In today’s article, I will Review my first pair of Chukka Boots in Horween Russian Calf by Mario Bemer.
A stunning piece of handmade footwear with a lot of unique features.
Add to that the pleasure of getting to know Mario Bemer and it caps a fantastic month.
I will of course go in-depth and share my thoughts as we always do.
Strap yourselves, this will be a real treat!
Stefano & Mario Bemer Firenze
If you have serious interest in the history of shoemaking, it’s highly likely that you have heard the name Bemer before.
The late Stefano Bemer in particular, who I talked about in detail many times in the past here.
One of the kindest and most talented shoemakers of his generation, taken away from us in 2012 way too early from ilness.
The Stefano Bemer name lives today through a consortium operating in Florence.
However it is easy to forget that Stefano’s brother Mario was just as talented.
Working together, teaching the first students and totally making my friend Justin Fitzpatrick do chores in the workshop!
Mario is a man that prefers to stay out of the spotlight, currently residing in the USA where he makes Bespoke Shoes for select clients.
Meeting Mario Bemer
When Misiu Academy was still a tiny blog a few years ago, it surprised me one day when I saw a comment.
That comment was from Mario Bemer himself! It was the first time we established some form of contact.
Last year, I had the privilege of interviewing him, an interview which you should totally read.
I remember also expressing interest in a pair of shoes and gave him full creative freedom.
Other than the fact that it would be Russian Calf leather and a Chukka Boot, I knew nothing.
A year passed and I totally forgot about my shoes as my collection grew.
Now that I moved to Italy to study shoemaking, it was with great pleasure that Mario invited me to have dinner with him.
When he mentioned that he has my shoes with him, I was surprised and excited!
Together with him was a young Bespoke Florentine Shoemaker called Bernardo who has a small workshop in Florence.
I really recommend checking out his work and if you are in Florence, his prices are incredible.
We spoke for hours about shoes, brands, life mentality and even checked out Bernardo’s workshop.
It was a surprise to see that I shared so much with Mario, especially opinions about Japanese shoes being too serious and English ones being bland.
Needless to say that I had a fantastic time and I am grateful to both of them for their time and effort.
And as you will see, the shoes are worth it as well.
Who said you shouldn’t meet your heroes?
This article is part homage, part showcase and part review of Mario Bemer’s work.
This spectacular pair of Chukka Boots does that and so much more.
Let’s check out what I received:
- Brand: Mario Bemer
- Type: Chukka Boots
- Leather: Horween Russian Calf
- Color: Mid-Brown with Red Hues
- Construction: Norwegian
- Eyelets: 3
- Lining: Leather
- Sole: Leather Closed Channel
- Size: UK 8 (US 9D/EU 42)
- Shoe Trees: Cedar
- Details: Metal Toe Tips (Flush)
- Origin: Italy/USA
- Price Estimate: $2500
A very solid, fully handmade shoe with a lot of tricks up its sleeve that we will talk about later.
You might notice that the shoe trees are simple, and it’s because I did not ask for any special ones.
The price would also vary honestly depending on what you make, construction, leather and more.
However expect to pay anywhere between $2000-$2500 USD.
Since this was a proper meetup I received my shoes in Bernardo’s workshop.
I still can’t believe Mario Bemer himself made me shoes and he was the one to put them on my feet.
The box was simple and I am glad it was because I do not have space for more wooden massive items.
Generally, you would receive a high end experience just like with Stefano.
Lovely beige shoe bags and a shoe horn from the same material as my shoes.
I spent a few moments observing the boots and trying to absorb their energy and process the emotions.
Exactly what I was looking for, think of looking at a heatmap of something scorching hot.
Or picture Keanu Reeves in the end of Matrix 3 as a beacon of yellow light inside the green.
The first thing I noticed was the chunkier outsole, the rather aggressive square toe and the details at the back.
A simple, well-made outsole without too much fanfare, sturdy and begging to be walked in.
It can be nervous racking giving full creative freedom to an artist, but this was the right choice.
Mario Bemer made me exactly the pair of boots that I would like to have.
Horween Russian Calf
If I knew one thing, that was that Mario Bemer would use the finest Russian Calf from Horween for my shoes.
And indeed he did, using a similar quality leather just like the one I reviewed a few weeks ago from Paolo Scafora.
I actually really recommend reading that article, as it talks a lot about the leather and its history.
