Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vietnamese shoemaking: Tran Quoc Lan

At the height of the financial crisis a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) observing from afar the US-led meltdown in financial liquidity, solvency and accountability with a certain measure of disbelief. Nonetheless, I was in the region on vacation and had a specific place to visit in my itinerary - a shoemaker to be precise. I had read about AskAndy member m@t's experiences with a Vietnamese bespoke shoemaker named Tran Quoc Lan and thought to follow his footsteps so to speak.

Tran Quoc Lan store

Tran Quoc Lan store

The first step was getting my feet measured. The lady who measured my foot took two measurements around my right foot and drew an outline of both feet in her notebook. The older gentleman with glasses promised a very quick three day turnaround, perhaps because I requested a derby style that had been made for another customer. The older gentleman spoke English and the lady who measured my feet also spoke a bit of English. I showed her a photo of the design on my iPod touch and she pulled out a JM Weston shoe catalogue to find its pictorial equivalent. As I looked through their leather selection, the following colors struck my eye: 43 dark brown (the one I ordered), 74 chestnut, 78 maple, 35 maple (slightly darker than 78), 17 acorn, 101 deep brown and 108 olive/dark brown.

Tran Quoc Lan 2 eyelet derby 01

I ordered on a Saturday and picked up the shoes the following Monday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised by the results. I was most curious about how the overall shape would turn out. It reminded me a bit of the Edward Green soft square 888 last (see below right). For a shoe (and last) that was made in literally days, it was a remarkably well-fitting shoe. Given the time constraint, I suspect my last was probably a modified version of a preformed last (using the addition method). Nonetheless, the fit is superior to any RTW shoe I've tried out of the box. And the price? 65 USD.

Tran Quoc Lan 2 eyelet derby 02Tran Quoc Lan / Edward Green 888

The leathers are not nearly the level of quality you'll find at British, French, Italian, Austrian and other European shoemakers and the lastmaking may not be quite as refined. But if current results are any indication of future potential, don't be too surprised to find within the next 10 years a decently constructed pair of shoes with the label "Edward Tran" or "John Tran" in a store near you.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on TQL's MTM Chelsea boots
- Styleforum thread on Hong Kong shoemaker Zee's Leatherware
- NY Times article on Kow How and Mayer Shoes in Hong Kong

Updated 05/09/09


Loafer said...

It's amazing what can be done in a few days. I'd be interested to see how they wear over time. Re: Foster's schedule, it's good to see the Londo makers are taking the US by storm.

As you are a shoe aficionado, perhaps you are interested in learning how to make handsewn shoes for yourself? We're one of the only schools in England to still teach handsewn shoemaking. Our shoemaking course runs in NY in the spring and London next summer.

sleevehead said...

I see you're based in London. Thanks for the notice - please post details on your shoemaking course. I would be interested in hearing more about it and I'm sure other Sleevehead readers are as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi I would like to contact this shoemaker in Vietnam. Do you have any contact details for this store? I am looking for a bespoke shoemaker for my business and hopefully you still have their contact details.

Caroline said...

Hi,I am also trying to find a good shoe maker in Vietnam-please will you share their contact details with me also.

sleevehead said...

Here are the contact details from the business card I picked up on my trip back in 2008:

97 Le Thanh Ton
Ho Chi Minh City

Tel 8295453
Email vietcuong@saigonnet.vn

Anonymous said...

Unassuming shop facade, but stunning quality for the price. Bought 3 pairs last Friday. Shoemaker and his son speaks English.

Same address, tel number is now 38295453 and email : quoclan97@yahoo.com.vn