27th June 2023


Norman Vilalta Bespoke Shoemakers

In the age of mass production and fast fashion, there are very few designers in the world of shoes who go against the grain and find a happy medium between old-world artisanal craft and modern-day machinery. In sunny Barcelona, shoe aficionados seek out Norman Vilalta, a hidden gem known for his savant level design, quality craftsmanship and quirky personality.

Norman’s background is a unique one. Born and raised in a working-class family in the Patagonia region of Argentina, he initially followed a more traditional route of success, achieving higher education in Buenos Aires and landing a cushy position as a corporate lawyer.

It wasn’t until the age of 31 that Norman realised that there was something more meaningful missing from his life. He desired a creative component to his career. He had an interest in shoes, but unlike the world of law, there was no clear route to get there.

In 2002, Norman made the bold decision to move halfway across the world to Florence, Italy, to pursue shoemaking the traditional way by hand. It was here in Florence that Norman learned the art of shoemaking under a couple of well-known bespoke shoemakers including the late Stefano Bemer. Here he learned every step in making a shoe, from hand-lasting to hand-welting to outsole stitching by hand to design, patternmaking, and hand-finishing.

It was Bemer who told Norman that “artisans have to be ortolani”, meaning artisans have to be farmers who work outside the castle walls. In other words, you must remove yourself from your comfort zones to add something new to the trade. Norman took Bemer’s advice to heart and he chose the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona as his headquarters. While Barcelona wasn’t known for shoemaking like some of the more mature markets in London, Paris, or Florence, Spain has a deep history of shoemaking and speaking the local language helped Norman navigate a new country.

In Barcelona, Norman perfected his craft, developed his own sense of style which balanced the elegance and design lines of French and Italian with the durability of the English. It was this special blend that caught the attention of the shoe aficionados from around the world. Soon enough Norman found himself approached by celebrity chefs, film directors, members of the royal families of Europe and other members of the elite for his bespoke shoes.

After 10 years of working exclusively in Bespoke, Norman decided that it was time to reach a larger audience. Norman took a year off to apply the knowledge that he gained from working with clients on bespoke shoes to engineer his own ready-to-wear lasts. Understanding the peculiarities of feet, he was able to develop shoe lasts that were able to fit a wide range of people well.

In 2015, Norman launched the Condal Collection, his Goodyear-welted, ready-to-wear line which delivers fitted lasts, high-quality leathers from the top leather tanneries in Europe and importantly, unique designs. Since Norman knew that he didn’t want to launch just any ready-to-wear collection, every design has some exceptional detail or story that makes it special.

The Decon Chelsea Boot, Norman’s flagship model, has become a collector’s item among shoe aficionados for its design. The boot blends the sophisticated style of a Chelsea Boot with the functionality of a derby. The two eyelet facings complement the elongated vamp and chiselled toe box of the boot beautifully, and the colourful hand-made patinas are head-turning.

For a weekend away on the slopes or outdoors, Norman developed the Borcego Boot, the more rugged boot of his collection. Like a luxury SUV, the Borcego balances more technical details with elegant design. D-ring eyelets deliver fast and easy lacing, heel stabilisers offer better support on uneven surfaces, and the Vibram Gumlite Commando Sole offers cushioning that will keep your feet comfortable all day long.

When challenged to do something interesting with pebble grain leather by friends at Leffot, the leading luxury footwear retailers in New York City, Norman developed the 3D Patina for his Derby Simple Shoe. The patina utilises different layers of colour on the grain calf to deliver a 3D effect on the shoe. Over the years, Norman has also taken a more personal approach with clients for some of his designs. For example, the Boulevardier was named by one of his clients in New York City, who worked with Norman to select the combination of upper leather and sole and give the boot its name.

Every pair of Norman Vilalta’s Condal Collection is hand-finished before delivery, an artisanal process that is uncommon among ready-to-wear shoes. This labour-intensive process includes the use of fire, iron tools, sandpapers, inks, waxes, and creams to achieve a bespoke quality finishing that takes each artisan between 3 to 6 hours per pair. New styles of the Condal Collection are released monthly in small batches, so there is always something fresh to look forward to.

In addition to the Condal collection, earlier this year, Norman re-launched his 1202 Heritage Collection, his ready-to-wear collection that is completely made by hand. After the soft-launch with Hugo Jacomet of the Parisian Gentleman in 2018, Norman took a unique approach with this line by limiting the amount of orders per month depending on the tight capacity of his highly sought after bespoke line.

Each pair of the 1202 Heritage Collection is hand-lasted, hand-welted, outsole stitched by hand by Norman and his team of artisans in Barcelona and has the quality and hand-finishing of Norman’s bespoke shoes. The line fills the gap for the majority of clients who don’t necessarily need to go bespoke since they can fit Norman’s carefully engineered ready-to-wear lasts, but want an exclusive shoe that is completely made by hand.

Next year, Norman will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of shoemaking and he promises to have some special surprises lined up.

Visit Norman Vilalta online at www.normanvilalta.com or in his boutique in sunny Barcelona, Spain at 5 Enric Granados, Barcelona, 08007. Walk-ins are welcome but appointments are recommended for made-to-order, semi-bespoke and bespoke shoes.