In a dusty workshop in an old industrial building in Hong Kong, John CW Lau, a director at Kow Hoo Shoe Company, oversees a team of four shoemakers. The quartet, ranging in age from late 60s to 95, meticulously craft custom-made shoes for some of the city's most prominent businessmen.
While across town in one of the city's gleaming high-end shopping centres, Jean-Michel Casalonga of Berluti is hand delivering shoes to customers and handling new orders. The Paris-based shoe master - a boyish-looking man in his 30s - travels the world meeting clients who want the personal service that the company offers.
The contrast between these two scenes underscores the growing appetite for bespoke shoes. Customers seek everything from classic black Oxfords to one-of-a-kind styles that defy routine description. "We always pay attention in finding the good balance between comfort and aesthetic," Casalonga said.
The appeal of 'a one-off' goes beyond owning shoes that are handcrafted to match individual tastes and sensibilities: There is no need to break them in as one would with off-the-shelf footwear.
"They fit your feet perfectly from day one," said Brandon Chau, founder and managing director of Noblesse Lifestyle Group in Hong Kong and a well-known arbiter of men's style. "They really fit you like a glove," said Chau, who owns three pairs.
"Like most men, the bespoke journey starts with shirts," said Gary Tok, a Hong Kong businessman who owns a dozen pairs of bespoke shoes. That first step with shirts led him to bespoke suits. Then he began to think, "What's the next level of bespoke you gravitate to?" The answer: shoes.
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