Unlike the story of many shoemakers and artisans who give up promising careers to pursue their dreams or join their trades following a legacy of craftsmen, Tomoyuki Watanabe’s entrance into the world of bespoke shoemaking can only be said to be a fateful encounter if not a calling.
Prior to learning the trade, Watanabe-San was a backpacker with an insatiable hunger for traveling the world and aversion to settling in a steady occupation and a life of routine and tedium. Like most talented shoemakers, he loved shoes from an early age and always had a dream to design and create his own shoes in a classic style. However, it was only when backpacking brought him face to face with a master Japanese shoemaker with more than 50 years of experience in 2004 that he soon became hopelessly drawn to the art of shoemaking and ultimately decided to learn it for himself. Even then he was only willing to spend downtime between part time jobs at the workshop, but nevertheless he kept returning day after day, eager to hone his craft.
It was really only when Watanabe-San opened his own atelier – Bolero Bespoke Shoe & Bootmaker Nagoya several years later that he finally answered the call and became a full-time bespoke shoemaker. One can sense even now that he pursued this dream for the simple and genuine joy shoemaking brought him, untainted by big city dreams. This simplicity and sense of modesty still informs his work today, with his shoes exuding a unique old-world charm that is difficult to describe in words – classically elegant but purpose-driven. Building on archetypal shoe designs, Watanabe-San’s work is distinctively his own with aggressive shaping but with a paradoxical subtlety and brilliant balance that truly has to be seen and handled to be appreciated.
While technique can be honed, a unique aesthetic is difficult to come by nowadays which is why we consider Watanabe-San to be a prodigy among up and coming shoemakers. Apart from the fine finishing that has come to be expected from Japanese artisans, Watanabe-San’s style is distinctively quaint, elegant and generous, a very fine choice for your next bespoke commission.
Watanabe-San comes to Hong Kong twice a year to take orders and conduct fittings.