Last summer, by a delightful surprise, I got an opportunity to have a pair of shoes made for me by Mario Bemer, famous Florentian shoemaker. After recovering from the complete, although very pleasant “out-of-the-blue” surprise, I begun pondering the unlimited options I had on hand. I finally decided that I would have a pair of classic oxford shoes, known also as balmorals, in a softly chiseled, slightly square shape.

Beautiful, classic soft square last and lasted shoetrees
Classic soft square last and lasted shoetrees

After some months of anticipation, the shoes finally arrived. Packed in a beautiful wooden box, the impressive quality was apparent in every detail. From lasted shoetrees to brass-tipped red shoelaces, the shoes carried the unmistakable aesthetic style of their creator, Mr. Bemer.

Mario Bemer shoes arrive in a beautiful wooden shoebox

I was stunned by the beauty of a new type of “shell-like” dark brown calf leather, created exclusively in co-operation by Mr. Bemer and a local tannery. Its deep lustre and interesting tonality won me immediately over.

Before lasting. The leather, already beautiful, shall become even more stunning in a finalized shoe
Before lasting. The leather, already beautiful, shall become even more stunning in a finalized shoe. Photo: Nicola Sacchetti

As the type of the leather is new, there isn’t much knowledge about its aging. I admit – I’m rather curious about the patina it shall gain. My prediction is that the toe and heel shall gain some darker, deeper colour from repeated polishings while the vamp shall perhaps follow the shell cordovan’s habits of producing lighter shades on points of flex. As an artistic touch from the maestro, I had opted to have the panels piped with red leather, following Mr. Bemer’s style of using one red eyelet as his signature.

Incredible leather appears in different shades, depending on light
Incredible leather appears in different shades, depending on light

The soles are of their own kind. Rubber injected leather soles are both flexible and grippy. The walkfeel is incredible – soft, but still supportive, grippy but not too rubbery. I would say that these rival the best leather soles in comfort, but add the needed grip for moist surfaces, polished floorings and cobblestone streets. As a springy walker, my soles wear out from toe tip area, so I wanted to have steel toe taps to prevent that. As an interesting detail even the screwheads of the toe taps were aligned with the grooves of taps, underlining the attention to detail seen everywhere on the shoes.

Rubber injected leather sole and a red eyelet are signature details of Mario Bemer
Rubber injected leather sole and a red eyelet are signature details of Mario Bemer shoes

In terms of fit, the shoes are in their own league in every sense. The shoes feel as they would fit “deeper”, closer to the foot than any of my previous shoes. My first thought about the sensation was that it was almost chukka-boot -like, enclosing the foot and giving support exactly where needed. The fit also accentuates the light weight of the shoes – as the shoes fit close and are nearly unnoticeable, the lightness can really be experienced.

The fit of Mario Bemer oxfords is close, making the shoes feel light
The fit of Mario Bemer oxfords is close, contributing into a light, springy walkfeel

The only slightly uncomfortable point is due to my own fault. I have a malleolus that, while stepping, reaches lower than commonly. I sadly forgot to make a note about that. In the future, I shall have my shoes shaped a bit differently on that area to accommodate the movement. I’m certain that the leather shall soften during a first long walk, turning the problem into a thing of past. I must emphasize that the pressure point is less severe than with any other shoes I’ve ever owned. Despite that single point of initial discomfort, Mario Bemer oxfords are fitwise as close to perfect ten as I’ve ever experienced.

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Polishing brings out the vibrant shades of the unique leather

Even when wearing the shoes, the absolute beauty of the leather surprised me. Seen as a hide in the workshop the colour had looked already deep and lustrous. However, in the finished shoes, its every feature was amplified in ten-fold. The colour is very deep and lives with the light, being reddish and multi-tonal in daylight and turning into deep browns and almost blacks under artificial lights and nightlife.

Seamless heel and the clean curvature of seams give the shoes a classic, elegant look
Seamless heel and the clean curvature of counter and vamp give the shoes a classic, elegant look

Naturally, having a pair of shoes made for you differs from the normal shoeshop experience quite a bit. It is rather exhilarating to make the choices of materials and shapes, knowing that the result shall be exactly what you wish. The staff is there to help you, of course, so the untasteful, tacky combinations and poor choices shall be avoided. Albeit my own choices were rather conservative, the red piping adds a touch of sportiness to the model, making shoes wearable with odd trousers, blazers and other relaxed garments. Of course, there is a wait – your shoes have to be constructed, after all – but great things seldom happen immediately.

Grey flannels, blue suit or even jeans - Mario Bemer oxfords can be worn both formally and casually
Grey flannels, blue suit or even jeans – Mario Bemer oxfords can be worn both formally and casually

I wish to extend my thanks to Mr. Mario Bemer and the staff of Mario Bemer Firenze for this opportunity. The whole project was an incredible experience. The opening of the wooden shoebox reminded me of the childhood Christmas time with its thrill – although I knew what the package contained, I was filled with awe and happiness to the result. I wish that everyone gives himself the same opportunity to experience the world where the shoes are not just shoes but more – a piece of handcrafting mastery.

Mario Bemer Firenze
– Ready to wear (MTO): from 765 € and up, made to measure options adding 15%
– Full bespoke shoes: from 2400 € + 350 € for the creation of a personal last on first pair

Text: Jussi Häkkinen, Anu Rautalin
Images: Jussi Häkkinen, Anu Rautalin, Nicola Sacchetti

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