Norman Vilalta talks with the kind of impassioned optimism more commonly associated with inspirational speakers. But instead of spouting clichés that have little to no meaning, his enthusiasm is centred around the craft of shoemaking, of which he is arguably one of the most innovative in the world. “Us bespoke shoemakers,” explains Norman, “we are searching for perfection, and what I learnt from my master was to try and aim for technical perfection. But here, in my workshop, I realised there are many ways to achieve perfection other than with just technique."
That workshop lies in the heart of Barcelona, and is in the kind of disarray you’d expect from a creative artist: pots of polish and wax scattered around the place, menacing tools hanging from nails in the wall and rough sketches of eccentric-looking shoes providing inspirational templates for his work. It’s here that he designs, creates the lasts and does the groundwork for the shoes, before they’re shipped to a factory in Almansa for stitching, and then back again to the workshop for the finishing touches, including creating the patina by hand.
Norman’s work environment was nearly very different, however. He studied law up until the age of 31 with the intention of becoming a politician, a desire sparked by “an injustice” he wanted to change. “I was about to choose a master's in law, but at the time I was already learning how to make shoes, as well as being into industrial design and things like that. And then shoes became the main thing, so I realised that I wanted to become not only a shoe designer, but a bespoke shoemaker.” He moved from Argentina, where he was born, to Italy to learn the craft of cordwaining, first under Saskia Wittmer and then the famed Stefano Bemer, who Norman describes as a true master. “He was teaching things, very deep things."