Maftei Shoes Review: Handmade Black Stingray Leather Wholecut Shoes
Exotic Bespoke Quality Shoes By Maftei
Welcome to this incredible Review of these Maftei Wholecut Stingray Shoes.
I always get excited when I talk or Review Exotic Leathers. You can only imagine how I felt then while writing this piece!
A breathtaking, stunning piece of shoemaking by Legendary Maftei Vienna in one of the most extraordinary leathers in the world.
If you ever wanted to see how a real handmade stingray shoe looks like and how it is to handle, you came to the right place.
Let’s begin the in-depth Review!
Maftei Vienna History
The name Alexandru Maftei possibly means nothing to you and most people that like shoes.
However, in the shoemaking circles and among true enthusiasts it’s a well-known respectable name and legendary Bespoke Shoemaker.
By Bespoke, it means that he will take your measurements, create a personal hand-carved last and create a pair of shoes by hand that will fit you perfectly. An expensive, yet fascinating journey and experience that not everyone can have.
Alexandru Maftei and his family make Bespoke Shoes for 3 generations since 1925. Romanian by origin, Herr Maftei learned shoemaking from his uncle before moving to Austria in the 80’s.
Nowadays he still runs a small workshop along with his wife Lucia and their children. Even if most shoe brands prefer expansion and growth via machinery and cutting corners, the Maftei Family refuses to do so.
Their interest lies in preserving their tradition and the essence of Bespoke Shoemaking even in their Ready To Wear Shoes. Which means that each shoe that comes out of the workshop will be Hand-Welted, Hand-Lasted and Handsewn.
Leather quality is also top notch coming from the best tanneries like Horween Shell Cordovan and fine French Calf.
I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandru Maftei twice in Stockholm and I am proud to be his retail partner via The Noble Shoe. During the creation of today’s pair I also corresponded with his very helpful wife Lucia and his assistant Anthony.
Even in his advanced age, he travels as much as possible around Europe so if you see a trunk show near you, go! It’s a refreshing experience.
Depending on construction, leather and extras you can expect to pay anywhere between $1400-$2200 for normal shoes and $2500-$6000 for exotics.
Specifications: Maftei Wholecut
My good friend Aaron always had a dream. He wanted a pair of Stingray Wholecuts and after many discussions he finally got his wish.
It had to be black/grey with double stitching and a vibrant, fire engine red inner lining. The result was nothing short of spectacular so let’s take a look at the details:
- Brand: Maftei Vienna
- Style: Wholecut Oxford
- Leather: Stingray
- Color: Black/Grey
- Last: Alexandru
- Construction: Maftei Special Double Stitched, Hand-Lasted
- Eyelets: 5 Blind
- Lining: Wholecut Fire Engine Red
- Sole: Closed Channel Leather Handsewn Sole
- Shoe Trees: Hand-Carved
- Size: UK 9 (US 10D/EU 43)
- Extras: Matching Stingray Belt, Metal Toe Tips
- Price: $2200 (Shoes) + $300 (Belt)
- Made In: Austria
- Retailer: The Noble Shoe
A pretty expensive, yet impressive pair of shoes for sure. In fact, it will probably cost you around $300-$400 more in Non-Covid times.
But when you have a vision and the budget to support it, this is a pair of shoes that will last a lifetime. Along with Shark Leather, Stingray is the most phenomenal leather I’ve handled to date.
Stingray Leather Properties
Everybody has a holy grail pair of shoes.
For some it might be alligator, for others the infamous Wholecut Shell Cordovan Chelsea Boots. For me however it was a wholecut stingray oxford in navy.
When I met Maftei in November 2020 he happened to have a few pairs in my size and I could not resist. It was brown, but still irresistible.
But why am I so fascinated by Stingray Leather and why should you be?
To begin with, Stingray Leather comes from the titular fish of the wider category of sea rays. As with all leather it is a bi-product of the meat industry.
Since it is a sea creature, Stingray Leather has some incredible properties. It is of course waterproof, but did you know it is also fireproof?
Additionally, it is extremely durable, barely creases and is so easy to maintain. It’s so strong, that only a few shoemakers know how to work it because their needles keep breaking.
