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