After Paris and London, my next destination was Vienna. Judging from the discussion threads posted in English language forums, you might think Italy (specifically, Naples) has a near monopoly on the soft shoulder. Think again. The soft or "runde" shoulder is alive and well in Mitteleuropa or Central and Eastern Europe. Call it the Viennese soft shoulder tradition.
Bernhard Niedersuesz/CM Frank
My first stop was Bernhard Niedersuesz. Bernhard was quite accommodating with his time given that he was expecting a client very shortly. My first, burning curiosity was to compare his cutting style with Knize. Knize of course is the store his father runs and where he used to work before striking out on his own. The answer is quite simple. The elder Niedersuesz at Knize cuts a softer jacket, which I saw later that day when I dropped by.
Niedersuesz the younger still cuts a natural shoulder (i.e. following the natural contour of the shoulder) but with less of a sudden drop or collapse as the shoulder seam approaches the sleevehead. Bernhard illustrated the Knize shoulder by pulling down the sleevehead of his display jackets a few millimeters. He prefers a slightly more structured look with the usual exceptions made for irregular shoulders. For example, when I put on a basted try-on jacket, he detected the slight bump on my shoulder line (thanks to a slightly raised clavicle). In his cut, he would remove any padding directly over the bump and add a touch of padding just before and after.
Bernhard offers two MTM lines: one of which is made by Brioni according to his specs. His new store opened in spring 2007, handsomely furnished and located conveniently near the Stephansdom. I mentioned I lived in Los Angeles, which led of course to a discussion of Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of his eventual goals is to make a suit for the Governor.
My next stop was Netousek, a short walk past the Staatsoper. On the way I stopped by Malowan on Opernring, which had a couple of windows of nice English-looking outerwear (including Chrysalis walking coats). Curious, I stepped inside but they don't offer bespoke just RTW (though the salesperson nailed my European size correctly at a glance).
Netousek occupies a fairly compact retail ground space on Gumpendorfer Strasse. I was greeted by the father, who speaks German only, and later the son, who speaks English. The store was started by the younger Netousek's grandfather and has been in the same location since then. When I asked the father to describe their cut, he said immediately “klassisch und Englisch” (classic and English) and “nicht modern oder Italienisch” (not modern or Italian). By the latter I think he really meant the Roman or Continental cut. By the former, he really meant the A&S cut – a soft round shoulder (“runde” in German) which actually is not the typical English-looking Savile Row cut. Regardless of the semantics, they do adjust to customer needs and mentioned having US customers. Netousek offers two types of custom: MTM (machine made in a factory) and handmade on premises.
They looked very busy. I saw a row of around a dozen or so basted try-on jackets lined up behind the counter. I also saw a selection of cloths including H&S. Interestingly enough, I asked what was the preferred shoulder in Vienna. According to the son, Viennese men tend to prefer the soft shoulder look.
On the way back, I walked by a custom shoemaker by the name of Otto Bartkiewicz at Dorotheergasse 15.
In the window display was a sturdy-looking pebble grain Norwegian apron derby.
My next stop, of course, was Knize – a wonderfully atmospheric and familiar store. Familiar especially if you have some knowledge of fin-de-siecle Viennese art, literature and politics. In some ways, it seems quite fitting that Knize inhabits the southern reaches of the German-speaking region of Europe. Perhaps being in the south has an effect on tailoring because Knize offers a distinct, Central European take on the soft round shoulder, much as Naples does in Italy.
In the store, I saw two examples of the Knize shoulder, one of which I could touch and feel (the model on the ground floor). This was a plaid cashmere jacket. The sleevehead was crinkled a la the Neapolitan spalla camiceria. The lapel buttonhole was beautifully and neatly done by hand. The chest piece felt very soft and the front quarters fairly open (a touch less than what I have seen from Naples). Prices start at nearly 5,000 euros. Unfortunately, I was not able to take photos in the store but their website offers a glimpse of the interior.
Upstairs I saw a table of Goodyear welted shoes and two marvelous examples of formalwear: a dinner jacket (with a beautifully handrolled linen pocket square) and evening tails. The sleeveheads on both were smooth, a very appropriate adjustment in my opinion. I also tried the Knize Ten Golden Anniversary cologne – a potent, woody and musk-laden scent which I quite liked though it is certainly not for everyone.
Just one street away from Knize is Rudolf Scheer, the royal warranted shoemakers.
Balint Then it was onto Balint, the bespoke shoemaker on Singerstrasse and I had the good fortune of chatting with Bela Balint, who was quite friendly and helpful. They offer two types of custom: full bespoke (last based on foot shape) and MTM (pre-formed last that is adjusted). For full bespoke, the first order is 1,500 euros and 1,000 thereafter. Full bespoke takes 4-5 months. The initial measurement also requires at least 90 minutes. In Bela's view, a good fit is dependent on the snugness of the foot to the shoe between the heel and balls of the feet. The toebox is a different question, a tradeoff between design and comfort.
The Balint workshop employs 12 workers and is located in Transylvania. Bela works in the Vienna shop during the wintertime until July and then switches to the Zurich shop. Upon request, he is happy to email photos of Balint shoes and styles (from a selection of some 4,000+ photos if I recall correctly).