Look closely and you will understand why. It has a marble like texture with small “ridges” in-between. These sphere shapes – commonly referred to as pearls – vary in size depending on their location on the hide.
Made from a super strong substance called dentin, these spheres act as an armor for Stingrays. You can imagine how unforgiving it has to be to try and sew between these spheres.
Their white reflective enameled coating is sparkly and lustrous, while the pigment around them gives Stingray Leather its unique look.
Trivia: Dentin and Enamel are two components that you can find on your teeth!
It took no more than 3 weeks after commissioning this pair to arrive at my doorstep.
I must warn you that if you expect a luxurious unboxing experience, this is not it. Not that I cared after seeing what’s inside but it might be something you should consider.
The box itself is nice and sturdy with some Maftei stickers on top but nothing else. I really didn’t like that it didn’t come inside another box as DHL put tape all around it.
Inside, the only thing you get is your shoes, the belt (optional) and dust bags. The bags seem to be heavy black flannel while the belt bag in a more cream color and thinner fabric.
You could say it is a very disappointing experience if you compare with more modern shoemakers. The only thing I would personally change is add an extra cardboard box for safety and preserving the original.
However the luxury lies in the product itself here.
Maftei Shoes Review | Quality Breakdown
It is time now to discuss all the major parts of the shoe like we always do.
Which means looking at the design, leather, quality of the finishing, stitching and of course all small details I can find. If you need a refresher on Stingray Leather, I recommend revisiting the dedicated section.
Maftei Wholecut Design
My first impression after gazing upon these shoes was “Holy S%@^ Wow”!
In fact I became so jealous because I liked the color even more than my own pair! After the dust settled I began to inspect them in a more rational way.
One of the things that didn’t thrill me as much was the Last choice. I prefer the 45 Last over the Alexandru on my pair which seams a little more sharp and in line with my taste.
It surprised me how impeccably clean the double stitching was and for the first time in my life I liked a Black shoe more than any other color.
The backseam was a strange yet interesting design choice too, while the metal toe tips were perfect.
I admit that the sole was a bit of a let down but a necessary evil to stay within budget and due to the construction complexity. More on that later.
Lastly, it’s a wholecut oxford which means you use one piece of leather with a closed oxford lacing system. You can read more about the Different Types of Dress Shoes Here.
In the end of the day, I am a firm believer that when you first look at a pair of shoes it should bring you joy and a warm special feeling. This one truly spoke to me.
Stingray Leather Quality
Even though I dedicated a whole subsection to the properties of Stingray Leather, I wanted to expand more.
Since I have 4 Pairs of Stingray from Maftei I know what to expect leather wise. The experience with today’s Review pair was similar and dare I say better due to the color.
The contrast between the enameled spheres and the pigmented ridges is mind-blowing. There is so much depth and such a lustrous yet sophisticated design to it.
You might not see it or understand, but they are so much more discreet (and beautiful!) than they look in the pictures.
I take pictures in 24.2 Megapixels and when I go through them you can see every “pore”, every detail, every stitch. Look below the throat of the shoe and you see the clear remnants of the dorsal fin and the stinger. It’s like those gems and pearls you see in action films on giant statues, begging you to touch them.
If you Google for Stingray Shoes you will come across some real garbage, but this is the real deal. I promise. The pictures don’t lie.
As aforementioned, all Maftei Shoes are fully handmade.
This means Hand-Welted, Hand-Lasted and with a Handsewn sole. This is a laborious and difficult feat and it can take 60-80 hours to make a pair of shoes.
In the Austro-Hungarian culture of shoemaking there is a tradition for braided stitching. I suppose you can call it Norwegian, with other popular forms such as Goyser Stitching also available.
Maftei calls his version Zwiegenähte which you can translate as “Double-Stitch” or “Twin Seams”. The results speak for themselves really.
Only Paolo Scafora does a similar stitching with a more modern look. Maftei’s version seems contemporary and creates depth and contrast with it’s natural color.
Look closely and you can appreciate the small jagged zipper lines on the top, or see clearly the fold of the uppers. It’s certainly a slightly more chunky appearance but remains very elegant.
An area that was interesting to me from the get-go was the backseam. It was a little larger that on my pair and significantly larger than your usual backseam. I wonder if this has anything to do with the smaller hides.
