With prevalent shoe-making countries like England and Italy, the rest of Europe can occasionally be overlooked when it comes to quality footwear. However, there is a plethora of exceptional brands that produce high-end shoes throughout Europe.
In this guide, we’ll examine what’s on offre and provide you with a detailed top 10 list of the Best Men’s European Shoe Brands:
- Meermin [Mallorca]
- Carlos Santos [Portugal]
- Laszlo Vass [Hungary]
- Ascot Shoes [Hungary]
- Maglieriapelle [Turkey]
- Paul Parkman [Turkey]
- Justin Fitzpatrick [Spain]
- Norman Vilalta [Spain]
- Saint Crispin’s [Romania]
- Jan Kielman [Poland]
You can use the links to jump ahead or scroll down to read more. You can also learn more about the Europe’s shoe-making history and industry below.
What Are The Best European Shoe Brands For Men?
Just after the menus below, we’ll present our top 10 list of Europe’s best shoe brands. We carefully researched and contacted each one and even tested a few when possible. Furthermore, please note that the brands below haven’t been necessarily featured in any order of preference.
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An celebrated shoemaker based in Spain’s renowned Balearic island, Meermin provides affordable Goodyear-welted footwear for both men and women. Thanks to their direct-to-consumer model through their website and two boutiques, the brand is able to keep their prices radically low.
Furthermore, Meermin have introduced a group made-to-order programme for selected shoes, which provides an even wider selection of styles. However, most of their collection is ready to be ordered instantly.
In terms of pricing, ready-to-wear shoes begin as low as $180 and typically cost around $250. There are also hand-stitched variants of their core collection for an additional $110. Meanwhile, their exclusive group made-to-order shell cordovan boots pictured above will cost $470.
Carlos Santos took his first steps in the shoe industry when he was only 14 years old. In 1942, he established his eponymous brand, which has grown to become one of the most respected shoemakers in Portugal.
Still overseen by Carlos, the company operates from São João da Madeira and employs Bologna, Goodyear, or Blake stitching depending on the collection. Furthermore, their leathers are mostly sourced from Hermès’ renowned Du Puy and Annonay tanneries in France.
Founded in 1978, László Vass’ Hungarian workshop is critically acclaimed for producing high-quality ready-to-wear and custom shoes. Each of his shoes are hand-made using traditional techniques while employing refined leathers sourced from selected tanneries.
A descendant from several generations of shoemakers, Vass embraces Austro-Hungarian shoe-making heritage while incorporating contemporary aesthetics.
Today, he continues to run his company alongside his daughter, Eva. However, he is already training his grandchildren, the next generation to carry the Vass torch.
Ascot Shoes was founded by Karl Chu and operates from Savile Row in London. The brand actually represents László Vass in the United Kingdom who manufactures the shoes.
However, Ascot differentiates itself from Vass’ typical offerings by specialising in rare and exotic skins. In browsing their collections, you’ll notice distinctive and contemporary designs, which typically feature a split toe and moccasin stitching.
If you’re looking for truly shoes that are hand-made from truly premium exotic leathers, Ascot Shoes is a brand that is certainly worth considering.
Although not technically a part of Europe, we would be amiss to omit Turkey. Given the millennia of shared influence between Turkey and Europe, its shoes deserves a mention.
Husband and wife duo Tarik and Gaye Özkan founded Maglieriapelle in 2010 following their 25 years of experience in the leather industry. Meaning “woven leather” in Italian, their collections are inspired Italy’s shoe-making tradition but they have developed their own distinctive Turkish identity.
Maglieriapelle’s Istanbul workshop consists of only 15 artisans who produce the brand’s shoes entirely by hand using traditional Opanka stitching. They are given a unique finish with a hand-painted patina, which results in a stunning artisanal shoe.
Despite the labour-intensive production process, Maglieriapelle prides itself in providing high-quality yet competitively affordable handmade shoes.
Read More: Maglieriapelle Brand & History Guide
Paul Parkman is an American brand whose shoes are manufactured in Turkey. Overall, they’re very similar to Maglieriapelle in both style and origin of manufacture. Like the brand above, Paul Parkman’s shoes are hand-made with rich hand-painted patina finishes.
However, the brands do distinguish themselves from one another by price point. Where Maglieriapelle is somewhat more affordable, Paul Parkman focuses on a higher-end market.
Given that they use rarer and more premium skins such as crocodile, Paul Parkman’s shoes can cost as much as $3,000. Meanwhile, it’s rare for Maglieriapelle to cost anything above $500.
Among shoe enthusiasts, Justin FitzPatrick may be better known as The Shoe Snob, a renowned blogger who specialises in footwear. After graduating from business school, Justin left Seattle and headed to Italy.