No point for me writing a whole paragraph again about the original Russian Reindeer or the Metta Catharina ship.
But I can talk about the leather itself, since I got the chance to walk in them for about 8 km on the first wear.
Inspecting the leather, you see the same tight grid pattern that hatch-grain has, very subtle and supple.
What I really like about these however is the color palette.
It is a mix of chestnut, mid-brown with splashes and hues of wine red.
This creates a mottled effect which looks like a more artistic museum calf.
Judging by the look of the leather at the end of a long day walking in the cobblestones of Florence, it will age beautifully.
There’s something about the color Mario created, that is like organized controlled chaos for a lack of better word.
Scafora is an artist, Fukuda is a perfectionist, yet these have a mix of all that plus some carefree, Florentine passion.
There are concerns from people that Horween Russian Calf creases badly, but we will see.
For me these are more than a pair of shoes, they are a true relic that I can both enjoy and safe keep.
Plus the immense pride and joy I feel wearing them.
I actually saw for the first time the true Norwegian Construction when I visited Paolo Scafora 2 weeks ago.
Hopefully I can make an article and showcase everything soon.
It’s a different thing to see pictures and videos or study the internet and another to see it unfold in front of your eyes.
I saw how they lasted the shoes normally, then folded the leather outwards to do the first stitch.
And then the second, attaching the bottom and creating a cross-stitched, braided construction.
Mario Bemer knew I love this kind of thing and he certainly delivered!
The Chukkas have a double braided stitch, but I can see a third one in the middle.
Maybe I am crazy or inexperienced, but I’d rather not say much without further knowledge.
Nonetheless, it’s spectacular to look at, perfect and with a really unique feature.
The Norwegian is 270 degrees, but where the heel block begins the stitching goes into the leather of the uppers.
You can see sort of like a hidden channel but he does it so discretely, it’s phenomenal.
It certainly adds volume, vigor and boldness to the shoes, further accentuated by the larger outsole.
Needless to say that it’s a very solid shoe to hold with great balance.
Stitching & Interior
I decided to consolidate the interior and the stitching and merge them together.
The reason for that is that I just have nothing to say or nitpick about the shoe interior and lining.
Solid leather, great trimming, a branded insole and that’s it.
Honestly at this level what is there to say about the sewing of the uppers anymore.
However I do want to mention how lovely the design that Mario Bemer did is.
Subtle touches such as the Norwegian channel or the subtle broguing on the quarters of the shoes.
They start at the middle of the shoe and elegantly arch and curve towards the back seam.
And there lies the most interesting, underappreciated feature of these shoes.
At the top of the backseam you usually have a leather panel matching the rest of the shaft in height and more often than not a pull tab attached to it.
Instead Mario Bemer added a gap in the shape of a half circle that serves an interesting purpose.
As a shoemaker, you are often on your knees to take measurements and your foot natural curves and bends upwards on a 90 degree angle.
If the shoe is stiff or doesn’t fit, this can cause some pressure on your heel and tibia.
This modification gives you freedom of movement and is not noticeable during wear.
Other small touches include small brass weights at the tip of the laces, or the expertly stitched shoe horn.
Magnificent stuff really!
Moving on with the Review, Mario Bemer took the Paolo Scafora approach in my shoes.
An expertly made leather sole with hidden stitching, hand-sewn and a hand-stacked leather heel.
There’s no massive fiddleback or bevel, nor much paint, drawings and details on the bottom.
It’s clean, pure and simple with a flush metal toe tip at the front.
Back when I was starting with shoes fiddlebacks were all the rage and a landmark of quality and expertise for me.
While they look great and I will take them in most occasions, this type of finish was unnecessary on my boots and I am glad Mario had a more classic approach.
Also evident is how wider the outsole is, extending a good amount compared to the uppers.
This has the potential to be a disaster especially if the last had a round shape.
Luckily Mario knows what he is doing, delivering a bolder approach with a good balance between the uppers, Norwegian stitching and sole.
Business at the top, part at the bottom.
Since Mario Bemer is a Bespoke Shoemaker each last is personal and created for a certain client.
I wasn’t expecting any RTW Lasts (though Mario is working on an upcoming small curated selection) in other words.
What I did tell him however was that I want a soft square or almond, chiseled shape for my boots.
I enjoy having a more aggressive approach even on my boots, with sharp lines and shapes.
