April 28, 2013 by Ville Raivio
’52 years of age. Bespoke Shoe and Bootmaker. Lithographer, Art Director, Shoemaker, which includes the crafts Lastmaker, Pattern Cutter, Closer and Maker. I am not married, no children either. [I became interested in shoemaking] at the age of 17, asking the local shoemaker to make me a pair of boots. He excused himself in a way that I understood he was unable to execute the craft. So, I started on the process myself – making all the mistakes possible. But, I started at the bottom, which was absolutely correct! My mother warned me already at the age of 17. Since 1981, I spent 6 years fumbling with leathers and tools, thinking and dreaming…until I went to London and John Lobb in 9, St James’s Street. I ordered a pair of shoes and a pair of trees. In 1992, Jonathan Lobb came to visit me in Oslo, and we have been friends ever since.
[My company] started when I discovered the interest within myself as a 17 years old boy. Until I was 27, I did not know what to expect. I needed more detailed knowledge and decided to see John Lobb in 1987. After that day everything changed. I had a goal and knew more about how to get there. At least, that is what I was thinking at the time. I have made my own way since I started, so I haven´t been busy considering how I was received, really. It is all about hard work and I understood that when I was introduced to the Lobb “school”. You penetrate the surface when you realize that you are capable of making shoes on a high level – that fit. It can take 20 years to achieve that. If you manage to stay focused, you might be lucky enough to experience that your success rate will also increase as you get older. There is always something to learn. A beginner’s mind is important.
There are so many models to choose between, but I tend to prefer the basic cuts, like Oxford’s and Derbies in different styling, brogues, elastics etc. [My house style is a] rather snug fit, that is a common comment from customers, but there are always irregularities. Some can’t get them tight enough! The Bespoke culture came into the world when times were different. A modern man has, of course, the contemporary phase under his skin, but should seek the knowledge and marvelous discovery about the secret world of comfort in the old timers’ way of thinking. That involves comfort, style, pride, and self confidence.
I have several suits, tuxedos etc., but I tend to prefer slightly more casual wear. To make a Bespoke suit, or dress, I would make an appointment with Tom Mahon in London. He has the touch and the cut. I have so far not used him myself, but he would be my definite choice – when I choose to do so. Traditionally, a Cordwainer is a repairman. I am a Bespoke Shoemaker and do only repairs on my own shoes and boots on the customers own lasts. There are many different “schools” in shoemaking. If one wants an artisan to do the shoes, you should try to find someone who is able to do the whole process of the shoe.
It is only then you can expect the true contact with the Maker and the right feel. This kind of shoemaker has had you in his mind since the day he took the measurements for the shoes. You will never experience that otherwise. But, of course, there are always exceptions and I do not know all of them, even though all the best makers can fit into a letter page. Everything connected to this craft is a matter of experience, not only by the shoemaker himself. It is a relation you are starting before choosing which shoemaker to use, and I would claim without doubt that this is the most important attitude for a novice – to realize that the key is to build up experience together. This you will receive in the end of the day.
[My hobbies are] Ducati motorcycles and driving them, of course! Seek to obtain an attitude as a potential customer where you act towards others with respect and cautiousness, never loose the curiosity and urge to learn about the essence of things. Try to find the Shoemaker you can build a relation with, and see how you are getting on through your first meeting. Let the Shoemaker understand that you have patience and the right kind of attitude towards the craft and tradition. Listen to your new friend and ask questions before you decide how to spend it.’