There are only a few true craftsmen left in Europe’s fashion industry. Laszlo Vass is one of them. He is a professional shoemaker and art collector who had a goal at the beginning of his career: to resurrect the once internationally acknowledged tradition of the handmade industry of the Hungarian capital, the so called Budapest style. Nowadays Vass Shoes is well known around the globe from Japan to Singapore, the manufacture employs 20 people, and the shop in downtown Budapest is a destination for its customers. Cultivating the profession of handmade art, Laszlo Vass’s attention was drawn to the direction of contemporary Hungarian and international art. The result of his meetings with modern painters, sculptors is shown in his internationally acknowledged Vass-collection in the city of Veszprem. For him there is no distinction between contemporary art and his manufacture-based profession, on the contrary: it is a source of inspiration. This gave the main idea for the team of T2.a Architects when designing the new shop for Vass Shoes, just a few steps away from the 30 years old manufacture.
In the 19th, early 20th century it was completely natural to see little workshops of tailors, hatmakers, shoemakers in Budapest’s downtown area. Then the city changed, and today there are only a few masters left. One of the few exceptions is Laszlo Vass, whose shoemaker manufacture works just like in the old times: the Oxford, Alt Wien, Norweger and London models are made 100% by hand. His Budapest shoe-model is one of the very few original and internationally acknowledged models in the world.
Vass’ success is due to his unique personality and perspective. He is one of the most important collectors of contemporary art in Hungary. He had asked Gabor Turanyi, principal designer of T2.a Architects, to plan exhibition spaces for his collection in three historical buildings of the Castle of Veszprem in 2003. The collaboration was so successful that eight years later he commissioned T2.a Architects to create the architectural and design program for his new shop, Vass Shoes Budapest.
If the expression “handmade architecture” would exist, it would be the right one to define the birth of the new space of Vass Shoes. The architects captured Laszlo Vass’ personality with the instruments of architecture. From the first sketches, through creating spaces, selecting materials to the fine details of the in-site construction they worked with the precision similar to how shoes become little pieces of art. This attention to detail was also applied to the design of the interior furniture and finishes of the skin-covered, hand-sewed cover of the front door.
The spirit of Vass Shoes and Vass Collection are both present in the new shop. The central elements of the interior design are the three drawers showcasing and storing the most important shoes. The shoes are placed on the top of the drawers, and above them there are selected pieces of art - changing from time to time - from the Vass Collection. The shoes and the paintings: two form of handmade art are representing Laszlo Vass’ personality. Another important part of the architectural concept is the monolithic, black concrete-table in the center of the shop. With shoes or pieces of noble skin samples placed on it, it becomes a visual part of the storefront. Therefore the shop is much more than a retail space: it is a space for contemporary art. It is also a functioning workshop and office: the shoemakers can cut the skin in the back of the store, a new addition to the functions of the workshop that didn’t exist before.
It was the architect's intention to redefine the classic Budapest storefront facades in a contemporary way. These ancient shop facades always included a specific detail to identify the owner and his business easily. The carefully designed, recessed entrance with a nice knob; a well working shading system, or the golden letters on the black glazing are all typical Hungarian and Central-European elements of a storefront. The new facade of the Vass Shoes Budapest is a connection between the street and the shop, which represents the interior world to the people who walk by. The very thin, but large fibre-reinforced concrete elements and the golden anodized aluminium profiles evoque a kind of modern simplicity, which harmonizes with the little street of the downtown area, but rises from the surroundings with its elegancy. On the facade the interior and the exterior world connects directly, so we can no longer talk about “interior” or “exterior” architecture.
The contemporary way of thinking is present not only in the artworks, but also in the newest technical solutions, the energy- and space saving, hidden HVAC systems, and most of all in the professional lighting technology. (Lighting design: madebylight, Ferenc Haasz and Anita Pinter)
In the new shop of Vass Shoes, respect for tradition happens in a special way. The shoes are cultural references that bring back heritage: “Oxford” the reserved British elegance, “Alt-Wien” the sophisticated simplicity, “Budapest”, the modernized successor of an old style shoe from the times of the Monarch, represent a piece of the city’s very own and unique style. This is also true to the architecture: Vass Shoes is built in the Budapest style, but for the next decades. The shop in a 100 year old house could be nowhere else but Budapest. Where there are still some masters to be found: painters, shoemakers or architects.