In 2008, he became an apprentice for the late Stefano Bemer before polishing shoes for Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row. Five years later, Justin established his own shoe brand.
Founded by an Italian-trained American living in London, FitzPatrick Shoes are made in Spain near Valencia. Furthermore, the shoes are made using Goodyear welts with styles based on slightly modified Gaziano Girling lasts. The result is a veritably multicultural shoe brand.
At 31 years old, Argentinian corporate lawyer, Norman Vilalta, decided to leave his profession and travel to Itlay in 2004. Like Justin FitzPatrick, he studied under Stefano Bemer where he learned how handcraft shoes.
Vilalta spent the first 10 years of his career as a bespoke shoemaker and travelled the world to offer his services. Eventually, he decided to settle in Barcelona and launch a ready-to-wear shoe line.
All of Vilalta’s shoes are designed from his Barcelona workshop and bench-made in Spain using a Goodyear leather welt and hand finish. Moreover, he also offers a made-to-order service with a rich selection of customisation options.
Named after the Patron Saint of shoemakers, Saint Crispin’s is a unique brand that was founded in 1985. Inspired by Viennese shoe-making tradition, the brand incorporates styles and techniques from its German, Anglo-Saxon and Mediterranean neighbours.
Originally, the workshop catered only to bespoke shoes while designing footwear for international brands. In 1992, the company was registered in Austria with a discerning clientele in Germany and Italy. By 2008, Saint Crispin’s had fully introduced its ready-to-wear collection.
Today, Saint Crispin’s continues as a family business that operates from its Romanian workshop. With a staff of 28 artisans, the brand manufactures a selective quantity of only 1,500 shoes a year.
Founded in 1883, Jan Kielman is an authentic and traditional Polish shoemaker. During its 130 years of history, the brand and its family has experienced and witnessed some of the most dramatic and tragic events of the 20th Century.
For instance, they endured the 1920 Polish-Soviet War as well as the German Occupation during the Second World War during which the workshop was destroyed.
Undeterred by all these challenges, the brand never mechanised and remained loyal to its handmade workshop roots. Today, the workshop is owned and managed by Maciej Kielman and his wife, Monika.
Jan Kielman’s approach to bespoke shoe-making is astonishingly affordable thanks to both Polish shoe-making tradition and their 21st-Century approach. Firstly, clients are provided instructions on how to take their own foot measurements, which are then submitted online.
Following that, the shoes are directly crafted without the intermediary step of a fitting. Consequently, a client can quickly receive quality bespoke shoes for less than $1,000!
Europe’s Shoe-Making History
Exploring origins and development of shoe-making throughout Europe is an unsurprisingly complex task. The continent’s inhabitants have ceaselessly influenced each other through waves of migration and continuous movement across its entire history.
For instance, a naturally mummified Copper Age body was discovered on the Austrian and Italian border in 1991. Known as Ötzi the Iceman, he is Europe’s oldest natural human mummy and was found wearing wide, waterproof shoes designed for walking across the snowy mountains.
Despite being over 5,300 years old, the shoes were particularly complex with deer and calf uppers and bearskin soles. Furthermore, they were constructed using a cord webbing and leather laces. Given that they were winter shoes, they were also insulated using hay.
It was unlikely that Ötzi made the shoes himself and they were likely traded or purchased from someone who specialised in making shoes.
Millennia later, the Greeks and Romans would adopt leather sandals as worn by the Egyptians. Production of leather sandals would thrive throughout Antiquity and they would evolve to develop complex designs and robust soles.
The changing sandal styles during both Antiquity and Byzantium were early examples of how neighbouring cultures would continuously influence each other. For example, nearby Turkey would often introduce new styles to their European neighbours while incorporating their fashions too.
Shoes In Medieval Europe
Europe features a rich diversity of landscapes and climates. Therefore, it’s not surprising that each region’s native cultures would adopt their own styles of footwear. Unlike today, where shoes are quite standardised, the footwear of choice tended to be the most adapted to the terrain.
The modern-day Espadrille, essentially a slipper made from rope soles and canvas upper, emerged from Catalonia during the 1320s. The style would become enormously popular throughout Spain and South-East France before becoming industrialised in the mid-19th Century.
Meanwhile, Central and Northern Europeans crafted waterproof boots from supple leather by stitching the soles and uppers from the inside. The was achieved by constructing them inside out before pulling the soles through the boots for them to be the right way around.
Nevertheless, poulaines or Crakow leather were the leather shoes of choice among the nobility between the 12th and 14th Centuries. Said to originate from Kraków, Poland’s capital of the time, they feature long toes that were occasionally rolled back to make them more practical.
