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Shoe-polishing workshop

When Ludwig Reiter enters the room, you see at once a gentleman of taste and elegance, shaped by values and virtues long lost and long past. An octogenarian, he has since handed over the operation of his stores to his sons, now in the fourth generation. But the twinkle in his eyes belies his ongoing and undying passion for the craft of shoemaking.
ZURICH4YOU invited him to host a hands-on workshop on men’s shoes, on how to polish them, and on how to recognize high-quality leathers and soles. For the event, Ludwig Reiter and ZURICH4YOU teamed up at Ludwig Reiter’s store at Wühre 9 in Zurich. Ludwig Reiter flew in exclusively from Vienna to run the event personally.
For the demo, he started with the company, which began making shoes in the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  He then took out a pair of his own well-worn shoes and set to work with brush and cream. He uses only beeswax creams, as commercially produced ones actually dry out the leather. His personal tip? Use strong red wine with at least 13% alcohol content, Italian and Spanish being his favourites. Mr Reiter says that the acids in the red wine, when applied to the polishing cloth, prevent the fats in the cream from settling, thus allowing better application of the cream to the shoe uppers.
Mr Reiter also told us how leather soles are cured by burying them in a pit for 9-12 months with birch bark to allow the tannins to work their way into the leather, creating a supple and weather-proofed sole. Guests could also handle leather swatches, from the finest box calf leather to cleverly made imitations. Box calf, the finest leather used in shoe-making, got its name from a turn-of-the-century add showing a calf above a shoe box. His final advice included well-known evergreens: after wearing, allow shoes to dry for a day at room temperature (leather begins to crack at just 50 degrees), insert wooden shoe stays that do not stretch the shoe, and always use a shoe horn when putting the shoes on.
After the presentation, guests could get hands-on with apron, cloth and cream, or simply enjoy the hors d'ouevres, provided by Michael Goguen, head chef and owner of Melt Catering. Spicy gazpacho shots were chased by more substantial fare, including tuna and mango sushi spring rolls, goat cheese with stuffed figs and prosciutto with a drizzle of brown sugar glaze. Personally, I enjoyed the tuna avocado salsa with terra chips the most, accompanied by Prosecco while enjoying the pristine spring evening on the banks of the Limmat.
Only a few weeks earlier, I had realized I knew next to nothing about men’s shoes. Now I have entered the world of Goodyear welts and Budapest lasts, of horsehair brushes and horsehide finishes. Why does it all matter? As Mr Reiter puts it, you can tell the elegant ones among the hordes of grungy tourists by the shoes they wear.

curing: the process by which raw leather is treated to make it suitable for handwork.
shoe lasts: pre-molded foot shoe forms around which the leather uppers are built.

Douglas MacKevett

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