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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

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