Francis Waplinger – The American Bespoke Shoemaker
While having no real proof of this next statement, I can confidently say that now more than ever is a time for aspiring shoemakers. And I believe that global communication i.e. the internet has been the key factor to making this phenomenon grow so vast in the last 10 years. You wouldn’t believe how many people have written me saying that they want to get into bespoke shoemaking and look to me for advice on how to do so. Prior to the internet how could one discover a shoemaker? It was one of 3 ways: 1. Reading about one in a publication, 2. Seeing them in person from travel or 3. Hearing through word of mouth. But as most of us are visual beings, that means that unless we see something that visually inspires or affects us, we usually don’t think too much about it. That being, with the internet and shoe blogs like my own bombarding you with beautiful shoes made across the planet by the many amazing shoemakers of the world, it is easy for one to see a Yohei Fukada shoe and think to themselves, ‘I want to make shoes like that!’
I am unsure of Francis Waplinger”s first slice of inspiration for wanting to be a shoemaker but what I can say is that he is a native Washingtonian like myself and at some point caught the shoemaking bug which took him to the city of Florence as it also did myself. Our history is somewhat similar in fact, albeit he did things properly whereas I winged it in a really careless and somewhat risky way. His entrance into shoemaking was with the famous shoemaking school of Florence, Academie Riaci. This gave him the basic knowledge he needed to then approach Florentine shoemaker, Robert Ugolini for a position in his small workshop in my old stomping grounds of Piazza Santo Spirito (one of Florence’s more happening places for the locals).
Having spent a few years there and gaining what experience he needed to feel confident in venturing off on his own, Francis spent some more time with Marcell Mrsan in the US before finding himself in Long Island NY with a workshop of his own. After preparing some showpiece samples in order to get his own brand off of the ground, he is finally up and running and a full fledged maker taking orders. This step would make Francis one of the few American, European trained bespoke shoemakers which is quite a big feat indeed. Now let’s see how far he can go!
It’s interesting to see his blend of style, between a more robust shoe that he might have learned from Marcell and the more elongated Italian look most definitely learned at Ugolini. With a bit of practice, refinement and time to work on his own ideas, I look forward to seeing what style Francis will adopt as his own. Only time will tell with orders
A small excerpt from his own site:
“Francis Waplinger offers Made-to-Measure and Custom footwear for men and women. All shoes are hand lasted and hand welted in Mr. Waplinger’s studio. Only the finest European and American leathers are used. Each pair of shoes is constructed according to the clients specifications using traditional Old World techniques. Trained in Italy, including an apprenticeship with famed Florentine shoemaker Roberto Ugolini and a stateside apprenticeship with Hungarian Master Shoemaker, Marcell Mrsan, Mr. Waplinger strives to bring the craftsmanship, quality and flare of European shoemaking to the United States.”