The first thing I pack for any trip, short or long, is a comfortable pair of walking shoes. One pair for summer travel, another for winter. Shoes acceptable for warm-weather travel were not suitable for my five-day trip to cold and damp Vienna, which required a lot of walking on narrow, cobblestone streets in the rain — a point I proved to my colleague whose feet were cold and wet after a long day walking from one side of the city to the other, as he lamented bringing the “wrong pair of shoes.”
Serendipity struck as we walked behind the main Vienna post office in an older part of town. We came upon what looked like a combination shoe store and repair shop, and we entered the studio of custom shoemaker Lucien Maftei. The Maftei shop in Vienna is an outpost of a family of shoemakers making custom shoes since 1925 in Bucharest. Lucien, trained by family and other respected custom shoemakers in Vienna, represents the best of the new breed of young craftsmen creating bespoke shoes and boots. Combining traditional methods with modern materials, they craft distinctive footwear for men and women in every imaginable material from traditional leathers to exotic ostrich, with personalized touches to satisfy every whim of color and decoration.
My colleague and I quickly came to the same decision: We could eliminate one more item from our personal bucket lists, custom-made shoes. The only issue was time. We were flying to London the next day.
Lucien offered to do the preliminary measurement and prepare for a first fitting if we came back early the next morning. He took numerous foot measurements, asked many questions on fit issues and with his trained eye observed how we walked. For me, a slight upturn in the toe of the shoe would provide a more comfortable walk, with extra padding under the arch and toes. For my colleague, exotic colors and designs to add to his collection of cowboy boots. We agreed to return for a fitting before breakfast.
As promised, Lucien had mock-ups of our shoes. It appeared he stayed up all night to accommodate our schedule. I was not prepared to watch him rip apart my new shoes after I put them on. I began to appreciate his effort to construct a perfect model on which to create the final shoes of rippled dark brown leather with a leather and rubber sole designed for walking comfort.
The finished pair arrived about six weeks after my return home. I eagerly opened the airpost box to discover two velvet pouches holding my shoes, each shoe fitted with a custom shoe tree. The final product was not just functional but a work of art. I resisted the urge to place them on my fireplace mantle to show off the workmanship and slipped on the most comfortable pair of shoes I have ever worn.
My bucket list includes a number of custom-made items: shirts, suits, bicycles and shoes. I have purchased bespoke clothes and a couple of bikes but resisted custom-made shoes out of concern for the cost. I now realize what a mistake that was. Unlike some custom shoemakers who may charge up to $500 for a fitting and $3,000–4,000 for a first pair of shoes, Lucien only charged 100 euros for the fitting and 1,000 euros (about $1,300) for the shoes, with airfreight. Compared with good-quality, store-bought shoes that approach $400–500, the price is not such a luxury. As a frequent traveler who loves to walk and explore, having the most comfortable walking shoes is at the top of my packing list.
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