While in London last week, I had occasion to visit three bespoke shoe makers: Cleverly, Berlutti, and Lobb. Cleverly's shop is small and unassuming, tucked into an upscale shopping arcade. There are ready to wear and bespoke shoes available. One of the more interesting offerings is shoes made from reindeer leather salvaged from a shipwreck which is more than a century old. Nice shoes, and not a whole lot more expensive than their shoes made from conventional leather. Berlutti's shop is much more chic, with their extensive ready to wear shoes displayed on multiple tables, alongside a cabinet with their bespoke offerings. Their bespoke shoes are measured in London, but actually made in France. Overall, I'm not a huge fan of Berlutti's shoes. A little too funky for my tastes, and their faux antique polish patinas remind me of "distressed" leather jackets. I suppose I prefer my shoes to obtain their patinas honestly through many years of wear, as opposed to the clever application of polish and buffing. Lobb at Saint James was perhaps the most interesting experience. The shop is divided into a sales flooor and a work room. The sales floor has several display cases with shoes of every conceivable classic style (no funky Berlutti styles), and some antique boots, shoes, saddles, and other leather goods. The work room side of the shop has guys making shoes: cutting leather, working on wooden lasts with rasps, sewing, polishing, etc. The work room is filled with big stacks of leather, lasts, boxes, tools, etc. Lobb doesn't have a salesman. They guy who helps you is an apprentice shoemaker. He patiently answered all of my questions, and showed me around the shop. I decided to stretch my budget a bit and order a pair of bespoke Lobb shoes. My lame justification behind buying the shoes was that Lobb was the only source I could find for bespoke shoes in dark brown shell cordovan. The real reason is that I've always wanted a pair of Lobbs, and I didn't know when I would be back in London again. So, I got measured for the shoes. At Lobb, the measuring is done by the shoemaker who will be responsible for making your shoes. The length of time taken for delivery then is somewhat dependant on who does the measuring. Some have a longer backlog than others, and some work faster than others, so the time for delivery can vary between 7montsh to over a year. On the recommendation of a long-time customer who was in the store picking up a pair of shoes, I had my feet measured by one of the older shoemakers, who also happens to be the slowest shoemaker of them all. My shoes are supposed to be ready by Christmas of 2004. The measurement process was quite extensive, a lot like getting fitted for a suit. They took drafts not just of the outline of the foot, but also traced the shape of my arches. They took lots of measurements of my foot, including height of the foot at 4 different spots, ankle, and circumference at 6 or 7 different spots. Then the shoemaker examined my foot carefully by hand, feeling the bones, toes, arches, etc., and making numerous cryptic notations on the fitting sheet. When this fitting was done, we picked out the style I wanted. After perusing the hundred or so different variations, I ended up with a cap-toe Bal Oxford, with a slim waist, a single line of broguing across the toe cap, and a single leather sole. We talked about welt width and other fine details. Then I selected the leather to be used. I wanted a dark brown shell cordovan, and he actually brought out a big stack of cordovan leather for me to look at and pick through. Together, we examined the skins, and found several that matched well in color and finish. Although typically one skin is enough to make a pair of shoes, he explained that they might use two or three skins to make the shoes, because they would typically use only the center portions of the skins and would only use the parts of the skins which were without blemish. When we were done, he rolled up the selected skins, tagged them with my order number, and I was finished. Now, all I have to do is wait until next Christmas.
post #1 of 11
10/31/03 at 8:53pm