Jason Sarai, founder and creative director of Sarai Bespoke, recently hosted an exclusive trunk show at his showroom in the historic east side Dominion Building

Stefano Bemer, Tommaso Melani, RForPeople, Schola Academy, Style By Sarai, footwear, Luxury fashion, Vancouver, Canada, Helen Siwak, portfolio, yvr

The two-day event was a rare opportunity for well-heeled guests to meet a master of Italian craftsmanship, Tommaso Melani, in person, view and discover a wide selection of Stefano Bemer‘s handcrafted shoes, flip through rings of luxury material samples, and enjoy the camaraderie of being in the company of others who appreciate the finest in men’s fashion. 

We were personally on hand as Melani presented his collection, took measurements, and helped guests navigate through the made-to-order and customization options.  

On display was an extensive collection of sample shoes, shipped from Florence to provide inspiration and a plethora of samples and swatches. Under the astute guidance of Melani, guests created a unique pair (or two), which were finalized and ordered. 

Melani shared, “Trunk shows are how I started 12 years ago, extending the reach of Stefano Bemer. What I learned back then is how interesting and exciting it is to, for such a niche brand, chart new territories and meet people in faraway cultures. I made friends and clients, and, to this day, I make time to go on trunk shows myself because it refreshes the memory of that thrill and rekindles a side of my entrepreneurial spirit that would otherwise get numbed if I was sitting in an office all the time!” 

Stefano Bemer, Tommaso Melani, RForPeople, Schola Academy, Style By Sarai, footwear, Luxury fashion, Vancouver, Canada, Helen Siwak, portfolio, yvr

Jason Sarai, who founded Style by Sarai a decade ago, understands the importance of offering this expertise to the Vancouver community. 

“We aspire to surround ourselves with, and learn from, the best sartorial brands in their world – brands that exemplify true craftsmanship, timeless design, and produce the highest quality products. Stefano Bemer, a company that has been making some of the best handmade shoes in the world for more than 40 years, is one of those brands.”

“Our goal is to provide access and experiences to those world-renowned companies and brands with our community here in Vancouver. We live in a world-class city, and we should experience the best sartorial products the world has to offer.” 

“And we’re excited to continue building our relationship in the future. Not only is Sarai Bespoke one of a select few ateliers to offer access to Stefano Bemer shoes year-round (we are equipped with their exclusive fitters and range of material options so clients can build their made-to-order shoes even when Tommaso isn’t in town), we are planning a destination soirée in New York, where Stefano Bemer has launched a brand new store on historic Park Avenue.” 

Stefano Bemer, Tommaso Melani, RForPeople, Schola Academy, Style By Sarai, footwear, Luxury fashion, Vancouver, Canada, Helen Siwak, portfolio, yvr

THE BOND IS STRONG 

The relationship between Sarai Bespoke and Stefano Bemer goes back almost seven years. The two esteemed brands began working together in 2018, with their collaboration at Cappelleria Bertacchi in Gastown. Sarai says, “It was at that first event that Tommaso and I really connected both professionally and personally, first over our love of craftsmanship and design, and then cycling. I knew he was an avid cyclist, so I organized a ride from Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay so he could experience the beauty of our city.” 

In 2019, Sarai hosted a Stefano Bemer trunk show, this time at the Sarai Bespoke showroom, which included Melani’s attendance at the ‘Soirée by Sarai’ event at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. The black-tie event included guests who arrived from Chicago, San Diego, and Toronto who enjoyed an art exhibition at Hublot, a four-course dinner in the York Room of the award-winning and Michelin Guide-recommended Hawksworth Restaurant, cigars and cocktails in the penthouse, and an overnight stay at the hotel for everyone. 

Stefano Bemer, Tommaso Melani, RForPeople, Schola Academy, Style By Sarai, footwear, Luxury fashion, Vancouver, Canada, Helen Siwak, portfolio, yvr

THE NAMESAKE 

Stefano Bemer was a visionary who established his company in 1983 with the ambitious goal of creating the perfect Italian shoe. As the brand gained popularity, it attracted notable clients such as actor Daniel Day-Lewis, designer Gianfranco Ferre, and singer Julio Iglesias, to name a few. 

Bemer’s curiosity and passion for shoe-making drove him to master the infinite variations of this craft. He began by repairing shoes, then attended courses and workshops, and eventually developed his technique, which is now widely recognized and appreciated for its elegance and quality. The brand became synonymous with the highest standard of Italian sophistication, gaining a reputation for style and refinement. 

After Bemer’s untimely demise in 2012, Melani took the reins and pushed the company into its second phase of development. 

Melani ensured that Bemer’s legacy and vision would be given a more prominent stage through an exclusive shoe-making training program, the finest bespoke shoe-making, an unparalleled made-to-order line, and a perfectly crafted ready-to-wear collection. All these offerings reflect the same quality paradigm that Bemer established, ensuring that the brand continues to thrive. 

Stefano Bemer, Tommaso Melani, RForPeople, Schola Academy, Style By Sarai, footwear, Luxury fashion, Vancouver, Canada, Helen Siwak, portfolio, yvr

ON QUIET LUXURY 

“Quite early in my life, I realized that brand doesn’t necessarily mean value. I don’t like being ‘evaluated’ based on the logos that I carry, and most of all, I believe that the way you carry it determines your appearance. I put the man (and the woman) first, and I create an impression that is unrelated to the brands they are wearing. Style, manners, and ease are independent of branding. 

