Norman Vilalta Bespoke Shoes: Behind The Scenes Visit In Barcelona

Norman Vilalta BookTo The City Of Passion

I just came back from my visit to the Atelier of Bespoke Shoemaker Norman Vilalta in Barcelona.

It was a great experience and in this article I will try to share with you my thoughts and learning.

So join me in this written, visual guide to Norman Vilalta’s workshop!

Who Is Norman Vilalta?

If you frequent the blog or are generally a shoe enthusiast the name Norman Vilalta might be familiar to you.

The story of Argentinian Norman Vilalta is similar to my current journey and served as inspiration actually.

Starting his career as a lawyer, Norman studied under the original Stefano Bemer and some of his shoe partners.

Norman-Vilalta_portrait
Norman Vilalta in his iconic red beanie

Now he resides in Barcelona for over 15 years in his own atelier offering Bespoke, MTO and RTW shoes.

You can the Review of my Calder Derby and see how I like the shoes!

Actually scrap that I will spoil it for you, I liked them so much that I am actually stocking them at The Noble Shoe!

There will be a limited edition collaboration and while the announcement is out there, links will come later.

What is funny is that the first time I met Norman was in the London Trunk Show of 2019.

There we discussed as a joke me quitting my job to become a shoemaker, which turned into reality a few weeks later.

This made it the perfect opportunity for me to visit him 3 years later in Barcelona to discuss our collection as well as shoes.

Going To The Store

While I was on my way to the store in rainy Barcelona, I reflected a lot about this journey.

For the past year I was corresponding with Scott, Norman’s right hand man.

I found the store in a nice neighborhood with some low light, artistic aesthetic and strong focus on the small workshop at the back.

Norman Vilalta Store Barcelona
Entering the Norman Vilalta Store in Barcelona

Scott greeted me and showed me around while we waited for Norman.

There’s only one person doing the finishing of the shoes in-house as well as a separate person in charge of the Bespoke.

It’s a small, lean operation and quite impressive how they reached such a reputation.

Meeting Norman

After a few minutes, Norman came with his trademark red beanie and we got into the action.

Knowing Norman’s story is another thing, but hear him speak directly to me about it was a whole other game.

We talked for a total of about 6 hours including a nice break in a local restaurant.

Kostas Mandilaris and Norman Vilalta
Kostas Mandilaris and Norman Vilalta

I could see a lot of commonalities between us so hearing the story from someone already successful was encouraging.

Specifically I remember vividly his story from the Stefano Bemer School all the way to having his own store.

Stefano Bemer
A Tribute to Stefano Bemer in Norman’s Atelier

How he met Stefano and had other teachers that included Saskia Wittmer and also fond memories of local delicacies.

After Florence, Norman moved to Barcelona where he wanted to establish himself.

It was very interesting to hear that there are still guilds of certain occupations and that it is important to introduce yourself when you are new.

Norman did that and actually found work there, until he was ready to do his completely own thing.

Just like me, he was doing things in his house which he actually managed to set on fire one day.

Vilalta Shoes
 Norman Vilalta Shoes on display

It was then the right time to get a proper store and workshop which still is the same today.

Funnily enough, he didn’t really want a store and he explains how they found an old bar with a “For Rent” sign and just walked in out of curiosity.

It somehow felt right, so this ended up being the famous Vilalta Store in Barcelona for over 15 years now.

Tips: For anyone wondering I am wearing my Lanieri Suit, Gobi Cashmere Turtleneck and Yeossal Split-Toes.

Norman Vilalta Shoes

A main focus for Norman Vilalta seems to be the Bespoke, where you create a shoe from scratch to specifically fit a person’s foot.

Those are everything you would expect from a Bespoke pair of shoes while sporting the originality and creativity that defines Norman.

Norman Vilalta RTW ShoesYou also get a small, curated RTW Range that they produce and refresh each season.

Those shoes come from a famous Spanish factory so they are Goodyear Welted and hand-finished in-house.

One can arrange or choose certain details such as a handbuilt waist of course.

Norman Vilalta Jodhpurs
Not even the Jodhpurs escaped the Norman treatment

Lastly, you also have the seasonal GMTOs (Group Made To Orders) that allow for substantial price savings if you like the model in offer.

The Mood Board

Being a person of (currently) lesser visual creativity it is important and thought provoking to see the evolution through the years.

