The value of passionate spending: A bespoke project about shoes with ´Atelier Leonard Kahlcke`
A first meeting with shoemaker Leonard Kahlcke and no intention to start a new bespoke project on my side … and then life came in between
´I would love to take your order`
I was no longer a neophyte for made-to-order or bespoke and this time I was in the market for clothes and especially trousers I had in mind to start with. Ready-to-wear trousers are quite often disappointing when it comes to fitting, style and quality vs price ratio. Made-to-order trousers, my first attempt with a known Italian brand was not a lucky one. I used to have quite a lot of ready-to-wear trousers from them, before they changed ownership and management, it was never a perfect product but at least good value for the money … that changed, and so I looked further and on my search for trousers I met a young and extremely passionate gentleman (Maximilian Mogg, Berlin) who also recommended to meet his friend Leonard Kahlcke (Frankfurt / a.M.) – for shoes.
(picture of Maximilian Mogg´s shop from outside; Berlin)
No need to travel on my side because Mr. Kahlcke comes to my town quite frequently for trunk shows. Of course, I tried to do my homework before our first meeting and checked his homepage and Instagram account. It was not specific shoes that got my attention, but his artistic approach in general. Also, I wanted to learn more about his business model < made-to-measure and made-to-order shoes manufactured on pre-existing lasts, plus bespoke if required > and of course the person behind – like in watchmaking of immense value to get ‘the whole picture’.
He is not a ´Master Shoemaker` but he holds a Diploma in Fine Arts and studied with a scholarship of The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers at London College of Fashion, where he graduated with distinction with a MA fashion footwear. For his final collection he was awarded the Dato Jimmy Choo Award and won “Accessory Collection Of The Year” at the International Talent Support 2013.
Leonard Kahlcke learned his craft of lastmaking in Vienna and follows the philosophy of a German last making tradition that proved to be seminal since more than a century. Aware of knowing the legacy and the heritage that comes with it, he is a true contributor to the present and future of custom-made shoemaking. As a designer of fine handmade shoes, Mr. Kahlcke found his own aesthetic, in fact, he has formulated a very personal approach on how to update classic men’s shoes. Different from fashion with tendencies like “tradition with twist” or similar concessive compromises towards a consumer market, he is also setting himself apart from a conservative traditionalist cult.
Start of the project with ´Atelier Leonard Kahlcke`
Our first appointment was during one of his frequent trunk shows, which was organised by Maximilian Mogg. We sat down and started talking about shoes, my experiences with different brands … arts and good things in life. It was a relaxed atmosphere and in-depth talk between two (eclectic) gentlemen, full of passion on both sides. Mr Kahlcke not only came across as a man of eclectic taste but also as a good listener with genuine interest for his (potential) customer. It turned out that I became seriously curious about a joint project and so me started to talk about a pair of ´Loafers` – a favourite type of shoes of mine. The latter are always challenging when it comes to a perfect fit, which is especially crucial with loafers.
As a first made-to-measure or bespoke project for a new client, most shoemakers try to avoid them – like the devil tries to avoid holy water. To my surprise this time I didn´t get a ´No` for a loafer project but I had to agree on ‘bespoke’. Why? Simply because of his ´standard` lasts wouldn´t fit my feet. After my measurements were taken to prepare my own last, I paid a deposit. Still, it was not clear what the final product would look like – for both of us. The idea was that he will do some sketches/proposals based on our in-depth conversation and that we will then proceed via email and phone. This is where I noticed that Mr Kahlcke indeed is passionately interested to understand the personalities of his clients. Quite different to what I experienced with my 1st pair of bespoke shoes from Italy, and I enjoyed a lot the approach and the joint process.
The offer I got (and accepted) was:
- measurements taken by himself
- individual last done by himself as well
- a trial shoe done by his business partners, to subsequently rip it a part to better understand fit
- some first sketches after a (intense) conversation between us – an openminded process until the end, which I appreciated a lot
- a detailed offer: ´Butterfly Loafer` – best European calf leather, hand welted construction (made-to-measure), bespoke last, fiddle waist, metal tip, plus lasted shoe trees and two Moleskin dust bags
- a second fitting done by himself
No need to travel on my side was convenient as well – less extra time and transaction costs. All-in the budget needed was < € 2k which sounded like a good deal to me.
