Shoemaking is the steadiest trade in the book. You simply can’t live without a pair of shoes. You can shun everything else and live as self-sustainingly as you like, but when push comes to shove, you’re going to want a pair of shoes and lord knows they’re not easy to knock up on your own. Whether it was this factor that lured Daniel Day-Lewis away from the glamourous and lavishly well-paid world of Hollywood to relocate to Florence, Italy, and become a shoemaker is unclear. However, in the mid-1990s, it was a switch that Day-Lewis was happy to make.
The star squirrelled away to Florence and secretly made shoes around late-1996 / early-1997 when filming wrapped on The Boxer. It is unclear how much of the following five years during which he was absent from the movie industry was actually spent with a heel hammer in hand, because as the star said himself: “It was a period of my life that I had a right to without any intervention of that kind.”
What is known is that he made acquaintances with the late Stefano Bemer – who is described as some sort of Leonardo da Dress-shoe within the fevered chat on Italian leather forums – and he spent at least 10 months under the stewardship of this master craftsman.
Bremer’s bespoke leather brogues sell for upwards of $500, and if you bought a pair during the late 1990s period then who knows whether you’re walking around in the handiwork of one of the most decorated actors of all time.
It must also be stressed that this wasn’t for a role. Although his method acting is legendary, he had not been offered the role of an Italian shoemaker prompting this move. He simply wanted to get away from Hollywood, thus he moved from London, with his wife and child, to spend some time out of the limelight in a shoe factory.
Although, sadly, Stefano Bemer passed away in 2012, the company that carries his name is still going strong. Their website states that Day-Lewis and Bemer were not only brought together by a passion for fine leather brogues but the common bond of “perfectionism”.
The ‘About’ section of the website reads: “DD Lewis and Stefano shared the same passion for their respective forms of art: one would not simply play a role, but rather “become” his character; the other would not just make shoes, but rather bring his ideas to life. If you have seen the former acting and the latter making shoes, you know what I am talking about.”
Unfortunately, I never got to see Bemer make his wonderful shoes, but I have seen Day-Lewis act and it’s a majestic thing to witness, so God only knows what it must have been like to see the duo go at a pair of wing-tipped Oxford’s with a leather makers drill bathed in the gracious hue of perfectionism in motion.
Eventually, Daniel Day-Lewis was torn away from the world of shoemaking by the offer of starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the Martin Scorsese epic Gangs of New York. The star had lost none of his acting touch and turned in one of the greatest performances of all time as Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting.