BUDAPEST ON THE UPSWING
In Eastern Europe, where the Danube leaves the Hungarian low mountain range to flow into the lowlands, lies Budapest. Formed from the former villages of Óbuda, Buda and Pest, the city winds its way directly along the banks of the river. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, which separated the nation ruled by a communist dictatorship from the market-oriented, democratic West, Budapest has experienced a boom. The opening of the country and the Hungarian market has led to a growth in tourism. In addition to the numerous market halls, historic cafés and thermal baths, it is above all the handmade, welted Budapest shoes that have helped the city become internationally famous.
SHOEMAKERS WITH TRADITION
In the immediate vicinity of the Danube, on the Pest side of the city, in Haris köz, the shopping street of Budapest, the shoe shops of Heinrich Dinkelacker, Sándor Rozsnyai and László Vass are next to each other. While Dinkelacker, a German company, moved from Bietigheim-Bissingen to the Hungarian capital in the 1960s and now produces here, Budapest’s family businesses, whose founders look back on a long tradition, are hidden behind the brands Vass and Rozsnyai. László Vass, a shoemaker for more than forty years, moved into his first 16 square metre shop here in 1978. In the meantime, daughter Eva has opened her second shop just a stone’s throw away. A few metres further on, Sándor Rozsnyai, who graduated from the Technical University of Budapest with a degree in shoe technology engineering, also sells the so-called Budapest shoe, which was first worn in the 19th century and is now a real classic.
BUDAPEST SHOES ARE WORN ALL OVER THE WORLD
Business with the Budapest team is going well. Businessmen in particular are placing more and more value on high-quality footwear. To buy the Budapesters with the typical Eastern European fullbrogue hole pattern and the wide, straight lasts, many customers travel especially from abroad. This is because handmade footwear in Hungary is considerably cheaper than in the rest of Europe or Asia. You can buy a pair of hand-stitched Budapest shoes here for around 400 euros. In Germany the price is up to 600 euros, in Japan the shoes cost around three times as much.
REAL BUDAPESTER SHOES ARE LOVINGLY HANDMADE
Despite good demand, Vass branches are not expected to exist in other countries for the time being. After all, the workers in the factory must have enough time to produce the approximately 2,000 pairs of shoes that are sold at Vass in Haris köz every year. In the boxes, which are stacked up to the ceiling here, not only the famous Budapesters but also handmade Oxford, Derby, Norwegians, Old Viennese, Wholecut and Italians line up. For special requests, a hand is laid on, the customer’s foot is measured at five different points from the ball to the instep and a foot document is made. However, most buyers can take their shoes with them. Only those who live on big feet, need a custom-made shoe or have a single pair made from expensive ostrich or caiman leather need to practice patience. It can take a few weeks before a customer receives his or her custom-made shoes.
What happens between ordering and delivery of the Budapest shoes, behind the closed doors of the manufactories, how a shoe is created from high-quality material in more than a hundred individual steps, which lasts up to ten years and can even be repaired after that, remains invisible to the customer. Hardly anyone therefore thinks about the work that goes into a handmade Budapest shoe. László Vass likes to say that a custom-made shoe passes through so many hands that it has a soul.
It is rough hands, wrinkled hands through which it wanders, hands in constant motion. They belong to 15 to 25 shoemakers who work in the László Vass manufactory, 25 minutes from the city centre, and which I would like to introduce in a 2nd post on BOX IN A SUITCASE.
I visited the Vass Shoe Manufactory as an author for the Inflight Magazine of the airline Germanwings.
BOX IN A SUITCASE is a project by BOTTEGA BERLIN PRODUCTIONS.