On the first day of masterclass, I walked into a classroom full of wooden equipment, paintbrushes, glues, metal tools, and - of course - beautiful leathers in brown, black, and beige suede. Everything was lined up in neat columns and rows, a presentation of its own. I sat down, gazing at my station, excited to transform these disparate elements into the classy handmade pumps I'd seen in photos days before.
This past September, Japanese award-winning shoe artist Noriyuki Misawa conducted two weeks of bespoke shoemaking masterclasses at TaF.tc. Mr. Misawa and his co-trainers, Yukie and Rina, guided more than 35 students as they constructed either a pair of heels or a pair of men's shoes in oxford, derby, or brogue styles.
Joined by footwear business owners, students with years in the shoe & leather industry, and others - like myself - who were constructing shoes for the first time, I was lucky to be a student in his class to make my own pumps. I was in good company, where everyone experienced and appreciated what it takes to make bespoke footwear.
The first thing I learned is that no one has ever told me how much effort and finesse is needed to create such delicate-looking shoes. Between applying just the right amount of pressure to the leather and ensuring that the sole is shaped to wrap the bottom of the shoe perfectly, I found out firsthand that making women's bespoke footwear needs a balance of precision and power.
There is truly an art to shoemaking, and as in all art forms, the subject must be treated with care and thoughtfulness.
The week after, I watched as students made men's shoes with materials that looked much like the ones my classmates had to use. Observing them at work, I couldn't help but admire all the strength it takes to make a timeless pair of shoes. I think it would be impossible now to look at men's leather shoes on display without thinking about the work behind them.
Some were gifting their shoes to their parents or partners. I know some of my classmates talked about putting them in a display box because they couldn't bear to see their hard work blemished. Either way, at the end of two weeks, I think everyone walked away with bespoke, handmade shoes that they could be proud of.
On the last Thursday of classes, we surprised Mr. Misawa with cake on his birthday. Seeing everyone chat with Mr. Misawa about his plans and enjoy food together, I realized that there was something special about having a class and a community to make shoes with. Even as a newbie, I felt cheered on by my teachers and my classmates. That felt just as good as wearing heels that I can tell my friends I've made myself (and with a lot of help).
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