Craft / February 2017

The Last Emperor: Yohei Fukuda

There’s a distinct sense of understatement surrounding Japanese shoemaker Yohei Fukuda, who strikes The Rake as a man that likes to let his work speak for him. And speak for him it does, as our Online Editorial Assistant explains.

In eras gone by, if one was to happen upon a wonderful shoemaker hidden in a corner of Japan that few had had the fortune of discovering, that shoemaker would remain a well-kept secret; the travelling elite, the rich and famous, and those in the know would guard his name and whereabouts like precious treasure. Wearing the shoes of said artisan would become an unspoken insignia amongst them, a silent nod, a tip of the hat, but those not in step with high society would be left behind, longing for footwear as fine.

As much as The Rake is a devout advocate of tradition and heritage, we’re also becoming increasingly aware that, alas, things are not as they used to be. But it’s not all bad, for if nothing had changed, you wouldn’t be reading this on our brand new website, and I might not have stumbled upon Japanese shoemaker Yohei Fukuda on the highly regarded, extremely exclusive medium that is… Instagram.

With 52 million photographs uploaded to the social media platform daily, how does a bespoke shoemaker from the other side of the world stand out? For me, and no doubt thousands more, a picture of his heritage collection stopped me mid-scroll. Polished to the point of flawlessness, it was the shoe’s curious lacquered finish and rich patina that arrested me. It had the same mouth-watering effect as that of a freshly opened bottle of Scotch, the perfectly glossy surface untouched and unblemished, and turned out to be similarly moreish; I was quick to add my name to the 53k-strong list of followers.

Speaking to Mr Fukuda, he is eager to point out how much social media has made a difference to his business; “Word of mouth is very effective, and it’s so important especially in the bespoke business, because bespoke is kind of hidden – it’s difficult to know what’s going on. It’s great to introduce viewers directly to what companies want to show.” Three years ago, Fukuda tells me, his client base was dramatically different – “now, more than half of my customers are foreign, and I’m glad they find my shoes through social media.”

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Anna Prendergast

Anna is a freelance writer and former staffer at The Rake. She is passionate about travel, well made clothes and homemade chocolate chip cookies.