A few weeks ago, we paid a visit to Enzo Bonafè in his Bologna workshop for my second upcoming book “The Italian Gentleman”. I wanted to meet the man behind the brand with the purpose in mind to dedicate a chapter of the book to one of Italy’s most underrated bootmakers.
Visiting the Bonafè workshop is a fantastic experience for any shoe lover, yours truly included–and it’s an understatement to say that I have visited quite a few workshops, from lesser-known craftsmen to the most respected in the world.
Bonafè is not your ordinary house. It does more than simply gather masterful artisans under the same roof to make shoes. The Bonafè experience could more accurately be described as a group of people who have a heart for practicing their craft, with a spectacular degree of talent, passion and experience.
Though the workshop’s mastery of hand-welting and Norwegian stitching is a thing of beauty well worthy of respect by itself, visiting Bonafè is above all a deeply surprising, if not touching experience – a place out of time that gives one pause to think about the state of our modern world.
Each time I give masterclasses or lectures on men’s style, I have the habit of starting or finishing my speeches with the message that in this digital 21st century, I still believe in a “handmade” future. That is to say, I believe that craftsmanship – real craftsmanship (marketing be damned) is still vital to us, perhaps now more than ever. Craftsmanship gives us something tangible, something that age bonifies, something of substance to remind us there is value to be found in handiwork that has the ability to transcend time.
In the foreword of my book “The Parisian Gentleman” – to be published internationally in October at Thames & Hudson in Europe and in December in the United States, our good friend G. Bruce Boyer writes :
“As technology rushes us into a future we cannot imagine, artisanal work becomes a refuge, a place of rest and refreshment”.
The Bonafè workshop is a refuge as Bruce describes it ; a place out of time, deeply pleasant despite the noise, the sweat and the lingering dust. If you forget about the few computers at the front desk, the workshop probably hasn’t changed that much since its creation in 1963.
The gestures are the same, the noises haven’t changed…even the smell of the place likely remains as it was in the beginning. Everything seems fresh out of the 1960’s in a strongly visceral way.
Bonafè lives in a stasis or a time sphere – minus a few iPhones in a couple of pockets – where the notion of craftsmanship is still more than a modern marketing catch word used to sell cheap plastic at the price of fine gold.
On top of that, Bonafè is Italian, which means that Bonafè is still very much a family business, as is common in the country – for better or for worse.
At the head of the company is Enzo, the soul of the brand and master craftsman in his own right, his wife Guerrina who draws the patterns, their children Silvia & Massimo, and Enzo’s son-in-law Roberto. Bonafè also houses a throng of various loosely related brothers, cousins, in-laws and uncles. Most everyone shares the same family tree – or at the least portions of it – which gives the workshop a unique feel.
When we reviewed Bonafè for our 2015-2016 shoe selection, we complained about the relatively poor quality of their website in general, and of the mediocre picture galleries of their wares, which did not do justice to the house’s beautiful production.
When we talked with Enzo and Massimo however, they showed us an early draft of a lovely small movie meant to become the backbone of their new website.
We previewed the short film… and we were sold. We immediatly asked Bonafè to do us a favour, and let us broadcast the video on PG, before the launch of their new website.
Usually I’m not a fan of those videos that focus on craftsman “gestures”, as the approach is common on the market these days and I’ve been somewhat inoculated to the effectiveness of long-winded slow-motion shots of more-or-less genuine handmade operations.
However, I admit to having enjoyed viewing the Bonafè’s five minute experience since the film managed to translate the house atmosphere rather faithfully. What’s more, we love Bonafè, and wanted to do our part to give visibility to this small workshop.
So without further ado and exclusively on Parisian Gentleman, we’re happy to present Bonafè’s latest short film :
Jean Cocteau used to say that Frenchmen are sad Italians. After leaving Bonafè this day, I was a happy Frenchman.
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All pictures in this article © Skoaktiebolaget
Visit Bonafè’s website here.
In case you fancy the physical address: Enzo Bonafè s.r.l., Via Pollastri, 4. 40138 Bologna (BO)
Phone number : +39 051 6012992