Snapshots and sketches to illustrate the process
1st check of both the customer’s feet (not mine) and his/her shoe, followed by measurements and drawings.
Bespoke last made out of wood by the master himself.
Ensuring the fit – trial shoes:
1st fitting with a trial shoe, especially made for me and based on my last, just to subsequently dissect it to better understand fit.
Do not get misled – a pair of trial shoes (almost) never looks like your own project. It just helps them to understand your very own physiognomy and your special needs and helps to assure a best possible fit.
Design – the creative process:
Loafers was still what I wanted to go for and so I got (after some time) sketches from plain to sophisticated ones by Leonard Kahlcke for (further) detailed discussions via email and phone.
My final choice was a plain-toe ´Butterfly` loafer (last sketch; more or less) in brown calf leather. Those are an eclectic choice which we don´t see them that often, especially not in major collections from the (wider known) brands. They are special, but without being ´flashy`. Suitable for several occasions, with different outfits and even without socks, in summer. That´s what I had in mind – being eclectic!
The final steps towards ‘my’ shoes:
2nd and last fitting – in my case, as the fit was close to be perfect – already with my very own shoes.
From discussing ideas and sketches to the final shoe. Honestly, I was kind of nervous (at least a little bit) until I saw my shoes and I liked what they created for me – although it came with some unexpected detail to me: The style was exactly what I expected it to be. Only I was slightly surprised about the shade of brown I got, as I had something different in mind. Something more ´Italian` in a lighter shade. It was my mistake, in the course of the creative process I was a bit too occupied with design proposals and other details, next time I need to be more specific what I really want. Lesson learned! Good news, I still like them a lot 😊
As it turned out it was a kind of ´loafer´s day` when I picked up my shoes, in the shop of (once more) Maximilian Mogg. Four gentlemen with loafers and all of them from Atelier Leonard Kahlcke, but each one in a different style. Different people with different context and taste got what they asked for – this speaks for the customer dedication of Mr Kahlcke. Nice, isn´t it!
A few more snapshots to give you an idea about what I got:
´Passionate spending` once more, but in a different way. This time the process and the result were different then last time. Communication was on another level and not only because we share the same native language; it was a dialogue and I enjoyed it a lot.
Last but not least I got a very nice pair of shoes that you won´t see often, that is a pleasure to wear and reasonable priced for what it is. If compared to my 1st bespoke project it was not on the very same level of execution if you go in detail. Both of them high-level, but with a different approach.
What can you expect if you desire your own pair of shoes and would like to get in contact with Leonard Kahlcke? A pair of shoes made especially for your by someone who intimately knows your feet, if you get your own last. Lots of creativity, matching your needs and desires, and an open-minded spirit with almost no limitations … made-to-order, made-to-measure or like in my case bespoke. It´s all about your preferences and imagination to get something valuable – valuable for you. That´s what we call ´passionate spending` as it is for one´s own enjoyment and an expression on one´s own evolving personality and journey!
Some further examples of shoes to give you a brief idea about what is feasible. It´s a start (only) and I would recommend opening a dialog with Leonard Kahlcke, if you are interested in some great shoes offering good value for money. There is something for almost any budget and taste. It´s a – very – eclectic choice you have in mind? Don´t worry it may be possible.
Picture above shows the inexpensive ´wood-pegged` alternative instead of the more common ´hand-welted` one. ´Wood-pegged` saves a couple of hours in production and therefore it can be offered for a lower price. The ´hand-welted` ones may be more durable – at least in theory – as you can re-sole them. To me it´s a matter of taste as (for example) my 25+ years old ´wood-pegged` shoes from Balint (Vienna) are still good.
Those shoes I liked a lot as well – simple, elegant yet refined. Appropriate for black tie occasions, but even casual with jeans me could imagine. It´s just a matter of context and style.
In the picture above you can see something interesting. You can switch in between three (in this case) different leather patches, easily. It´s like coins for penny´s, isn´t it 😉 Never saw this anywhere else and I like the idea as it is nice to have options.
´I would love to take your order` – more than just a phrase, it´s his spirit.
For more impressions and information, check out his Instagram account (atelierleonardkahlcke) or his webpage: www.leonardkahlcke.com