Right next to the workbench area there is a large “Mood Board”.

Mood Board
The famous Mood Board

In simple terms, a Mood Board is just a place where you collect objects, drawings or images of things that inspire you.

To witness the abstract madness of Norman in real life was amazing.

I mean, where in the world would you ever see a pair of women’s high heels with a giraffe?

Giraffe shoes
What do you get if you cross a giraffe with a lawyer? The Long-arm of the Law

There are pictures of animals, bags, helmets, soles and even text and advertisements or cars.

All this was a good reminder to me on how to be more creative or how to structure my workshop.

InspirationSamples From The Past

Scattered around the workshop were a bunch of sample creations from the past.

Strange Bespoke exhibits or samples including multi-sole pairs or crazy multi-stitch ideas.

Various shoe samples
Various old shoe samples

There were even a bunch of Japanese themed woven shoes worn to a pulp.

Or a strange shoe with a one piece hidden heel due to the lack of tools.

shoe heel
When Norman didn’t have the proper tools he decided to improvise

Old vintage machinery, button boots or some massive knee high boots with tattoos on them.

I should’ve probably spent more time asking about the actual history, but I will preserve the mystery.

Finishing The Shoes

In a bit of a smaller section, we will touch upon the in-house finishing.

Norman Vilalta shoes have quite unusual, bold or unconventional patinas.

They apply them not only on regular calf but also on suede and the 3D grain patina is another trademark of Norman.

Patina ShoesThere’s a specific person doing the finishing and it was nice to see a bunch of (famous) Decon Boots awaiting dying.

I didn’t spend so much time looking at this since my visit was a bit more business oriented.

Strange meetups

At some point, a man and his wife entered the shop.

Turns out that we both knew Justin FitzPatrick and we had a long chat about shoes.

They were from the USA with Dominican roots and I even gave them tips about enjoying a drink in Barcelona.

La Whiskeria Barcelona
Me, Joel and his lovely wife in La Whiskeria Barcelona

By absolute luck and coincidence, we actually met up 2 days later in a bar where we took a commemorative picture.

What a small world and awesome how shoes and hobbies (or addictions!) bring people together.

Norman Vilalta X The Noble Shoe

As I mentioned before one of the reasons I visited Norman Vilalta is because now I am an official retailer.

They are very careful with who they work with and for me that means my work is being recognized and respected.

This September/October there will be a drop of 5 unique styles and make ups that you will find in the store.

Noble Shoe Boots
This is one of the styles you will see at The Noble Shoe although in a darker brown color!

As soon as the samples are ready I will make sure to showcase them to you here and on video.

You can get a glimpse of some of the styles in the pictures here but it will be mostly boot and split-toe/moc-toe heavy.

Very excited to be a part of this!

Wrapping Things Up

This concludes my short article about my visit to the Norman Vilalta Atelier in Barcelona.

A great visit and a huge relief that I can finally travel again and expand my experience.

I actually plan to visit the London Super Trunk Show in a few weeks where I will meet Norman and Paolo Scafora among other friends.

It goes without saying that I will be covering the event for you.

Finally, I hope you enjoyed this article and a bit of behind the scenes at your favorite shoemakers.

Have a wonderful rest of the week and I will see you in the next one!

Thank you for reading,

Kostas Mandilaris,
Misiu Academy

 

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Comments (2)

Hello Kostas,

Thanks. I really enjoyed reading this write-up on Norman Vilalta. Having purchased a few pairs of shoes from NV, it was interesting to get an idea of the place where all this is conceived and done. It has been my really good fortune that NV RTW shoes and boots fit me so well, almost like bespoke, and of course, I love the design and craftsmanship of their work.

The last time we communicated, I was pestering you with questions about zip boots 🙂 I have, for now, decided not to buy those. Maybe after a year or two, I may try to approach NV if such a boot can be made with his vision, for me. Probably have to start saving money for that, if he agrees 🙂

I hope all is well. I am sure you must be quite busy in Italy. I am still working at Apple, and also quite occupied getting my artwork ready for new exhibits this year in the bay area.

Best,
Akhtar

Hello Akhtar! Thank you for reading, commenting and sharing your thoughts!

I am happy you found this helpful and that you are enjoying your NV Shoes! I am a proud partner and retailer of Norman’s shoes now and I am very excited for the future.

Congratulations on your upcoming exhibition!

Best,
Kostas

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