An artisanal conversation with Tommaso Melani, CEO & Co-founder of Stefano Bemer, Florence
How can one resist the charm of Florence in Italy? Not only it’s the city where Renaissance gave birth and the commencement of such splendid and artistic movement that inspires artists during 14th to 17th century, the historic evidence that left to us until present days are just as spectacular and fascinating as its heydays, certainly thanks to the hard work of preservation but also a passionate group of Florentine artisans and creative talents that join force to be part of it, making the artistic spirit and culture continue to blossom, making the city of Florence a distinctive place to visit. Speaking of Florentine artisan, there’s one gentleman that is just as fascinating as the beautiful history of Renaissance, Mr. Tommaso Melani, CEO and Co-founder of the prestigious shoemaking house - Stefano Bemer, who took over the company since 2012 as the anchor and taking the beautiful shoemaker to the new height, more importantly, as an ambassador of demonstrating the significance of beauty and elegance of Florentine shoemaking know-how, its heritage and the developing young talents to be part of this story of creating an artisanal legacy.
Since the house founded in 1983 by the late Mr. Stefano Bemer, the spirit of this incredible shoe artisan is always about creating exquisite Italian shoes with dedication of rigorous craftsmanship and refined details that wins his name internationally, associates with high standard and quality, an unique Italian elegance that reflects from each pair of his exquisite shoes. Since the house succeeded by Tommaso, with the support from his family business, Scuola del Cuoio, specializes in remarkable handmade leather bags, the passionate gentleman not only bringing a new vitality to the house, moving the Stefano Bemer brand into a luxury artisanal shoemaker, putting tremendous efforts on the superb quality of refined shoes creation from their Ready-made collection to Bespoke orders. One of the admirable mission that Tommaso had in mind is cultivating the new generation of shoemaking artisans, having these new talents to carry on the history of Stefano Bemer, sustaining the heritage and the unique know-how that becomes one of the most valuable asset of the house.
I am truly delighted to have the gentleman to share his insight about the spirit of refined shoemaking, men’s lifestyle and more:
My Modern Darcy: Hi Tommaso, can you share with us what motivates / interest you with the Stefano Bemer brand and to be the anchor of the house?
Tommaso Melani: The first and main motivation has been a strong empathy for the brand, its values, the quality… Coming from four generations in the leather trade (my great grandfather and my grandfather established together Scuola del Cuoio in 1950), I really appreciated what Stefano himself have achieved in his busiess and passion. I felt, for a reason, that me and my family had what it takes to bring it on.
MMD: As you are very conscious about the quality no matter from the creation of the shoe to the unique packaging even shoes caring & maintenance, what are the challenges of overseeing all these and which part that makes you feel happy and proud about?
TM: When you commit to uncompromised quality and you want to deliver an outstanding customer experience, every detail matters! Each member of our staff has therefore a key role in building up and delivering the experience. The challenge is to keep the attention and focus of the team to the highest possible level at all times. We achieve it through motivation, reward, participation. Ours is really a team and I’m very proud of it.
MMD: One admirable idea you have is about cultivating the new generation of shoemakers to continue the legacy of the house by offering specialized training programs to the young talents, can you share with us more why is that so significant and your ultimate goal for this program? And what kind of positive impact can this bring either for the learner / ‘student’ and the house?
TM: At Scuola del Cuoio, training is part of our DNA and we have always sourced new craftsmen from our training program. The plan I had for Stefano Bemer was even more particular! Because our shoemaking technique is unique and specific, I knew that we could not just hire shoemakers to grow our capacity of production: they could be good but they would have all had a different technique. Our shoes, instead, must be consistently Stefano Bemer like! So the training became key in our growth: training a group of motivated students and selecting the best two to become apprentices every year has proved to be a successful formula. It's a guarantee for the students that we are giving our best in performing the training and gives us the chance to find talents for our team!
MMD: Being a shoemaking artisan can be a relatively long journey, in your opinion, what are the qualities of becoming a great shoemaking artisan should have? Or a brand as a whole?
TM: Shoemaking, at this level, is a form of art. Taken for good that one has the skills and talents of an artist (not everybody does, unfortunately), motivation and commitment are the virtues needed to become a good shoemaker, patience is needed to see your ideas succeed and, least but not last, taste and refinement are due to make your ideas stand out in a very competitive market.
MMD: Among all the exquisite shoes in the house of Stefano Bemer, can you tell us which one is your favorite design and the reason?
TM: Stefano gave birth to a collection of styles that are unbelievably up-to-date and iconic for the brand. Among them, our full brogue, cap-toe derby in J last, style 5320, is probably my favorite. Nevertheless, as I’m now in charge of our designs, I’m particularly fond and proud of our double monk strap in horse front. Not only it was my first creation (Stefano himself never created a double monk before), but it’s been so well regarded and successful that gave me even more confidence in bringing our style further and raising the bar a notch every season! It’s even been mocked by a couple of minor shoemakers, and we, as with other episodes, take it as a big compliment to our ideas and accomplishments … ;)
MMD: Can you describe your personal style?
TM: Hard question. I’m a very determined person, with very high expectations. I demand a lot to myself and expect much from my team. I’m passionate with what I do and feel the responsibility of finishing what I start and doing it in the best possible way. I know that there are three ways of doing something: the easy way, the hard way and my way, which is normally the most challenging one! I have passions that I pursue in my spare time and I believe that one should treat himself when possible. Experiencing, well beyond possessing and owning, is what mankind is on this planet for!
MMD: How does a pair of well-made and refined shoes related to a fine gent? And how did you see the significance of being well-dressed and well-groomed?
TM: My grandfather always told me that you judge a man buy the his grooming and his shoes! Freshly groomed and with shoes that are nicely polished equals gentleman. I still see it that way. I love when I see a man wearing a pair of shoes that have walked some miles but are obviously very well taken good care of!
MMD: Apart from the outer appearance, what are the qualities of a modern day gentleman should have?
TM: Education, in every form! I see way too much of deviant behaviours, rude, flashy. A gentleman, before being well dressed, has to be well mannered.
MMD: As you constantly travel around the world doing trunk shows and meeting clients, what are your secrets of keeping your work-life balance by not letting the overwhelming work that burns up your passion and belief?
TM: The secret is to feel and be what you believe in. I was recently interviewed with a different angle and to the question “what is your passion” I honestly asked: “besides my own company”?
Special thanks to Mr. Tommaso Melani, image courtesy of Stefano Bemer Srl, Firenze.