One strand of the Stefano Bemer story began in the early 1980s, in the town of Greve, Chianti, where the company’s eponymous founding father was then labouring as a humble cobbler. Still in his teens, Stefano was shown a collection of John Lobb bespoke footwear belonging to a local aristocrat who’d taken a shine to his work. Sensing the potential to move above and beyond mere shoe repair, he was inspired to become a cordwainer proper, and set about studying shoemaking with a seasoned artisan in Florence. Once he’d mastered the craft, he established his own atelier in 1987.
Operating from what Forbes once described as “a little humidor of a shop” on Florence’s Borgo San Frediano, Stefano Bemer’s beautiful handmade shoes soon found renown with a small, in-the-know group of aficionados — including luminaries such as Gianfranco Ferré, Andy Garcia, Julio Iglesias and most famously, Daniel Day-Lewis, who remarkably took nine months out from his acting career to apprentice with Stefano in 1999 and 2000. (The two are said to have bonded over a shared dedication to perfectionism; where Day-Lewis will happily shoot take after take to get a portrayal right, Stefano would scrupulously scrap the results of untold hours of work if the shoes failed to meet his exacting standards.)
London-based shoe designer Justin Fitzpatrick also learnt his trade at Stefano’s side. Following the shoemaker’s untimely death aged just 48 in 2012, Fitzpatrick wrote with great candor on his blog, The Shoe Snob, that although Stefano Bemer “was one of the most amazing artists of this generation, particularly in the world of footwear,” and someone for whom Fitzpatrick had the utmost respect and affection, he suffered the lack of commercial sense common to many creative types, and was “not a good business man, at all.” On the plus side, Stefano’s work was never compromised by ‘selling out’, Fitzpatrick said. However his lack of self-promotion also meant that “as brilliant as he and his shoes were,” during his life, like a modern-day Vincent Van Gogh, Stefano Bemer’s name unfairly languished in obscurity — “and that saddened me, as I felt that his shoes deserved to be known; they were among the best of the best and still are.”
The second strand of the company’s tale began a few months after Stefano’s unfortunate passing. The shoemaker’s friend, Tommaso Melani, approached Stefano’s partner in design and life, his wife Cristina, and presented a plan to honour the name by growing the company, while preserving the unique style and standards of craftsmanship Stefano Bemer had cemented during his brilliant, if tragically all-too-short career.