This Swiss Brand Balances Traditional Craftsmanship and Contemporary Design

Fresh off the its first US store opening, Le Majordome owner and president Daniel Bucheli talks introducing his designs to a new audience, the keys to successful expansion and how to emphasize bespoke in spite of fast fashion.

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If you're looking for a pair of boots, it's not hard to become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options out there. Hell, there are more than a dozen styles to start with, and a million more variations filed under each category. So, oftentimes, especially if your request is particularly, well, specific, it's easiest (although far from most cost-efficient) to get your concept custom-made.

But where? And how? Research your favorite brands and you'll find mixed results: Nick's, Bakers, White's and Wesco all do bespoke, as does Lucchese, but if you're in search of something more modern — boots that look less like they're designed for dirty jobs on construction sites or long shifts on manufacturing floors and more for trips into the office or out for dinner — there are few outfitters up for the task.

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Custom shoemaking requires a delicate balance of attention to the past and a penchant for the future.
Ben Fitchett

If you stay local, a cobbler could replace the outsole or do minor cosmetic alterations on existing boots, but if you want control over how the toe is formed or which leathers are employed for the upper, you have to trace the shoe back to its original maker, and if you're an inexperienced shopper (or even busy) that can feel like an impossible task.

There is one Swiss brand, however, that's pushing bespoke in spite of others' slow drift toward fashion fashion. Le Majordome, mere months removed from opening its first-ever US store, is exceeding expectations, and its top executive says its customer-centric approach is to thank.

"I think what makes us different as a brand is that we find ourselves at the intersection of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary fashion — something only a few do," the brand's co-owner and president, Daniel Bucheli, says. "There are brands that do Goodyear welted shoes with a more modern approach, yet they mainly rely on very classic styles — like cap-toe oxfords or plain-toe derbies. Our goal is to make future classics: shoes that are well made, inspired by traditional craftsmanship, yet have an updated, modern look to them."

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Le Majordome opened its first US store in New York City last November.
Ben Fitchett

To begin the process of creating your own custom footwear, you must visit Le Majordome in person (in New York City exclusively for now). They'll take a ton of measurements, present 62 different models to choose from, 94 different materials (standard and distressed leathers, stock suedes, marled wools and more) you can mix and match and several more specifics — like toe, lining and sole — you can tweak, too. No matter your final creation, although there are obvious exceptions that widen this window, your boots will be made and delivered to you within 10 weeks, a welcome departure from others that set 24 weeks as the absolute minimum for total turnaround.

On whether or not New Yorkers were initially opposed to the idea of patience, "No, people understood rather quickly how the process works — especially the ones who get their clothes custom-made," Bucheli says. "Of course, we had some that initially thought if they order a pair on Saturday, they can pick it up on Monday… so there we had to explain that making one single pair just for them takes some time. A classic example was when the first snow fell in early winter and people wanted a nice pair of winter boots. Telling them the boots will arrive in January was not always so easy. Now we even have customers that come and order their winter boots in August."

"Generally speaking," he continues, "starting a custom-made business has both advantages and disadvantages: On one hand, you only produce what you are selling (which is a big plus in terms of capital needed). Further, you work very closely with your customers, which helps to understand their needs and what they are looking for much better. Lastly, the customer retention is surely better than with classic ready-made shoes, as a satisfied customer can simply choose a style he/she likes and then be sure it will fit."

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Le Majordome makes a near-even mix of boots and shoes.
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But Le Majordome doesn't just do customs. The brand boasts a healthy catalog of ready-made boots and shoes one can buy and wear out of the store. Their sales are split "about 50-50" between made-to-order and already made, Bucheli says, and the two sides of the business influence each other more than one might expect.

"One of our best-selling ready-to-wear summer shoes was inspired by a creation of one of our customers," he says. "Also, when we see that a certain shoe is often ordered as a custom pair, we then consider it for the RTW-line."

The possible outcomes are nearly endless, though, so it's rare that two customers order the same custom pairs. Doing a bit of simple math, I estimate there are more than 10,000,000 potential combinations (when you account for every style, types of leather, liners, outsoles and toe shapes to choose from).

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Originally Swiss, Le Majordome eyes world-wide expansion.
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"[Footwear] is a way of expressing yourself visually, and so we want to make sure we can give them the best vocabulary possible," Bucheli says of the sheer robustness of his business. Sure, Le Majordome is new, but the brand is eyeing worldwide expansion — and an influx of positive reviews proves they're on the right track. "With our three Swiss stores, we were still considered a local Swiss brand, although we saw ourselves as more than that," he says. With the New York store, Le Majordome introduces itself to not only the US but the travelers that come here from across the world. "We think New York is still one of the best places to establish the brand internationally and get worldwide exposure."

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