INTERVIEW. Tim Müller. If the shoe fits…

News | June 22, 2021

Tim Müller has been a 24H SERIES competitor since 2014. And since 2020, his brand – Bugatti Shoes – has enjoyed a working relationship with series promoter, CREVENTIC. The AstorMueller chairman walks us through life, both in the boardroom, and on the track. 

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first: is there any correlation between Bugatti Shoes and Bugatti Automobiles?

 

“No!” Tim Müller states with a grin. “The car brand originally went bankrupt sometime in the 1960s, and the fashion brand was born during the 1970s. A few years later, Volkswagen bought the car brand rights, so we started discussing, and fighting! In the end it was clear that we had registered the Bugatti brand for fashion, whereas VW had the Bugatti brand for cars. So, two different things, two different brands.”

 

Mercifully, we have no follow-up questions with regards the Bugatti Centodieci’s double wishbones, or why only one example of the 1,824hp Bolide track car will be manufactured. Should you have any queries about the finest quality cowhide you’ll need to sole an Oxford, or custom stitching on your brogues, then Tim T. Müller is absolutely your man.

Chairman of the board at AstorMueller, the parent company of Bugatti Shoes, Tim has been a company mainstay since 1984. He also became the third generation of the Müller family to take the reins of the business in 1986, following in the footsteps of his father Hans, who created the ‘Astormueller Shoe Agency’ with wife Brigitta in 1975, and Tim’s grandfather Johann, who founded the company as ‘Werkstatt Johann Müller für Maßschuhe’ back in 1928. By his own admission, Tim joining the family business was an inevitability. 

 

“You could say I was born in a shoebox!” Tim continues. “I’ve never worked for anybody else. I stopped school after 11 years because I had difficulties achieving targets, and I was a difficult boy when I was 15, 16 years old. There was no-one who gave me a chance, so I started working with my dad when I was 17. Then when I was 20 – it was December – my dad had a car accident, and I took the business over. 

 

“I basically rolled into the business but I’m very happy to be a part of it. Our family company today has 45 factories worldwide and they produce about 5 million pairs of shoes for us per year.”

Keen to expand his family company’s reach beyond its Schwelm base, a still-mid-20s Tim had already setup a bespoke development centre in Italy by 1990, a second facility in Tunisia in 1995, and brand-new corporate headquarters in Hünenberg, Switzerland, by 1999. Accelerated growth came at the turn of the century when AstorMueller, proactively targeting a developing retail market, began introducing between six and eight new ranges per annum. One year later, AstorMueller had acquired the global licensing rights to Bugatti Shoes, half a decade before the Volkswagen Group revived Ettore Bugatti’s famous badge for its glass ceiling-shattering Veyron EB 16.4

 

Far from exploiting a storied (if defunct) brand name though, Bugatti Shoes instead showcases a three-pillar business model AstorMueller champions to this day: a perfect fit; superior-quality materials; and top-of-the-trend design. Small wonder this doctrine has since seen Bugatti Shoes expand distribution across 36 different countries, and counting. 

“We have a deep ‘know-how’ about making shoes. We do not buy shoes from somewhere around the world and just put a brand name on them. We develop every single shoe we make.

 

“Making a pair of shoes is actually very complex. There are a lot of different [variables], lots of them you don’t even see. You just feel them. And this is what makes a brand successful. If you take today’s business model for example, what’s the most important factor? You need a low return rate: fashion return rates are usually between 45 and 60 percent because people don’t like what they get, or the product doesn’t fit. Our return rate? 23 percent. We deliver what our customers expect. It’s all about detail.”

 

Interestingly, this “all about the details” approach to Maßschuhe may also explain Tim’s fascination with endurance motor racing. Meticulous attention to the minutiae after all has often made the difference between success and ‘also-ran’ status on-track, and concentrating on the job at-hand is a significant reason why Tim continues to compete in the 24H SERIES. 

