THE SHOE THAT ALL THE MODELS ARE WEARING – AN INTERVIEW WITH FRITZ UNÜTZER
Mr Unützer, three years after the war your father opened one of the first fashion stores in Munich. What challenges did he face and what memories do you have of that time?
I don’t remember very much, I was only one year old when the store opened. But later on, in the early fifties, I remember that the store was always very busy and my parents always came home late.
The challenge was finding high-quality clothing in a specific style. So my father had to establish and develop business partnerships with the right people and companies abroad. We imported the first Niki sweater from Israel as early as 1949.
What inspired your passion for shoes?
I was 20 when I learned the tricks of the shoe trade at Church in England. Then I spent some time at John Lobb. Right from the very beginning I was fascinated by how handmade shoes are made; the precision and perseverance that’s involved, the attention to detail that goes into every step, and the care that goes into selecting and processing the finest materials. When I finally wore my first pair of John Lobb shoes, which I worked on myself, my passion for shoes took on a new dimension and has been with me ever since.
At the tender age of 22, Burberry asked you to run one of its stores on Munich’s Maximilianstraße. When Burberry cancelled their plans, you went ahead and took on the store yourself. Together with your brother you launched the ‘English House’, a revolutionary concept at the time.
It was the end of the sixties. Mary Quand and Twiggy were hip, England was a leader in all things avant-garde. We got the idea for the concept in London. Everything was very modern, decorated white, open-plan spaces without a sales counter, customers could pick up the items and put together the look themselves. That’s normal today, of course, but back then it was completely new.
But when we opened in 1969, there weren’t many international fashion brands, and most of them only supplied their collections to their own stores. So we were forced and inspired to develop our own designs. For example, we had chinos and jeans developed in 24 colours in Italy, and we had the corresponding Shetland and Cashmere sweaters made in Scotland.
At the end of the eighties, you spontaneously bought the factory that is currently used by Unützer, in Fosso, Italy. What is special about this location?
Today, the truly special thing is that we develop, make and market our shoes exclusively on our own premises. You don’t see many manufacturers doing that these days.
Unützer stands for elegance, clarity in design, and the highest-quality production processes whose standards never falter. The exclusive shoes are made by hand in about 100 steps.
From selecting the material and checking the quality and shades to the final inspection of a shoe, the whole process involves at least 100 steps. Each pair is cut individually using a cardboard template, they are pulled over the last by hand, and the uppers are also sewn by hand. Skilful craftsmen make the shoe really shine, and the soles and heals are also made by hand. The production process looks like a human conveyor belt, where every craftsman works on one specific part of the shoe and then passes it on to the next step.
The classic ballerina is Unützer’s flagship model. Is it still your most successful shoe?
Ballerinas are an integral part of every Unützer collection. This classic shoe, which is available in many colours and in many different types of material, is the ultimate all-round shoe; it can be worn at any time and any place. Ballerinas combine elegance with comfort. At the office, on a shopping spree or for a night on the town, the flat all-rounders are suitable for any occasion. Even on the red carpet. Today, models like Karlie Kloss wear ballerinas with evening gowns. If you had to choose only one type of shoes, it should be ballerinas. But heels, sandals, loafers, ankle boots, boots and trainers now also feature in all our collections. We want to give our customers something for every occasion, from morning ‘til night.
Jedes dieser Modelle wurde bereits auf dem Laufsteg präsentiert. Sei es bei Talbot Runhof oder Nobi Talai in Paris, während des Odeeh Défilés im imposanten Rohbau des Berliner Schlosses oder bei der Präsentation von Rianna + Nina im Garten des Kronprinzenpalais.
Paraguay-born Mariela Schwarz Montiel has been Design Director for a number of years now. To what extent are you personally involved in the design process?
I am very involved. From the initial concept to the finished shoe. A good shoe should not only look good, but it also has to fit perfectly.
Unützer is a regular feature at the BERLINER SALON, especially during Berlin Fashion Week. What many people may not know is that your shoes also grace the feet of many runway models during the fashion week. In 2016, you even opened a store in Berlin’s Giesebrechtstrasse. What makes the German capital’s fashion scene so exciting for a traditional brand like Unützer? And what makes it exciting for businesses in general?
Berlin is our capital, and it has been since 1989. And, incidentally, that’s how long Unützer shoes have been around, too. In the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I bought the factory in Fosso near Venice and presented the first collection.
For me, it goes without saying that our capital is at the heart of German fashion. When the opportunity came up to open a store on Giesebrechtstrasse, I looked around the area, which I really liked, and it didn’t take me long to say yes. After Munich and Hamburg, Berlin now has an Unützer store, too. This was a logical move, and it means that I now spend more time in the capital.
Photocredit: PR Unützer