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Jon Gray the shoemaker came to Ontario and I got a pair of...

post #1 of 124
Thread Starter 
I learned this week that Jon Gray, the bespoke shoemaker praised by forum member DWFII is travelling in Ontario in July. He will be visiting the following places:

Toronto - July 17-22 @ Bata Shoe Museum
Hamilton - Uncertain
Ottawa - July 26 @ E.R. Fisher, 5 p.m.

Are there forum members who would be interested in meeting him, especially in Ottawa? I would like to order a pair of shoes from him in person, and I want to entice him here. I've already asked a local menswear store whether they would be willing to host the shoemaker's visit. I would post more details when I have them.


Since DW lives too far from me, I see this as a chance for me to find out what a true pair of high-quality shoes should be like, and I'm willing to pay the tuition. I don't have real complaints about my better dress shoes other than their fit, but I'm ready to learn. (The problem with fit comes from having to order online, and the fact that I have a wide forefoot relative to my heel, and a low instep.)


This is a chance for SF Canucks who often bemoan the lack of quality footwear in this country to talk with someone who can make good shoes, so I'm hoping that people will respond.


I could post more about Mr. Gray's process and the dates on which he would visit those locations, but I don't want this thread to seem commercial. If the Powers That Be at SF have no objections, I would add that information to this post.



UPDATE

Added dates for the locations above. Don't know where exactly Mr. Gray will be, but he intends to target small, boutique menswear shops that might be interested in his services. This is the reason I'm trying to get a local store in Ottawa to host him.

The following information is what I have learned from Mr. Gray through e-mail.

Price
Presently it takes approximately six months to complete an order for a first pair of shoes. The cost of a pair of handmade shoes is in the same ballpark as high-end RTW shoes (e.g., Edward Green). His price is based on an upper constructed from French calf leather, or something similar. There is an additional charge for exotics only.

There is a one-time fee for last-making. Last will be made by manufacturers in the US and Mexico. If lasted shoe trees are desired then the fee is much higher, as the last will be made by Springline in the UK.

The Order Process

1) First stage: Taking measurements Consultation in person is the best option as it also allows the shoemaker to get to know you a little better in terms of your style and taste.

If you cannot meet in person, a telephone consultation can be arranged. If you have someone who can take reliable tracings and measurements, he can walk them through the process over the telephone, or skype, the measurements and tracings can then be sent to him through the post.

2) Second stage: Fitting model A fitting model--trial shoes that can also be sent through the mail, your feedback recorded and then sent back. The following is a direct quote, but the emphasis is mine.

...fit is an important factor for me, before a first pair is made, I make a fitting model that a customer tries on to insure that we have a properly fitted last before I invest the time and materials in a finished pair of shoes. On the other hand the internal components are often overlooked, I have seen many expensive RTW shoes which did not have leather insoles, or had a heavily finished lining leather. To me this is the interface between ones foot, and the shoe, a critical element for comfort (and longevity). Upper leather is always a pleasure to choose, and this is where the customer has the most choices.

Edited by Asian Afro - 2/2/12 at 8:20pm
post #2 of 124
Can you give us an idea as to what his pricing is like? Does he do any antiquing?

I'd also love to hear anyone's experience with him as this is the first I've heard of him.
post #3 of 124
also interested in more info
post #4 of 124
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Odd I/O View Post
Can you give us an idea as to what his pricing is like? Does he do any antiquing? I'd also love to hear anyone's experience with him as this is the first I've heard of him.
I just added pricing information to the top post. I don't know if he does antiquing, but I'll ask. I've never heard of him until DW's mention. Perhaps he'd be willing to expand on his compliment. This thread could use the boost.
post #5 of 124
I still don't know what the price range is since I don't buy the shoes mentionned in reference. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
post #6 of 124
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kraken View Post
I still don't know what the price range is since I don't buy the shoes mentionned in reference. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Check the prices for EGs here.
post #7 of 124
Thread Starter 
Just want to add that even if Mr. Gray's services are out of your reach right now, it could be interesting just to meet him. He plans to hold clinics and talk about shoes.

You could, for example, get your feet measured and put on file for the day you are willing and able to pull the trigger.

Should he travel to Ottawa, I would wear a pair of somewhat worn dress shoes to meet him so he could see how I walk. I figured that might be useful info to him. That pair of shoes could also double as an example of the style and finish I expect in shoes.
post #8 of 124
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Odd I/O View Post
Does he do any antiquing?

This is what Mr. Gray wrote me:

Quote:
I do only a little antiquing. In North America it is difficult to find the leather that responds to the antiquing process. So I'm limited in that regard, but there are a couple of options for people who want that look.

