A Visit to TYE Shoemaker
, TokyoTYE Shoemaker
is among the most elusive shoemakers in Tokyo, and not much information is available except for some beautiful shoes that are periodically posted on their Facebook account. So I arranged a visit to meet shoemaker Tsuyoshi Ohno
at his workshop, located in the heart of Asakusa, also known as the Northampton of Japan.
Ohno used to be one of Yamaguchi Chihiro's proteges (at Guild
), and was in charge of lastmaking at their bespoke operation. I am constantly amazed at how so many talented shoemakers are able to come out from Guild (Masaru Okuyama was Ohno's colleague, to put in perspective). Despite sharing the same instructor (Yamaguchi), each of them seem to flourish in their own direction and style. Ohno is certainly one of them, and he established TYE Shoemaker in 2011 to pursue his vision of what bespoke ought to be.TYE Shoemaker
actually started out by making women's shoes, and perhaps as an extension for his knowledge of women's couture, I find him particularly versed in classic European styles. In fact, classic rider boots
are among his specialty. He finds bootmaking to be the true test of a cordwainer's skills, and is proud to be among the very few in Japan (if not only) who readily offers bespoke riding boots, made from the beginning (last making) to the end.
Not many Japanese cordwainers have the courage to call themselves 'bootmakers'
TYE Boot trees. Not an easy task to make such pair.
Except for the few boots on display, at TYE Shoemaker
, there are no sample shoes, nor examples to showcase the brand's 'house style'. Each and every order are drawn from scratch, and I found Ohno's process to be fascinating with quite a bit of psychology involved. This is not 'bring me a photograph and I'll replicate it' kind of bespoke. He encourages his client to express in any way he/she wants...no matter how vague or fantastic....their ideal image, their gut feeling, intended purpose etc... While some of his clients have a clear idea what they want (sleek oxford shoes, penny loafers), more often they don't have a concrete image of their ideal shoes yet, but nevertheless wants to order one!
Quite a few of his clients thus opt to give Ohno complete freedom in design, or "omakase
" in Japanese.... no specific requirement, just something that will surprise them, something they will like 'for sure'. To constantly take such requests may be a living nightmare for some cordwainers, but Ohno seems to thrive under such opportunity for creative freedom. What he does is to carefully observe the client through their conversation and body language to understand his taste, lifestyle, personality, expectations etc... He takes those cues from the meeting, and manifest them onto the shapes and the designs from scratch.
The shoes are then presented at the trial fitting session. Ohno always prepare at least 2 variations/designs
for the clients to see and choose. The lasts are also slightly different on each trial shoe. The amount of effort spent on these orders is simply mind boggling.
Trial shoes (in the making) for a client who requested 'omakase
'. Both are based on the same sleek form that Ohno concocted for the particular client, but the design (and the last) differs. He will present these to the client, have him select one, and then fine tunes the design. If the client doesn't like either of them, he will start from scratch. Again, these two trial shoes are for a single
order, not two separate orders.
The first design: A swooping brogue pattern on a sleek last. I don't mind taking this. In fact, Ohno-san told me he thought I would like it too (based on his observation of me during the visit).
See the stitching right along the outside of the brogues? Ohno devised this to look like micro-pinking. Superb workmanship indeed, and this is just a trial shoe.
Trial shoe #2 in burgundy. A similarly sleek profile, but the toe shape is slightly different.
This one is actually made from a single piece of leather wrapped around.
Plaster molds taken from the clients' feet. Ohno is a seasoned last maker, previously in charge of Guild's lastmaking operation.
The creative process of modelling a last. This one is meant for evening shoes.
Sleek wooden lasts line the shelves.
Tassel loafers in suede w/ intrecciato details. The upper is actually a single piece of leather with slits to accommodate the strips.
Little details that really shine.
Intrecciato, hand woven
some other shoes from their Facebook
An unusual pair of spectator shoes. The upper is actually made entirely with the same white calfskin. The wing/toes/heels are dyed to the exact shade of tan envisioned by the client.
Bootees in Croc Nubuck and Norvegese stitching
Tarsal straps for the Summer.
more of that amazing faux-micropinking stitching. In fact, the entire stitchwork in this picture is superb.
Ohno admits that expectations based on fantasy or imagination are by nature impossible to meet, but he thoroughly enjoys taking up such challenge. He also enjoys taking some extra effort to add little surprises tailored for each client (a personal detail hidden in the shoes for example). I was reminded of sushi chefs, who also observe their customers to understand their preferences, and are also known for whipping up surprises. The willingness to go an extra step, to do something beyond the expected, really speaks to the character of the artisan. When asked what his aspirations are, he said he would love to make shoes for people from different cultures. Obviously their tastes and values would be quite different from the Japanese, and he is curious what such partnerships could possibly bring out. Gentlemen, this is Bespoke in its purest form.TYE Shoemaker
by Tsuyoshi Ohno