Even more interestingly, the color of that seam has a more purple/blue tint to it. You will not notice while wearing, but I think is a rather cool detail.
There’s so much to talk about I almost forgot about the actual stitching of the uppers! Due to the Stingray’s sphere properties, it’s impossible to sew on a straight line. Since this is a wholecut the only place to look for stitches is the backseam.
Regardless, the density is so good and you can literally see the pattern of the needle moving left and right.
In a way this is like German engineering: Reliable with attention to detail.
Maftei can make you a seamless wholecut lining but it’s impossible to show you in photos.
It’s one piece of leather cut to perfection without any seam which is always impressive. Take my word for it!
When Aaron asked for a Fire Engine Red color I was skeptical but it turned out great. The color seems handpainted as a tiny spot rubbed off the shoe trees.
Overall it looks great with a very discreet Maftei Logo on the heel. If I remember right, only Cobbler Union has a standard quilted red insole by the way.
Not much to say here other than the fact that the underside of the tongue is good and the insole full.
What I could say is that I would prefer flat waxed laces but this is an inexpensive upgrade you can do yourself.
While I don’t want to undermine the quality of the construction, the appearance of this particular sole is underwhelming.
The finishing doesn’t look as good while you can see the channeling marks alongside the edges. It’s very similar to the Passus Shoes (Review Here) but much more symmetrical.
Are these markings a sign of handsewn soles? Both are handsewn and have them so if anyone has experience with this let me know in the comments.
The reason I say underwhelming is because you can see in the following picture what Maftei is capable of. It’s incredible isn’t it?
However, I am not sure if the double stitching acts like a bottleneck for a tighter waist and a fiddleback.
At the heel block there is a substantially lower number of nails but it looks and feels very solid.
Lastly, the metal toe tip installation is superb especially when you look at the sole from the side.
Just like Aaron, I am not so interested any more on extremely tight waists and a fiddleback. They sure are nice when you can have them, but for me the uppers are the star of this show.
Maftei offers two types of shoe trees: normal ones and hand-carved ones.
To be fair I think I asked for the hollowed type but we received the classics. They do have one interesting feature though.
Whereas most shoe trees have this metal bar (or two) that connect the two pieces, Maftei’s shoe trees has a wooden part. I still think that the Saint Crispin’s were the best so far including their hinges.
Overall, they do the job well, fit nicely and are very easy to put in and take out at the cost of weight.
If you have a choice I would definitely choose the hollowed version.
Stingray Belt Quality
I suppose this deserves its own section doesn’t it?
Due to the nature of Stingrays and their hide, it is impossible to make a belt out of one piece. Instead you have to connect two pieces with a third one.
Maftei did it so discreetly I had to cut and reshoot the scene when filming my YouTube Review! It looks phenomenal and it’s not smooth at the edges since you can feel the spheres and pebbles. I love it!
The backside has a nice navy finish, though in this occasion the vibrant red could also look cool.
As for the buckle, it’s discreet, simple with a silver finish.
If you read the blog you probably know that I am not a huge fan of belts. If you do and you want to complete the set, why not.
Maftei Shoes Review | Last & Fit
In the last section of the review of these Maftei Stingray Shoes I want to talk about the last and the fit. It will be more generic than usual since it’s not my shoe, but I can give you advice based on my own pair.
The Alexandru Last
Let’s begin with the last and the shape.
Maftei offers at least 7 different lasts for all tastes and this particular model is on the Alexandru Last.
It seems to have a chiseled, almond shape at the front with a more round curved design at the tip. This is further accentuated by the presence of the double stitch.
As far as length goes, it doesn’t seem like a particularly elongated last even though the wholecut design might create that illusion.
I would say it has a good overall balance with nice proportions but in this case, seems to heavily rely on the Stingray Leather.
Personally I prefer the look of the 45 Last a little more. For a full list of the Maftei Lasts please check The Noble Shoe.
Maftei Sizing Advice
After discussing with Aaron about his size, I asked him to send me his foot tracings.
I then attached them to my order and Maftei produced the pair in UK 9 (US 10D/EU 43) which is Aaron’s True To Size.