“You recognize a man of taste and can surely recognize the quality of his shopping choices, although you might not know who made the items they are wearing. Not every brand that claims to be ‘Made in Italy’ is actually MADE in Italy. Not every product that is ‘Made in Italy’ is handmade. Not every handmade product is well made. That’s why we do not label our product ‘Made in Italy’ nor ‘handmade.’ We want the client to be the judge of the quality!” 

THE SCHOLA ACADEMY 

In Florence, there is an academy dedicated to craftsmanship and uncompromising quality. It is an ecosystem where future artisans from all over the world learn and improve their skills. 

Each program is led by Maestros, who guide students in completing their paths and learning to make products autonomously. Melani explained his relationship with the academy. 

Schola Academy was born as a natural development of the experience I have lived through my entire life. Scuola del Cuoio, my family’s leather workshop, was created by my grandfather as a school to train orphans of WW2 in a craft and then became a company that hired those newly trained artisans to make quality custom leather pieces.”

“Training has always been the way to create new master craftsmen and I adopted that paradigm when I took over Stefano Bemer in 2013 to grow our capacity of production without losing our commitment to the highest quality.” 

“When my partner at Schola, Alessandro Colombo, and I started thinking of how that applies to all the exquisite crafts we proudly preserve in our city, we decided to create this open hub for craft-learning and venture into other fields with the same spirit of really preserving and transiting craftsmanship to the artisans of tomorrow.” 

Stefano Bemer, Tommaso Melani, RForPeople, Schola Academy, Style By Sarai, footwear, Luxury fashion, Vancouver, Canada, Helen Siwak, portfolio, yvr

REDEFINING: RFORPEOPLE 

Melani, a fashion entrepreneur with a passion for sustainability, has also launched a stunning new label called RforPeople. This label is more than a ‘feel good’ fashion brand that speaks to the hearts of those who want their wardrobe to reflect their values.

RforPeople encourages individuals to rethink their relationship with consumption and to act with intention, all while looking impeccably stylish. 

One of the most fascinating aspects of RforPeople is its zero-impact promise. The brand encourages its supporters to send their ‘lovingly worn-out sneakers  (of any brand)’ for refurbishing, repairing, refashioning, or disassembling and disposing of responsibly. 

All footwear and garments in the collection are the result of an entire supply chain located in Italy, with workers receiving healthcare, paid leave, and retirement benefits.

The ‘R’ in RforPeople stands for Responsibility, Refashion, Reduce, Recycle, and Respect, which truly reflects Melani’s values and vision for the brand. Having spent time with Melani, it Is clear that he is committed to creating a sustainable fashion industry that is respectful of the planet and the people involved in the production process. 

“I have the utmost respect for issues concerning the environment, and I strongly believe that we must put effort into adopting sustainable practices to reduce CO2 emissions and preserve our beautiful planet.” 

“Nevertheless, it’s us humans that we must put first, and there cannot be a program to protect the environment without a plan to foster humanity.” 

“Respect must come first, and that starts with labour, both in terms of conditions and compensation. Rethink is the key to progress: we must challenge our knowledge and beliefs to have real breakthroughs.” 

“So, I put Rethink at the centre of RforPeople’s philosophy to remind myself, my staff and the people who will come in touch with our brand and policies about it.” 

“I also made the RforPeople paradigm the leading policy for all the other brands I’m involved with so that we all are inspired to the same ideas and bring marginal improvements in each sector of our business.” 

“For example, all of our dust bags, shopping bags, and accessory cases are made by a social enterprise that only hires workers with disabilities and trains them for specific jobs and positions in the chain of production but also offers them a positively charged environment that provides fair compensation and a sense of personal accomplishment.” 

“On that note, my family has started the Marcello Gori Foundation, which provides six scholarships every year to allow youngsters who have gone through a rough patch in life to learn not just the skill but the way of craft as a life path itself.” 

Stefano Bemer, Tommaso Melani, RForPeople, Schola Academy, Style By Sarai, footwear, Luxury fashion, Vancouver, Canada, Helen Siwak, portfolio, yvr

EXPERIENCING VANCOUVER 

“I was due to stay at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, but it was under renovations, so I was rebooked at the Wedgewood, an old-school hotel with wonderful service. The best meal I had was at Kissa Tanto, which blends, hear hear, Italian and Japanese cuisines in a lively, cool and sophisticated (just enough) setting. It is always a pleasure visiting the city, and I wish I had more time to walk around. Next time, I want to make time to visit Vancouver Island by boat!” 

Never forget that each pair undergoes a meticulous process that spans over 100 hours in an antique chapel in Oltrarno. The exquisite stylings of each shoe reflect the unparalleled craftsmanship and artistry that goes into their creation, making them a true work of art. 

Stefano Bemer’s legacy of crafting the finest shoes using the most exceptional practices and materials is a testament to his unwavering commitment to perfection. 

Author Profile

Helen Siwak, Luxury Lifestyle Observer
Helen Siwak, Luxury Lifestyle Observer
Helen Siwak is the founder of EcoLuxLuv Marketing & Communications Inc and publisher of Folio.YVR Luxury Lifestyle Magazine, PORTFOLIOY.YVR Business & Entrepreneurs Magazine, and digital women's lifestyle magazine EcoLuxLifestyle.co. She is a prolific content creator, consultant, and marketing and media strategist within the ecoluxury lifestyle niche. Post-pandemic, she has worked with many small to mid-sized plant-based/vegan brands to build their digital foundations and strategize content creation and business development. Helen is the west coast correspondent to Canada’s top-read industry magazine Retail-Insider, holds a vast freelance portfolio, and consults with many of the world’s luxury heritage brands. Always seeking new opportunities and challenges, you can email her at helen@ecoluxluv.com.
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