“I enjoy that I can really shut down from my business and just concentrate on racing. And that means checking the track layout. Going over notes we’ve made during testing and free practice. Speaking with team engineers so we’re all on the same page. It all helps me focus.”

 

While Bugatti Shoes has been a 24H SERIES sponsor since 2020, Tim’s personal relationship with CREVENTIC as a driver actually dates back to the Hankook 24H DUBAI in 2014, at which he finished a solid 11th overall with Attempto Racing. Since then, Tim has raced at every 24H DUBAI bar one, contested at least two rounds of the 24H SERIES each year, and competed with series stalwarts Herberth Motorsport, Car Collection Motorsport and SPS automotive performance. Each of which Tim has nothing but respect for.  

 

“All of them are very professional teams, and I’ve loved driving with each of them. For me, it’s very important to know who you’re working with and who your teammates are. You spend four days with these guys, so for me, the harmony and the good ambience a team creates is very important. Herberth, Car Collection, SPS: they’ve all made me feel very welcome.”

Across nearly two-dozen entries to-date, Tim has taken class podiums with the Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, class wins with the SPS automotive performance Mercedes SLS and/or Mercedes-AMG GT3, and secured 3rd in-class at the 2019 Hankook 12H SPA in a one-off outing aboard an HB Racing Ferrari 488. Tim even took an outright win at the 2020 Hankook 24H PORTIMAO for Herberth Motorsport with the Bavarian team’s Porsche 991 GT3 R. Each, unsurprisingly, boasts its own unique characteristic. 

 

“They are all very different cars. The Mercedes-AMG [GT3] is, let’s call it, quite easy to drive, but still very… with this V8 engine, and the way it delivers the power, it’s very ‘emotional’. The Porsche [991 GT3 R] is exactly the opposite: you have to be focused and awake all the time, but if you are, it’s very sharp! The Audi is the most neutral car: it’s quite synthetic, easy to control. But if you ask me which is my number one, it’s the Porsche. It just gives you such a fantastic feeling!

“I also did one race with the Ferrari, at Spa. And honestly, I was surprised how neutral the car was. We [HB Racing] had some problems with the seat, so I didn’t feel as comfortable as I could have been in the car. But also, it was a last-minute seat change, so I may try the Ferrari again in the future.”

 

Remember though, “it’s all about the details”. Despite being a ‘gentleman’ driver, Tim employs a personal trainer and concentrates on his cardio up to four times a week in preparation for his myriad 12/24-hour race outings. On top of that, the German entrepreneur has competed alongside professionals the caliber of the Renauer twins, Tom Onslow-Cole, Markus Winkelhock and Pierre Kaffer among many others over the years. Learning what he can from each of them has been crucial.  

 

“It’s so important! If you can’t learn from your SEMI-PRO and PRO drivers, and improve [accordingly], you fail as a ‘gentleman’. We’re here to have fun, but you have to put the work in. I remember my first 24-hour race was in Dubai, seven years ago. I was very nervous and I was pushing like hell for the first 15 minutes. After that first one-hour drive, I was boiled! Today, I am able to do double stints without any problems. I’m also physically stronger, which means I can stay longer in the car. I’ve learnt a lot running in the 24H SERIES.”

Dedicated to further extending the reach of his family’s near-century old business (focus has now turned to digital showrooms), and committed to improving his racing skills every time he slides into the cockpit, one wonders if the CREVENTC-Bugatti Shoes relationship might yield further fruit in the years to come. Might we, for example, one day see Tim Müller step onto the 24H SERIES podium wearing the first-ever Bugatti Shoes racing boot?!

 

“I won’t say it’s impossible,” Tim laughs, “but at the moment, probably not. Hopefully I can get ‘Bugatti Shoes’ on the podium again soon though!”

-       Words – James Gent

-       Images – Petr Frýba

 

You can also check out this article in our 2021 Hankook 12H HOCKENHEIMRING magazine, available for digital download below.

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