Giving advice on sizing is difficult and you should always discuss it with a retailer in such cases. I will updated this section with is feedback soon.
However I can talk about my own sizing, which was UK 7.5 and initially seemed to be a great choice. The instep is perfect and the heel cup too however there is a small issue.
The last is not particularly long and there is pressure on my pinky toe after 3-4 hours of wear. Nothing major, but in retrospective I would probably pick a more normal UK 8 next time.
Therefore a general recommendation on Ready To Wear is True To Size, but always discuss it with your retailer!
How To Commission A Pair
Availability for Maftei is almost non-existent outside his workshop.
There are a couple of Asian retailers that have his shoes and then of course my own shop at The Noble Shoe.
One problem with going through Maftei directly is the communication. While he seems to understand English, his main language is German so there is a bit of a language barrier.
If you email them, Lucia or Anthony will reply to you and the latter is the one that follows him around the trunk shows. Still, try to be very clear and simple about things so nothing’s lost in translation.
And here’s where I come in to help you! You can simply email me at email@example.com and I can guide you through everything.
My advice is to have a good general idea of the project you want to make and everything else can be adjusted.
Who Are Stingray Shoes For?
In my opinion when it comes to exotics and Stingray Leather Shoes, there are two kinds of people.
- Those that want to be flashy and flaunt their riches with a statement piece that screams “I have money”.
- Those that appreciate the craftsmanship and skill behind working with such unique leathers
While you will certainly attract looks, I’d rather prefer if you where in the second category. In simple words, don’t buy these to look rich, buy them because you love the looks and the feeling they give you. When you do that, you will look like a million bucks anyways.
Regardless, since these shoes command a significant price you need to have the budget for them. Only a few people in the world can afford such shoes.
Budget aside, this type of shoe is for those that have everything else or all wardrobe staples and want something unique.
How To Wear Stingray Leather Shoes?
When I first met Maftei I was with Damian, my good friend and investor.
He saw them and thought they are too flashy and hard to match. The following week we met and he commented on how good they actually looked with an outfit.
I agree, to me good Stingray shoes are much more discreet than you see in the pictures and pretty versatile.
After tons of debates on Styleforum with people whose opinions I don’t care about, I can tell you I wear them with everything.
Well, not shorts but anything from Suits to Chinos, separates and jeans.
Don’t overthink it and use the color of your trousers to either mute or put emphasis on your shoes. A contrasting light color will draw attention to your shoes more than a darker shade.
Are Maftei Shoes Worth The Money?
I have multiple shoes from Maftei. Are they worth it?
The answer is a resounding yes. Absolutely. Totally.
If you value great construction, Bespoke level quality and reliability you cannot go wrong with Maftei. You also help support a declining amazing trade which we all need to do.
Now, you might thing “But of course this guy is their partner” you are partly right. However let me tell you about some things that I don’t like or you might not enjoy.
Their style is overall quite rigid and contemporary. If you are a fan of Mediterranean styles from Spain and Italy it’s unlikely you will like the more bulbous designs from Austria and Hungary.
I would also advise you not to get a handpainted patina because all the samples I saw were below average. Instead, I will ship your pair to Greg Park if you want something handpainted for a similar price.
Lastly, if the whole unboxing experience and sense of luxury matters to you in the form of packaging and extras, you might be disappointed.
Barring the Patina, all of the rest comes down to personal taste. Purely by construction, tradition and quality Maftei is one of the best bang for buck especially at Bespoke.
The waist you saw in a previous section is one of the nicest I’ve seen on a RTW pair in my life.
As always, here is the Video Review on my YouTube Channel which you should totally Subscribe to!
We finally reached the end of this Review of the Maftei Black Stingray Wholecut Shoes.
I kept wanting to write one about my own pair but the urgency that comes with shipping a customer’s pair really made me do it this time.
Genuinely, this is one of the most striking, beautiful pairs of shoes I have handled so far. I think it’s the color, its mesmerizing.
Let me know what you think about this. Do you have Maftei or experience with Stingray Shoes? Please write in the comments below!
And don’t forget to Subscribe to the Newsletter! You get 10% Off The Noble Shoe and support my shoe journalism!
Thank you for reading,