This shape has a low profile at the front and a rather blunt, soft square toe.
Think of it as a much more refined Crockett & Jones Molton front.
I like it, it’s tasteful and even if it looks less “refined” than other European or Japanese counterparts, it has a lot of soul.
And it looks damn good on my feet.
How Is The Fit?
So here’s a funny story.
A few days ago I met a really nice photographer in Florence to shoot some outfits and photos for the blog.
I brought a lot of clothes, including my Sons of Henrey Chukkas and some cashmere sweaters I will review from Gobi Cashmere.
This was the first and best chance I had to bring my Mario Bemer Chukkas along and actually wear them.
I already briefly tried them on when I received them and there are a couple of tiny modifications I would do on a future pair.
For example I would ever slightly reduce the width on the right shoe and lower the instep on the left.
However, I put them on the photoshoot, tied the shoelaces properly and it was perfect and comfy.
I could totally see some of those “I want my shoes as snug as possible” saying that they are not happy by the way.
I now want my shoes to fit just right and comfortable and these do that perfectly.
After the photoshoot I met my friend Maria and we walked for a few hours and I decided not to change shoes.
Walked almost 8 km without a single issue.
Actually I even had to adjust the laces a little at the beginning since I laced them too tightly.
This was a very comfortable, surprisingly lightweight experience.
By the way, I should also mention that Mario Bemer told me he would not hesitate to remake the shoes if they did not fit me properly.
Now that’s dedication, but it was unnecessary here.
I should also mention that Mario asked me for my Stefano Bemer sizing (since he knows his brother’s lasts better than anyone).
The end result seems to be a UK 8.5, which is consistent with my Stefano Bemer.
I usually wear UK 8 (US 9D) for reference.
How Will I Wear Them?
Currently I am waiting for the photos from the photoshoot, but I do have some snippet!
Time and again I mentioned that Chukkas are so versatile and can go with anything but a business suit.
I tried mine with a classic navy turtleneck and a jacket, but also with a proper suit this time.
The color is so easy that you can match them with anything from stone colored chinos to navy blue trousers.
In fact it’s quite alarming that I have so many Chukka Boots now….I might have to downsize soon again.
Bottom line is don’t be afraid to experiment in a tasteful way and it’s highly unlikely that you will create a bad combination with a pair of brown Chukkas.
So Mario Bemer is a Bespoke Shoemaker.
You will most likely meet him somewhere in the USA in a Trunk Show or in Florence.
If you contact him, there could be a possibility to make some Made to Order shoes like mine.
Please note that Mario Bemer Firenze is a separate entity from an older business venture that Mario is not affiliated with anymore.
Expect to pay from $2000 or more for MTO and Bespoke Shoes but they would give you a better quote.
How Good Are They Compared To X?
Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is easy to make comparisons.
For example the Petru & Claymoor was incredible while the Saint Crispin’s had leather as good as the Greek Economy.
Then you have the Stefano Bemer Tradizione which was spectacular but at $2000 is it really $700 better than the astounding Norman Vilalta Calder?
For a shoe that will cost you over $2000 the notion of budget is gone.
You want the best, you want something specific, you want the perfect fit, you want the legend.
And in the end it’s all about choosing the right school of shoemaking and the one whose creativity speaks to you.
This pair of Chukka Boots does not have the refinement and extreme construction of Japan, nor the artistic perfection of Paolo Scafora.
What it has in abundance however is heart, passion, finesse, history and personality.
This boot gives me the fizz and gets me drunk from all of the above.
When I hold and wear these shoes, I get a small taste of what I am about to become in a year’s time.
And the interactions with Mario show me how I can temper my perfectionism, find my own unique style and remain humble and let my work speak.
Definitely one of the highlights of my career as well as my shoe collection right now.
The future is bright for me and the world is a better place with people like Mario.
Of course, I have the Review in Video Format on my YouTube Channel!
It is time for me to end my Mario Bemer Review Article.
What a journey it has been right? And what a remarkable, stunning pair of shoes this ended up being.
Incredible construction, phenomenal leather, unique design elements and the person behind the shoes.
Shoes are like tango.
You can dance with everyone, but once you find the right partner it becomes magical.
I am going to savor my moment of magic now while I try to think how can I possible top this next year.
As always, I want to hear your opinion or comments about these shoes so write and let me know!
Until next time, stay healthy, dapper and grab some quality shoes!
Thank you for reading,