Saskia Wittmer, German by birth but Italian by adoption, has been working for over 15 years in her laboratory in the heart of Florence, where she creates bespoke shoes greatly appreciated by lovers of hand-made footwear. Wittmers’ is a very classic style, although she has an individual, original and feminine approach when she is working on products for male clients.
Tell us your story. How did your passion for shoemaking start?
My passion for shoes sinks its roots into my childhood. I was fascinated by shoes, especially men’s shoes. I looked at shop windows, especially in Italy, and the colours and shapes attracted me toward this world. I studied at the Steiner school, which is extremely art-oriented and centred on manual skills, which enhanced my passion for craftsmanship. Unlike Italy, Germany does not have a long-standing footwear tradition, but I managed to be trained “a bottega” in the workshop of the best German shoemaker, where I carried forward my apprenticeship for three years. But my passion for Italy was stronger, so I moved to Florence for a further three-year apprenticeship.
My ultimate goal is creating a beautiful shoe, the object of all my clients’ dreams.
Each time a client comes in to collect his shoes and shows his pleasure and satisfaction while putting them on. No other moment can be so thrilling.
What is creativity for you?
Creativity is in every shoe I make. I design the client’s pattern on each mould, I have no standard moulds, every single time I produce a shoe from scratch. This is why I need to be very aware of the clients’ requirements all along the process: I must interpret their needs, adjust them to the shoe, create the technique and all the necessary steps. My ultimate goal is creating a beautiful shoe, the object of all my clients’ dreams.
How long do you take to create a finished shoe? Which are the main steps?
Usually, if the client visits my workshop for the first time, I need about three weeks to make a shoe. Men’s footwear requires many steps. After measuring the client’s foot, I start modelling the mould: if the foot is long, swollen or exhibits any peculiar feature, then I have to add something, otherwise, with a small, skinny foot, I have to file it. From the mould, I move on to the mould design, based on the customer’s demands. Then I add the paper pieces that are needed for the upper. After that, I cut the lining pieces and sew the upper, which serves as the basis; then I move on to the insole and the shoulder, which is moistened and fixed to the form. Once the form is dry, I remove the nails anchoring the form and start sewing and fixing the upper, the lining, the tip and the welt. Finally, I insert the cork, sew and close up the whole shoe and assemble the heel.
What do you like about your work?
I like the challenge daily offered by my clients. Each of them, with his shape, length, or peculiarity, represents a moment of reflection, an input to start looking for the solutions fitting that particular kind of foot.
Is there a moment you remember with a special emotion?
Each time a client comes in to collect his shoes and shows his pleasure and satisfaction while putting them on. No other moment can be so thrilling. And, of course, being awarded the MAM-Maestro d'Arte e Mestiere by Fondazione Cologni in 2018.
What would you suggest to a young artisan?
Young people need to understand what craftsmanship is, they should know they have to be both enthusiastic and patient, try again and again, make mistakes and never give up. The artisan’s job is a difficult one, that you learn by working hard and doing a lot of apprenticeship. And, of course, the basics are great manual dexterity and care for details. And it is a gratifying trade, which makes me feel an accomplished woman.