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London bespoke shoemakers

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
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 #2 of 11
I must say I envy you your excursion into the world of highest end shoes. Particular in the case of your Lobb shoes, waiting for fourteen month without any sign of progress must be an ordeal. Unlike all other top class bespoke shoemakers, John Lobb does not do a fitting and/or a trial shoe. So it's only when you receive the shoes, that it becomes clear they haven't forgotten your order. Hope it will all work out to perfection (sure it will) and your old shoemaker does not die over the job.
post #3 of 11
Quote:
So it's only when you receive the shoes, that it becomes clear they haven't forgotten your order.
Made-to-order clothing and shoes have taught me a modicum of patience. I once waited over 8 months for a special-order pair of Gravati shoes, and I'm up to 6.5 months on an EG special order. I ordered some Cleverley shoes in October, and the prospect of waiting until May or June doesn't seem so terrible. Of course, I just might lose it if I were told that I'd have to wait until next December.
post #4 of 11
Lobb/London never even contacted me, after 12 months, to alert me to my shoes being completed. Further, after *I* contacted them, they told me the shoes would be shipped---2 weeks later, with no shoes, I contacted Lobb again, and they told me they forgot to ship the shoes out. Of course, they did not forget to deposit my check for final payment on the shoes. Freakin' unbelievable.
post #5 of 11
Quote:
Lobb/London never even contacted me, after 12 months, to alert me to my shoes being completed.  Further, after *I* contacted them, they told me the shoes would be shipped---2 weeks later, with no shoes, I contacted Lobb again, and they told me they forgot to ship the shoes out.  Of course, they did not forget to deposit my check for final payment on the shoes.  Freakin' unbelievable.
Do you do something to personally annoy these people, or do you just have bad karma when it comes to anything regarding London bespoke?
post #6 of 11
Quote:
Lobb/London never even contacted me, after 12 months, to alert me to my shoes being completed.
Sorry to hear about your experience. As someone living in England I can say very few people here, have "Efficiency" as their middle name. Did you really expect your shoes to be delivered right on the promised date? I presume John Lobb, having been around for 150 years, take the attitude that in that time span, two or three month make no difference at all. British Rail manages to excuse poor services and delays in the fall with: "leafs on the tracks" and in the winter with: "wrong kind of snow". Hope your shoes will arrive soon and will be absolute perfection. I have a pair of Edward Green (stock-special) on order to be ready: "either just before Christmas or early in the New Year". I wonder when they will be ready (when jcusey has been waiting for 6 ½ month).
post #7 of 11
No, it has nothing to do with Karma, however it has everything to do with having far higher standards than those "London bespoke" purveyors with whom I have done business. Bespoke is a luxury, not a necessity, and many bemoan the declining standards of "London bespoke" which is reflected in the continued disappearance of "London bespoke" Regarding Lobb: I contacted them regarding the status of my shoes *12 months* after measurements were taken, to which I was told they had been ready. I believe Lobb should have notified me instead. It is also unacceptable for them to promise to ship the shoes and to simply forget to do so after 2 additional weeks.
post #8 of 11
Quote:
Regarding Lobb: I contacted them regarding the status of my shoes *12 months* after measurements were taken, to which I was told they had been ready.  I believe Lobb should have notified me instead.  It is also unacceptable for them to promise to ship the shoes and to simply forget to do so after 2 additional weeks.
You certainly have a right to be upset. I certainly expected better from an august company such as Lobb.
post #9 of 11
I agree with Marc that these days bespoke is a luxury. Years ago bespoke was common, before the widespread availability of ready to wear. Ultimately people usually choose careers based on where their interests lie and/or on the lifestyle associated with that career(free time, pay, public perception, etc). As with anything, there are exceptions. Bespoke anything can be hard work, but can also be quite rewarding to the purveyor(financially and otherwise) and hopefully the customers(the resulting products). There are a few problems: especially in countries like the USA children raised there are not very likely to pursue careers such as tailoring. Elderly craftspeople are sometimes unwilling to teach their trade to apprentices. Therefore many people will know nothing about bespoke tailoring and the luxury goods market/professions. The material costs can be high, but more commonly prices are driven up when a product is recognized as good and exported to countries like the USA and Japan. For every Kiton or Lobb there are probably many more craftspeople who can make excellent products but who have not been "discovered" and who may not have the capital to expand their offerings and sales areas. I remember Thracozaag said that Anna Matuozzo, if exported to the USA, may be the first $1000 shirt. Thracozaag, how much were bespoke Matuozzo shirts in Italy? Do you think that the Japanese demand for Matuozzo may have increased the price already? Is Matuozzo going to make an appearance in the USA any time soon?
post #10 of 11
Aside from the house style and Lobb's famous no-fitting-necessary policy, is there any real difference between Lobb and, say, Cleverley that accounts for the large difference in price?
post #11 of 11
From personal experience, I believe that the higher price for a pair of Lobb/St. James's shoes is based on the "brand" (i.e. prestige) factor. Although I haven't yet received my Lobb shoes (they seem determined to not send them to me), and, thus, cannot attest to the fit and overall workmanship (nor do I own Cleverley berspokes with which to make a comparison), it is my understanding is that both Lobb and Cleverley have access to the same high grade of leathers. Ironically, I've read several articles about Cleverley, and have spoken with several London tailors, and the consensus seems to be that Cleverley edges out Lobb for prestige and for overall quality, although Cleverley has a lower profile and Lobb a much higher profile. Admittedly, I purchased from Lobb because I have heard about Lobb since childhood (the power of the brand)and I resolved that I'd own at least one pair of Lobbs while still on this Earth.
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