Vincent Klemann is sitting by a large bay window that looks out onto the quaint Poolstrasse. The shoemaker is sporting a pair of tasselled suede loafers and is busy shaping and chiselling a beechwood last. “We’re the only shoemaker in Germany still working like this,” he says, referring to the bespoke – and strictly in-house – method of making Klemann shoes. Everything is made here in this workshop in Hamburg’s Neustadt, by the skilled hands of the Klemann family of four.
It’s a regular Wednesday and the two sons, Vincent and Lennert, are manning the workshop, while their mother Magrit is flicking through stacks of leather in the back room. The patriarch of the family, Benjamin Klemann (pictured, bottom left), is in the showroom attending to a customer whose shoes are ready for collection. He gestures the client towards a yellow leather armchair and assesses the fit with the care of a surgeon.
Benjamin, a tall man with a shock of grey hair, hails from the north German island of Föhr. After a three-year apprenticeship in Germany under a quixotic Hungarian cobbler known only as Harai, he ventured to London in 1986, where he earned his chevrons at the likes of John Lobb and New & Lingwood. He eventually returned to Germany to set up his own atelier and opened his Hamburg-based shop in 2007.
“Our speciality is a mix of the English and Hungarian styles,” says Lennert. That means a slender, elegant shape with a powerful, sturdy build. The brand works with the highest-quality calf leather, sourced from German, English, Italian and French tanners, as well as exotic varieties, including ostrich, crocodile, eel and even salmon. (You can also opt for a rare 18th-century Russian leather salvaged from a shipwreck off the coast of England.)
A pair of Klemanns takes six to nine months to make. Getting the fit right is key, which is why all lasts are carved in-house, and the family will assess the minutiae of the client’s gait as well as taking measurements of their feet – something that’s rarely done in shoemaking. What’s more, outsourcing of any kind is a no-no, unlike at a large number of brands where many parts of the manufacturing process are dealt with elsewhere.
If shopping is about unique experiences and narratives, this Hamburg cobbler hits the mark. It is no surprise then that, after the fitting, Benjamin’s client saunters down the street with a spring in his step and the cheery swagger of a man who’s made a good purchase.
Who: Benjamin Klemann, his wife Magrit and their sons Vincent and Lennert are bespoke shoemakers, whose CVs include stints at John Lobb, New & Lingwood and George Cleverley.
What: Bespoke footwear for men and women, made by hand in the Hamburg atelier. The house speciality is a mix of English and Hungarian styles.
Where: Poolstrasse, a serene street in Hamburg’s Neustadt where neighbours include a popular brunch spot and a design studio-cum-bookshop.
What to buy:
1. Black Westminster brogue for work
2. Burgundy Budapest brogue for sterner months
3. Polished, dark brown Derby II for casual outings
4. Brown suede Vienna II derby for smart casual
5. 1920-style two-tone Oxford Boot to shake things up