Why Bestetti is a name that will never be forgotten

Hello friends. Allow me to apologise in advance, because this is a very sad story.

I first discovered Italian shoemaker Riccardo Freccia Bestetti thanks to our friend Justin FitzPatrick of The Shoe Snob blog. In 2014, Justin made a pilrimage to Vigevano outside Milan to visit the workshop of Mr Bestetti — he’d had no choice, as the renowned shoemaker refused to do international trunk shows; such was his love for his son that he couldn’t bear to be away from him for even a couple of days. Justin was just as impressed by this caring, soulful attitude as he was by Bestetti’s shoes.

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“He is a master in the industry and his works of art are simply amazing… what he does is beautiful,” Justin wrote in his report on the visit. Furthermore, he said, “Riccardo Bestetti is a fantastic person… Not only is he genuine, nice, hospitable, kind, passionate, humble and the rest of it, but most importantly he cares. Not only does he care about shoes, his own as well as others’, but he cares for the customer and how the customer feels… What was most admirable for me was the way in which he cared about his family, particularly his one and only son. The way someone treats their family says a lot about a person to me. And when Riccardo spoke of his son, you could see all of the love and passion that he possessed glowing out of his skin… I know that this has nothing to do with shoes, but for me it is important”.

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Justin related the story of Bestetti’s journey into shoemaking: “Riccardo is a self-taught shoemaker, having started with Western cowboy boots before moving on to the masterpieces that we see today. It started about 20 years ago when he had bought some handmade boots in Texas. Having flown to the US to visit a family member he went to the bootmaker to collect two pairs of boots he’d ordered some months before. Of course they were not ready, so Riccardo told them that they needed to finish before he left back to Italy and that he was going to stay and watch as they finished them. He did just that and after having returned to Italy, thought to himself, ‘Why purchase more boots like this? I can do what they did!’ He therefore kept one and ripped the other apart only to examine it and start to try and build one of his own. With a bit of common sense, some trial and error and a few good books on bootmaking, he quickly became a bootmaker.”

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After five years making only boots (which are still a Bestetti signature), Riccardo “started to become more curious with regards to the world of shoes. So he decided to make a switch and took what he knew from bootmaking and transferred it to shoemaking. He started with quite basic bespoke shoes, not having any of the fancy bells and whistles that he does today. The waists were quite normal and the lasts quite conservative. But he wasn’t completely satisfied with that so he decided to start doing things that he could attach a persona to, such as the pegged waists and the uniquely shaped lasts and patterns. With those, he created the ‘Bestetti look’, which is still very prevalent to this day and is easily recognized without doubt. The rest is kind of history,” Justin concluded.

Tragically, two years after Justin’s visit, Mr Bestetti very sadly passed away from a serious lung ailment. Urged on by Mr Bestetti’s mother and wife, Marco Facchinetti, who’d been friends with Mr Bestetti for 25 years and had been helping his brand reach the American market, vowed to keep the company alive and make the vast archive of designs and models the shoemaker left behind into a reality. Since 2016, Facchinetti has been carrying on the design and craftsmanship legacy of his late, great friend, expanding the Bestetti workshop and its customer base in Italy and internationally.

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Next month, Mr Facchinetti will be visiting Singapore, where he will be holding a bespoke and made-to-measure trunk show at the Kevin Seah atelier. Soon we’ll publish an interview with him on our site. But to personally hear more of the story of how Mr Facchinetti is honoring the memory of Riccardo Bestetti, and to see for yourself the beautiful shoes this artisan house handmakes, we invite you to visit 5 Jalan Kilang on November 21.

Join us and raise a glass in tribute to Riccardo Bestetti — a gifted artisan who will always be missed, and never be forgotten.

Until next week…

—Kevin

An Interview with Tony Gaziano

Broadly considered Britain’s finest ‘new generation’ men’s shoemakers, melding traditional craftsmanship with a sleek, contemporary aesthetic, Gaziano & Girling has won a cult-like following globally in the 12 years since the company’s establishment. Ahead of G&G’s third bespoke and made-to-order trunk show at Kevin Seah — the sole retailer of Gaziano & Girling shoes in Southeast Asia — we spoke with Tony Gaziano about his dedication to the craft and the intricacies of running an artisanal business.

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Kevin Seah: You started out designing shoes and subsequently trained as a last-maker. Why did you gravitate toward that side of shoemaking? What made you want to develop an expertise in that highly specialised area?

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Tony Gaziano: I realised that without the knowledge and the ability to create a last, I was really limiting the aesthetics and what I could achieve through design. You know, it’s such an important part of the design procedure, many other companies will actually use a last manufacturer to make models for them, they’ll describe what they want, and I really wanted more control over that. I wanted to be able to create what I pictured rather than specify what I wanted and leave it up to somebody else to do. So when I first got into a last making, it was for design purposes because I wanted to create these fluent, elegant, balanced shapes myself rather than leave it to somebody else.

KS: Would you say you’re a bit of a control freak in that sense?

TG: I am obsessive about details, beyond probably what other people — apart from designers or last-makers — could see, almost to the point of insignificance. Most people would look at a detail I’m fussing over and think, ‘Well, what do you want to take that bit off for, what difference is that going to make?’ Maybe it won’t make any difference, but I need to do it anyway because it’s in my head, you know? So yes, I’m very obsessive when I create a project that it has to be done to all the mental standards — the last has to be a work of art. It’s not just a functional tool.