This answer just gives me more questions. Since I'd rather not bug him, can more knowledgeable members answer the following:

1) What kind of leather responds to antiquing?
2) Why is that kind of leather hard to find in North America?
3) What are the options for people who want that look?
post #9 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asian Afro View Post
This is what Mr. Gray wrote me: This answer just gives me more questions. Since I'd rather not bug him, can more knowledgeable members answer the following: 1) What kind of leather responds to antiquing? 2) Why is that kind of leather hard to find in North America? 3) What are the options for people who want that look?
1) Usually "crust" is what is used. Crust is an unfinished, usually vegetable tanned, leather with a neutral colour tone. Antiquing can be quite extensive and a drastic change from the underlying colour or it can be as simple as darkening around the broguing and gimping, seams etc.. Personally I think antiquing is all too often overdone and under-reasoned. An authentic antique patina might result from successive applications of polish or wax in areas that wouldn't get much brushing or come into contact with any material that would tend to thin it down or wipe it off. As with wood, such a patina would tend to pile up in corners and be nearly non-existent in flat places or areas that were constantly being buffed. So, a dark toe on an otherwise light coloured shoe doesn't make any sense--it looks fake. 2) The whole North American shoe industry is focused on finished leather and chrome tannages. the small boot or shoemaker in the US gets the table scraps. Ordering from Europe is cost-prohibitive. 3) Ordering crust from Europe or a Pasche Air Brush. And limiting antiquing to the broguing and gimping. That said there are a very few leathers available here that will take to more extensive antiquing but they tend to be specialty leathers--burnishable buffalo is one.
post #10 of 124
...
post #11 of 124
Thread Starter 
Quote:
2) The whole North American shoe industry is focused on finished leather and chrome tannages. the small boot or shoemaker in the US gets the table scraps. Ordering from Europe is cost-prohibitive.

So...the shoes that are made overseas use American leather? Is there not enough leather produced elsewhere for American shoe companies, or is the quality lacking?

Jon mentioned that he has a selection of French leather for upper, so I guess he might have ordered some from Europe. Since calf leather won't cost me extra, I don't really care as long as the leather's good.

If shoe- and bootmakers get only table scraps, does that mean the leather you get isn't always at the level of quality you'd like? Do you sometimes have trouble getting the right kind of leather?

Given how crappy most leather shoes sold in North America look, where does the good leather go? Is the better stuff used for clothing, luggage, furniture, etc.?

As for Pasche Air Brush...does that mean paint-on patina? That feels wrong. Good thing I'm not interested in getting my shoes antiqued.

Sorry for going off tangent, but this stuff is interesting.
post #12 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asian Afro View Post
So...the shoes that are made overseas use American leather? Is there not enough leather produced elsewhere for American shoe companies, or is the quality lacking? Jon mentioned that he has a selection of French leather for upper, so I guess he might have ordered some from Europe. Since calf leather won't cost me extra, I don't really care as long as the leather's good. If shoe- and bootmakers get only table scraps, does that mean the leather you get isn't always at the level of quality you'd like? Do you sometimes have trouble getting the right kind of leather? Given how crappy most leather shoes sold in North America look, where does the good leather go? Is the better stuff used for clothing, luggage, furniture, etc.? As for Pasche Air Brush...does that mean paint-on patina? That feels wrong. Good thing I'm not interested in getting my shoes antiqued. Sorry for going off tangent, but this stuff is interesting.
Some of the European leathers come from American hides but are tanned in Europe. Probably most, however, are European skins. As in the US, the European Trade is centered on European leather...just because that's what is most widely and easily available. That said, European seem to have a better appreciation for old Trades and handwork. There's a continuity that goes back to the Middle Ages in the Trades, and citizens, even if they don't patronize them, admire and preserve the skills and the practitioners if only as historical curiosities. When I said we get only the "table scraps" in the US, what I meant was that most of the leather that is produced in the US goes into manufacturing. It can be very good leather or it can be mediocre. So, for example, what's left from a "tannery run", which was tanned and finished for some big company, is then released to the open market. A similar set-up exists in all industrialized countries, including France. But if there is no large market for 8 sq. ft. calf skins, for instance...which Thornton considers to be the best grade and which, at this point in time, may be available exactly nowhere in the world...then there will be no 8 sq. ft calf skins available to the small shoemaker, either. But every shoemaker in North America will chose the leather he puts into a pair. He will have a choice among veg tans, chrome tans, finished or unfinished, young or old, etc.. Rest assured Jon does have access to really fine leathers, just probably not as wide a selection in NA as in Europe. Finally, most, if not all, finished leather is painted. As a general rule, all chrome tanned leather is finished. Chrome tannages are the most prevalent leather being used world-wide for shoe uppers. Using a Paasche air brush to tint the edges is a perfectly good way to apply an antiquing....if it is done judiciously and with skill. (and it does require skill). Not antiquing at all is a good approach, as well. The current fashion for antique finishes is consumer driven, it is not traditional nor is it particularly admirable. An antiquing can hide a lot of flaws...in leather, in technique...and that simple fact, alone, may go a long way towards explaining why it persists.
post #13 of 124
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DWFII View Post
But if there is no large market for 8 sq. ft. calf skins, for instance...which Thornton considers to be the best grade and which...

Thank you for your explanations, DW.

Just footnoting this for those who are following this thread: I believe DW was referring to John Thornton's Textbook of Footwear Manufacture, which is out of print but can be had for the price of a better pair of dress shoes.
post #14 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asian Afro View Post
Thank you for your explanations, DW. Just footnoting this for those who are following this thread: I believe DW was referring to John Thornton's Textbook of Footwear Manufacture, which is out of print but can be had for the price of a better pair of dress shoes.
Which, before the end of October, will be available for free download on the HCC website by special permission of the author's daughter.
post #15 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by DWFII View Post
Which, before the end of October, will be available for free download on the HCC website by special permission of the author's daughter.

Please keep us informed of when this pops up, as it looks like it would be interesting information to have.
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