinction with an MA in Fashion Footwear. For my final collection I was awarded the Dato Jimmy Choo Award and won “Accessory Collection Of The Year” at ITS, International talent Support in Triest 2013.

VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your shoe enthusiasm)?
LK: No children yet, but I just found the right person and she beautifully inspires me in all that concern.

VR: …and your parent’s and siblings’ reactions back when you decided to become a shoemaker?
LK: My mother is a bespoke haute couture tailor and my father an industrial designer responsible for some iconic household goods of Braun’s from their late ’70s and ’80s production. My vocation now is closely connected to the métier of my parents and they appreciate what I am doing.

VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides footwear?
LK: I love black music and I’ve been involved in the Graffiti and night life culture of my home town. I’ve practiced Taijiquan and Shaolin Cosmos Chi Kung for a long time for spiritual and health reasons, and I like boxing as a fan but only have limited skills with the sweet science myself. I am a passionate cyclist and I enjoy smoking Opium (only did it once, though).

VR: How did you first become interested in shoes, and when did you turn your eyes towards artisanal shoemaking? Why classic models instead of fashion?
LK: I can’t recall the day but I had an affinity for nice shoes from a very young age. I didn’t choose to become a shoe designer and lastmaker nor did it simply came by chance, the shoe game chose me and I am feeling good about that. Already doing handmade leather dress shoes in 2009, I was re-designing collaborations with Asics and New Balance but these tasks were too far away from designing real performance shoes which I found interesting. Now I am very fortunate to not sit in front of a screen all day.

Within the work on hand made shoes I am able to stick to my holistic approach to design and production. Through traditional shoe making I became involved with the world of sartorial attire and style and I really enjoy that part as well. I like to compare the design work in this realm to that of a type designer, because the framework is somehow limiting or strict with rules that need to be understood to do good or better. I don’t believe in hypes and the concept of sustainability makes a lot of sense to me even though I am trying to push a product. I really work hard on my contribution to tradition and already designed a good number of styles and will continue in my life span in order to make it easy for my successors. It’s my pleasure and passion to do so and I know that some day there will be makers copying my styles, hopefully a day that I am alive and able to enjoy that.

VR:How have you gathered your knowledge of the craft – from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?
LK: I am mainly self-trained but still have some good sparring partners that keep me going. In Vienna, I had the opportunity to work at a bespoke shoe maker’s workshop that was dedicated to lastmaking for about 20 years consistently.

I would like to take the chance here to salute Rainer Wilhelm Mark (my lastmaking sparring partner) for his 360°-knowledge about the foot’s realities and his real vision for fit. Karl Georg Henkel (orthopedic master shoemaker & last maker) for theoretic guidance. Other lastmakers, like Michael Rollig (founder of Saint Crispin’s & Zonkey Boot) for his groundbreaking ready to wear-lasts I was able to study. Bill Tippit (Footwear Solutions, CAD lastmaker at Nike) for his “last words“, D.W. Frommer and all those willing to share their extra knowledge. Also the pioneers who did outstanding service for our cultural heritage regarding fit. Frankfurt’s own anatomist and „Schuhreformer“ Dr. Hermann Georg von Meyer, Dr. Wilhelm Thomsen, the natural practitioners, lastmakers and bootmakers, Petrus Camper, Sebastian Kneipp, Carl Birkenstock, Carl Benscheidt (Fargus-Lastmakers) as well as the anatomist Hans Virchow and Berlin’s Dr. med. August Weinert, a no less idiosyncratic researcher and pioneer studying the „straighten up foot“. Aware of knowing the legacy and the heritage that comes with it, I am committed to the present and future of intelligent lastmaking.

VR: How would you describe the “House Style” of Atelier Leonard Kahlcke shoes?
LK: It’s a serious contribution to tradition. Elegance is the key for my style. And I am able to transcend that to every pair I make, always keeping my client and personal style in head. The bodily appearance and physiognomy of my client gives a definite route for the personal shoe type I design with bespoke shoes individually. I already take orders for around 15 original styles that I designed, contributing the canon of „classical“ men’s shoes. But I like to clearly emphasize my work is not to be understood as something like ‘tradition with a twist’ or similar concessive compromises towards a consumer market, but a serious aesthetic contribution to tradition.

VR: Do you have a favourite shoe model (eg. monk, derby, oxford, balmoral boot) and leather type?
LK: I do not, but I do like people that are able to make a certain model their own. I really enjoy working with Leather and just bought a big bunch of crust Peccary skins to experiment with. The leather is versatile and I can offer every color and patina to it. Also sanding it gives a rather rare impression on bespoke shoes. It is the skin of a wild animal that comes with a lot of blemishes from shotgun wounds and other bruises and stains, but I was lucky to have found some very big pieces compared to what merchants have on offer now a days. A good knowledge of leather is very helpful in bespoke shoe making and I was able to gain a lot of that working with Northampton’s Creative Leather Technology programme, producing my own calf crust leathers back when I was living in London.

VR: There are several fine shoemakers in Germany — why should my readers try you?
LK: Thank you for allowing me to brag a little on my business here. First of all, I have a very good price for a bespoke shoe in this realm. Secondly, I specialise in lastmaking, following the oldest and best lastmaking tradition in the world of Germany’s own lastmakers and anathomists. I proud myself to work on developing lasts every day in and out. It makes a difference if one has to do all the others tasks of shoemaking as well.

So, for everyone regarding fit and a personal style as the real thing, I am the man.
I work with trial shoes for a pre-fitting made of my own ready to wear-lasts. Following a fitting shoe secondly, before the final product is made on the bespoke last to be perfect. No one in the trade does that and no one in the trade is as much involved in lastmaking as I am. I also design the styles for patterns on every bespoke last made consequently. The shoes are made in a workshop that does bottom work for some of the best known makers in the world and I buy leather with the same merchants and tanneries that most of the exclusive West End and Japanese makers do too. I don’t make the shoe but I make the shoe suit and fit you! My shoes are distinctive for their superb craftsmanship, perfect fit and effortless elegance, they are an aesthetic contribution to tradition.

VR: What is your definition of a well-made shoe?
LK: I know how a shoe is made and I know many details and their historical origin. Also I offer makings of local heritage that are only available to my product. But there are others who know much more about the quality aspects of shoe making than me.
I mainly judge a shoe by its fit and a worn shoe by its signs of wear. Apart from that I look for elegance.

VR: Who or what inspires you?
LK: I guess it’s the streets. My name got exposed to the streets from a early age and I still have a fond idea about being attached to the streets with what I am doing, I want to be known to make the side walk talk. Of course I was always looking at what others did in the trade, and that also lead to some of the decisions I took. But most inspiring to me is the idea of the legacy that I am trying to build.

VR: Finally, how would you say German artisanal shoemaking differs from British or Italian shoemaking?
LK: As far as I am concerned, there is no one left that has a pre-war history or heritage in style and making. That is why the more known of the younger makers mainly went to Vienna and London in order to gain work experience. Consequently there is a big influence of those foreign makers in German shoemaking. Interesting is the fact that German lastmaking techniques are still in the minds of makers around the world.


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