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KS: Was it a desire to have that degree of control — which you’d never have at another company, where they’d adhere to a strict house style — that motivated you to set out on your own with Dean Girling and found G&G?

TG: To be honest with you, I enjoy both. I also enjoy being given a project and realising that for somebody else. At the time when I was designing for (British shoemaker) Edward Green, it was an incredibly hard company to design for because the boundaries of design at Edward Green are very limited. So it was challenging in itself to be able to create something that was still very classically English but at the same time, new. After a while, there were particular ranges and looks that I could only achieve on my own. And I think knowing it was there and suppressing it over a period of time was just getting too much. So, you know, it was Dean that probably pushed me into leaving the companies that I was working for, and starting on our own and pursuing all these ideas. I was aching for it towards the end.

KS: At many of the Italian companies we’ve visited, there’s a very familial atmosphere — the boss or owner will go to the canteen and eat lunch with his staff, he knows everyone there from higher-ups to the janitor, and will help out when any of them need assistance. Does that atmosphere exist in your business?

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TG: Yes, definitely. Actually, once the factory was set up, one of the first things I did was put a ping-pong table in the canteen area. And I try to make a point of twice a day going and playing table tennis with the staff — partly because I know I can beat them. (laughs) It’s one of the best things that I did because it’s so great for bonding — not just with me but with each other. It really bonds people together. We never play singles, it’s always doubles, it’s great fun and makes people laugh and really brings us together. We also always have a couple of summer parties and everybody in the factory gets invited. Everybody has too much to drink, there’s a lot of dancing and, you know, we do other activities as well. There is a lot of togetherness in the factory. And likewise, yes, when people have been in trouble, we try and help them out. There’s certainly been a few times specifically when people got into debt problems where we’ve helped them out of the hole. Personally, I’m very much somebody that believes if you’ve got a happy employee it will come out in great work.

KS: Given that close relationship with your staff, is the fact that you’ve got 30 families’ livelihoods depending upon the business’s health a weight to carry on your shoulders?

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TG: Sure, but I mean, I don’t really dwell on it too much. I found the best way to deal with things is to be forever the optimist and literally just stamp out the negative sides of things in the business. And there are plenty of negative sides, some of which come from them (G&G’s employees), because being friends as well as employees they come with all the emotional baggage and problems in life. So, you deal with that kind of thing as well. Yes, it is a weight, but I try to be strong enough to fight it off and just get on with the job, make sure that we don’t get anywhere near the danger zones.

KS: Final question: You’ve been terrifically successful in the 12 years since establishing Gaziano & Girling. If you could, is there anything you’d go back and change about the way you’ve done things over that period?

TG: There’s one thing that irritates me a little bit, and that’s how we’ve built our range of shoes. So for example, when we launched the company, we initially launched about 40 different styles. Now we’ve got more than 120 styles. I wish I would’ve made the range a little bit smaller and took my time to release certain models in a different way so that each model got the attention it deserved as a piece of craftsmanship. When you release too many shoes, things get lost in the mix. So that’s probably my own regret. Other than that, there have been a lot of struggles along the way, a lot of complicated situations to deal with in the business – but I don’t really regret them, it’s all been part of the learning curve of going from shoemaker to salesman to manager to businessman, balancing all those skills.

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Sample the exquisite shoemaking skills of Gaziano & Girling at their latest Singapore bespoke and MTO trunk show, taking place at Kevin Seah’s 5 Jalan Kilang atelier, 11 and 12 September (11am-7pm). Contact info@kevinseah.com or call +65 6532 2018 to make an appointment with G&G master craftsman Daniel Wegan.

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10 Greatest Shoe Quotes for Men

Ahead of our trunk show on 11 and 12 September with top British shoemaker Gaziano & Girling, we curate a selection of 10 of the greatest quotes ever uttered about shoes, tailored for a male audience. Adhere to this advice — and be sure to put your best foot forward, gentlemen.

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10. “Wanna know if a guy is well dressed? Look down.” —George Frazier, midcentury Esquire magazine men’s style pundit

9. “Invest heavily in your bed and your shoes, because if you’re not in one then you’re in the other!” —George Glasgow Snr., master cordwainer, George Cleverley

8. “You can never take too much care over the choice of your shoes.” —Christian Dior, genius couturier

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7. “To wear dreams on one’s feet is to begin to give a reality to one’s dreams.” —Roger Vivier, ‘the Fabergé of Footwear’, inventor of the stiletto

6. “Good shoes will take you to good places.” —Anon.

5. “I firmly believe that with the right footwear one can rule the world.” —Bette Midler, performer, recipient of wind beneath wings

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4. “Shoes transform your body language and attitude. They lift you physically and emotionally.” —Christian Louboutin, founder of eponymous red-soled footwear brand

3. “I feel that flip-flops are the downfall of many relationships. It’s like, first it’s the flip-flops, and then it’s the sweatpants… it’s the gateway drug to no sex.” —Lady Gaga, performer / meat-based couture enthusiast

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2. “Craziness in a shoe is great — you can have much more freedom, you can exaggerate and it doesn’t feel stupid. But to have too much craziness near your face, that would just feel weird.” —Miuccia Prada, designer and fashion magnate

1. “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” —Dr. Seuss, philosopher / connoisseur of colourful breakfasts


To make an appointment with Gaziano & Girling master shoemaker Daniel Wegan whilst in residence at Kevin Seah 11 & 12 September, contact info@kevinseah.com or phone +65 6532 2018. (All imagery courtesy of Gaziano & Girling.)

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