Monday, July 20, 2015

If you're looking to
find one of L. A. 's finest bespoke shoemakers while gallivanting along
Robertson Boulevard or window-shopping on Rodeo, it's time to recalibrate.
Tucked on a nondescript corner near La Brea and Olympic perhaps better known
for auto mechanics and body shops, you'll find Willie's, a shoemaker
operated by true craftsmen using time-tested techniques rarely seen in
today's mechanized, one-size-fits-all society. The Mid-City cordwainer
has had a few homes around town since its opening in 1956, with owners Raul
Ojeda and Sal Castillo (pictured, from left to right) moving it to its current
location in 2012. Ojeda studied under founder Willevaldo Rivera, also known
as Willie, a Hollywood shoemaker who crafted footwear for the likes of Frank
Sinatra, Fred Astaire, John Wayne, and Steve McQueen. Ojeda and Castillo
have since added polish and finesse to the business, imparting a stylish,
modern aesthetic to the storefront that stays true to the company's roots.
Walking into Willie's is almost like stepping foot in a time capsule, with
its custom cabinetry showcasing vintage footwear from around the globe,
floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with wooden lasts (shoe molds), and a
beautiful last-turning lathe dating to the 1890s—one of the few still in
existence in the U. S. Though Willie's does garner a lot of local
business for their shoe repair services, they do so much more. Ojeda and
Castillo operate two brands under one roof: Willie's functions as the
cobbler side of the business, and Don Ville is their custom shoe-making label,
whose name pays homage to their founder's Mexican heritage. Willie's
team uses their unique tools and skill set to construct custom-made shoes in
two categories: made-to-measure (the more affordable option) or bespoke, which
takes the customer's anatomy, gait, and aesthetic preferences into
consideration in making a personalized last. A pair of bespoke shoes starts
at about $5,800, admittedly a far cry from a pair of Nikes, but Ojeda says
there is a small but consistent market for their one-of-a-kind wares.
"Expensive is spending a fortune on something that doesn't fit you
right," Ojeda says. He believes that there's a growing group of people
wanting to invest in owning fewer, but finer, things. The bespoke
shoemaking process takes about 5 months from the time measurements are taken
to lacing up your boots, but it's worth the wait. Many loyal customers have
been coming to the shop for more than 20 years, and some are generational.
Clients are returning not just for their artistry and craftsmanship, but also
for their convivial, almost barber-like relationships they forge with each
customer. And possibly to pay a visit to their darling terrier, Suede.
Krista Simmons is a culinary travel writer and native Angeleno; she covers the
Southern California beat for Travel + Leisure. You can follow her adventures
bite-by-bite on Instagram. More good reads from T+L:
• Worlds Top 5 Hotels
• World's Best Hotel Spas
• Best Places to Travel in 2015 Did you enjoy
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Perfume-Inspired Cocktails at the Hotel Cafe Royal Willie's and Don
Ville is a bespoke shoemaker and cobbler in Los Angeles's Mid-City
district.

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