The workroom where the Master Shoemaker brings Handmade shoes into existence has air that is thick with the rich smell of the finest hides money can buy which hang around the room in a splendid display of chromatic exuberance. At the far end of the room, standing at one end of a rustic wooden workbench is a Handmade shoemaker who is everything one wants a Gaelic artisan to be in appearance is eyeing up a calf hide in rich maroon spread out before him. Actually, the handmade shoemaker is poring over it, his intense resolve crevicing his forehead, the way an aerial sea patroller might survey a coastline for sharks. The handmade shoemaker, having decided he has spotted every flaw and assessed how to work around the defects to maximum effect; he takes his blade and begins creating what will become the uppers of a discerning customer’s next pair of handmade shoes.
The skilled artisan of handmade shoes is key partly because the way you cut the leather determines how much you waste but much more importantly his work also decides the quality of components you have to work with later. The handmade shoemaker needs to be able to spot the defects and cut around them. Any slight defect such as insect bites, wrinkles, scratches where the animal has rubbed against barbed wire will soon become obvious when the patina is applied to the leather. The hawk-eyed handmade shoemaker is also required to pick out veins that are a fraction-of-a-millimeter thick because using any of these will make the leather weaker making it split when the bottom is attached. The handmade shoes need to be made by cutting the leather around them.
The hide which is subjected to such critical scrutiny will make no more than two pairs of shoes. In the case of crocodile skin, two skins are required to make one pair of handmade shoes partly because you need to use the softer, supplier part of the hide with larger scales in the center. It is well known that in handmade shoes if you see smaller scales it means the company has used lower quality side parts of the crocodile and also because the scales need to match given that crocodile skins are like human fingerprints in terms of individuality. This is an extremely tricky matter of value judgment. It means that only one-third of the animal skin purchased will end up as a pair of handmade shoes. It is definitely a costly decision, but it is where the reputation of the company rests on.
Handmade shoes tend to come in clean, narrow versions of classic shapes and are often spruced up by subtle sole engravings, bright piping, or rich patinas in sapphire, olive or dark blue. A common sight in the workroom is a handmade shoemaker armed with special pliers manipulating a lining and leather upper around a last, assessing the tension and pressure with frowning, obsessional vigor, occasionally blasting the leather with a blow heater to make it more malleable before reworking it further. Watching the handmade shoemaker, it feels like eternity before he finally decides to apply the upper evenly using tacks, which serve a similar purpose to baste stitching in bespoke tailoring. If he stretches the leather even a fraction too much before tacking, the upper’s being off center will be noticeable to the discerning customer.
At the patina stage, where the handmade shoes are given the beautiful chromatic finishes that will enable connoisseurs that will recognize the shoes as being distinctly handmade as the colors are brushed on with the loving, ultra-alert sedulousness of an artist applying oil to a canvas. Every artisan of handmade shoes including the one who applies the final touch of detail carries out his role as if the overall quality of the pair of handmade shoes depended on his professional excellence. A place where these children of the Eye known as hand-made shoes breeds passion of excellence with the community encouraging artisanal culture, making one feel pride and a quiet sense of confidence when wearing a pair of handmade shoes.