By the early Renaissance, heels were very much in vogue for men. As we explain in detail in our French shoe guide, the style’s emergence is largely credited to Louis XIV of France.
However, the styles adopted by the French elite often originated from Spain and Italy. In fact, it can be argued that Paris’ reputation as the capital of fashion is thanks to it being the ideal geographical hub for foreign fashions to converge.
Mechanisation & The Industrial Revolution
The majority of mainland Europe was relatively slow to adopt the mechanisation processes that had developed during the 19th Century. As you may have learned in its own shoe guide, Italy was still mostly a cottage industry until the late 19th Century.
The situation was quite similar throughout the rest of Europe and despite their own growing industries, these focused mostly on domestic demand. As such, larger structures were growing but continued to employ traditional manufacturing techniques.
Eventually, the fruits of the Industrial Revolution spread across Europe during the twilight of the 19th Century. Goodyear welting and Blake stitching made their way from the USA to Europe via the UK, which was already a dominant producer of industrialised footwear.
On particular proponent of new shoe-making methods was the Spanish island of Mallorca. Following a phylloxera infestation that ravaged the island’s vineyards, many of its inhabitants turned to leather working.
Inca became the centre of the island’s leather trade and a balance of cheap labour as well as an emphasis on craftsmanship helped the island’s nascent industry to thrive.
Similarly, Portugal’s São João da Madeira was another flourishing shoe-making hub. With the decline of the hat industry, it would take off during the mid-20th Century and become referred to as “a Capital da Calçada” (the Capital of Footwear),
At the turn of the 20th Century, few of Europe’s older brands survived the industrial revolution. Meanwhile, a host of younger brands would begin to establish themselves in the period leading to the First World War as well as interwar years.
Today’s European Shoe-Making Industry
Needless to say, the European footwear industry is huge given that it includes the celebrated heritages of England and Italy. In 2012, the sector consisted of 21,000 companies and generated 24 billion euros in turnover.
Furthermore, the industry also directly employs 280,000 people. Generally, most shoe-making businesses are small structures, which employ under 15 people.
Aside from Italy, which is responsible for 50% of Europe’s shoe production, it is mostly concentrated in Italy and Spain.
Unfortunately, these figures have faced some shrinking in recent decades due to companies shifting their production to countries with lower labour costs. For instance, almost 50% of all imported shoes arrive from China.
However, European establishments have refocused their production towards high-quality footwear, which has help reduce the deficit. Despite these challenges, exports grew by 48% between 2010 and 2013.
Ironically, many of the countries that export shoes to Europe are among the biggest importers such as China and Turkey.
European Union Support For Craftspeople
Consequently, the European Union has committed to supporting the footwear industry as part of their policy for “promoting cultural and creatives sectors for growth and jobs in the EU“.
Although Europe is often associated with luxury fashion and high street brands, their efforts seek to support small, family-owned businesses and craftsmen instead.
As a result, the Directorate General introduced the COSME, an EU programme of the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. This programme will provide finance and support for companies seeking to create and expand.
Similarly, the EU has created Horizon 2020, a 70-billion euro research and innovation funding program that support the industry through developing new technologies.
Why Buy European Shoes?
While we provide arguments for French, English, and Italian shoes in their dedicated guides, the rest of Europe offers an equally promising level of quality. With brands spread across the continent, each consists of dedicated and passionate craftsmen that create high-quality and stylish shoes.
In fact, anyone who is at all fond of elegant footwear has likely walked in either Portuguese or Spanish shoes at least once in their life. Given that these two countries are veritable powerhouses for the European industry, they’re often approached by international brands to produce their footwear.
Indeed, it’s hard to avoid Europe’s market if you like well-crafted shoes. After all, most American brands such as Cobbler Union have their shoes made by European craftsmen.
Similarly, Romania and Hungary are two nations that are regularly overlooked by shoe enthusiasts. Both offer their own unique cultural heritage and craftsmanship that is on par with some of the most respected British and Italian brands.
Today, there are simply a mind-blowing number of brands to choose from throughout Europe. Each propose both the long-lasting quality and elegance that you would expect from premium dress shoes and sometimes do so at competitive prices.
Now that you have read about the best European shoe brands and their history, feel free to explore our other related guides:
- Best Italian Shoes To Buy Online
- Top 10 French Shoes To Buy Online
- Best Custom Shoes To Buy Online
- Most Comfortable Dress Shoes For Men
- Bespoke Unit Shoe Homepage
"I wish I could buy them all! A wonderful article where I really learned something and discovered some beautiful shoe brands!"Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★