Whether it’s the skyscrapers we work in or the shoes on our feet, great architect Louis Sullivan’s famous credo, “form ever follows function,” still applies. Frank Lloyd Wright took that even further, proclaiming “form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union,” which celebrates the art and beauty that can potentially exist in literally everything we create.
As that relates to your boots, good news: the cobbler is back. There’s a new wave of shoemakers, like Oak Street Bootmakers in Chicago, that are handcrafting footwear the old-fashioned way. Their custom shoes are built for durability and comfort, where their design and style begin. It’s a movement aimed at returning to high quality goods made to last.
Footwear has been built for both functionality as well as expression since the dawn of shoes. The boots found on Ötzi the Iceman, Europe’s oldest naturally mummified human, were remarkably sophisticated, with bear leather soles, deer hide uppers, and tree bark lacing that held soft grass to cushion and warmed the foot like a sock. 5,000 years later, those shoes still look pretty damn cool. But it’s their complexity which led to the theory that, even then, there was likely someone akin to a modern day cobbler whose art and craft was making shoes.
Here are three bootmakers that go beyond artisanally crafted footwear made for practicality and function, and whose designs border on wearable art. It was another architect, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio of ancient Rome, who said that a structure should embody three essential qualities: it must be solid, useful, and beautiful. These boot certainly qualify.
Diemme Roccia Due
Founded in 1992 by brothers and life-long shoemakers Dennis and Maico Signore, Calzaturificio Diemme makes absolutely beautiful boots. From Montebelluna in Northern Italy, a town legendary for fine outdoor footwear, their roots lay firmly in the tradition of hard-working hunting and mountaineering boots. But the master craftsmen at Diemme add eye-grabbing design and urban styling without sacrificing high functionality.
Their Roccia Due is a perfect example. Based on a style from their original hunting collection, it has padded ankle support and inner lining for comfort and stability. The Vibram sole has a custom rubber mid-sole above it for extra cushion and flexibility and a leather-lined interior with vegetable latex footbed all make for a great wearing boot. But what turns heads is its striking design, achieved with the contrasting waxed kudu antelope leather for added protection to the sides and heel. The rolling bullet closed hooks in coated steel holding the coated cotton laces are highly practical while they lend to the look.
Among Diemme’s other dramatic designs is its Tibet boot, a seriously sturdy mountain-ready workhorse that can last a lifetime, yet the simplicity of the highest quality kudu antelope leather in deep black over a red-lined Vibram Montagna Block sole creates a stunning profile for such a practical boot. [diemmefootwear.com]
Feit Wool Hiker
Founded by Australian brothers Tull and Josh Price in 2005, the beauty of Feit’s minimal aesthetic begins with the quality materials and construction and ends in a timelessly elegant visage. Completely handmade, each pair of shoes is signed and dated inside the tongue by the master craftsman who built it. With the highest quality end product in mind and environmental consciousness toward sustainability, both performance and ethics are the ground these boots spring from. But their perfection is in their simplicity.
Feit’s Wool Hiker is a fleece-lined version of their Hand Sewn Hiker, both remarkable expressions of what a boot can be. The upper is made from a single, seamless piece of leather that’s hand-stitched at the heel. With no seams on the entire boot, the strong but minimal stitching stands out all the more as part of its design. Made with ultimate wearability and longevity in mind, its naturally dyed vegetable tanned leather will age to a richly broken-in appearance and look even better with time. The soft wool lining can be worn with or without socks, but, either way, the natural materials won’t retain sweat or odor.
A similarly minimal sensibility is seen in all their designs. Their Arctic Hiker is a substantial, high-performance boot, with a well-padded and waterproof construction, that could likewise be displayed as sculpture. [$680; feitdirect.com]
Yuketen Work Boots
Yuki Matsuda, founder of Yuketen and self-proclaimed shoe fanatic, has said, “I make my designs because I am obsessed with details about shoes and shoe manufacturing.” Even as a teenager in Japan he was enamored with classic American-made shoes, from Converse to Red Wing. Finding inspiration literally everywhere, from vintage American footwear to globally historical shoemaking methods, he begins with the finest materials and handmade craftsmanship and blends that authenticity with innovative and exceptionally cool design.
Their Polish Work Boot takes inspiration from both a vintage boxing boot and a classic roofer’s boot to become a hard working yet refined piece all its own. They’re meticulously hand-crafted at their core for comfort and use, with an arresting two-toned upper, in leather and suede, and full-leather insoles. The leather insole conforms to your foot over time and a narrowing at the arch lends support with a snug, sock-like fit. It’s for every single intentional detail that they end with such a sensational look.
With a wide range from classic to outrageous designs, it’s details, like the stitch-down construction and counterpoint of leather and suede in their Duck Boot that elevate the style. Their American Hiking Boot has a visually striking yet practical ripple sole beneath the leather upper’s sporty silhouette, inspired by mountain and skiing boot styles of the 1940s. [$484; yuketen.com]