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A visit to Gaziano and Girling

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 
In the world of Northamptonshire shoemaking, Gaziano and Girling stands out like a Vermeer in a room full of Davids. Where other companies (justly) boast of their place in the glorious history of English craftsmanship, as a new firm, Gaziano and Girling must lead with the quality of its product. This is a shoemaker's company. The result is a company culture with a focus on the craftsperson, and the pursuit of the finest ready to wear shoe that can be made.

“The challenge,” designer and co-founder Tony Gaziano tells me, “is to make a Goodyear welted shoe that is still sleek and elegant.” It starts with the last. G&G lasts, particularly the Deco line, have a Continental sleekness and aggressiveness to them that is rare in a made-in-England shoe. Even in larger sizes, they still come out looking harmonious and balanced rather than clownish. “I designed my lasts with the thought that they would still look good sized up,” Tony says.

Yet this is very much an English shoemaking company. Tony began his career creating bespoke shoes at Cleverley and Edward Green. He views his shoes as updated classics. “When designing a shoe, you're usually not re-inventing the wheel,” he says. “People keep coming back to cap toe oxfords and full brogues because they're great designs. We aren't a fashion product that's always trying to come up with something new. We take classic designs and make them a little sleeker and more harmonious.”

Tony and Dean's background in, and appreciation of, bespoke shoemaking can be felt throughout the entire company. Not only in the lines of the last, which narrow to a slim waist like a bespoke shoe would, but in the atmosphere of the workshop. The bespoke lasts are made just one room away from where closers sew together uppers. Each worker has the attitude of a bespoke shoemaker – that every shoe they work on its own project that requires their full attention. That level of respect for the product and the skill of the person making it is something that can only come from a company run by craftspeople.

The G&G factory only produces about 75 pairs of shoes a week. Yet even as a small and young firm, Gaziano and Girling's impact has been large, showing the industry what is possible in a ready to wear shoe. They were the first to put a fiddleback waist on a ready-to-wear shoe, a feature which accentuates the slender waist, and which other factories now imitate. All soles are full oak bark leather. The lasting is done by hand, to make sure that Tony's carefully drawn designs end up in the right place.

Soon Gaziano and Girling will be moving into their nearly finished larger factory, just around the corner from their current location. The new space will have more elbow room for the workers, and a proper showroom. A diamond no longer in the rough, but as rare a find as ever.

Suede loafers.

Stingray hides.

G&G lasts.

Calf hides.

Crust leather; this hide will end up the same color as my (in need of polish) shoe.

Try-on shoes in production for G&G's upcoming London store. These shoes will be available to try on for sizing so shoes for sale won't get shopworn.

The only kind of machine used in making G&G bespoke.

A more adventurous pair of shoes. The piece under the lacing makes sure that the laces don't mark the tongue during lasting.

The popular St. James II model, on a last, waiting to be soled.


Hatch grain.
post #2 of 32
love that Woburn.
post #3 of 32
U, this is excellent. a wonderful read.
post #4 of 32

Interesting pictures! 

post #5 of 32
Originally Posted by unbelragazzo View Post


G&G lasts.

Seeing all these yellow plastic lasts, it must be Edward Green as the last manufacturer to hang onto wooden lasts (unless EG too has changed in the last few years).

I remember 2005 or so, when Tony was with EG and he showed me around the factory, he gave me a long lecture about the superiority of wooden lasts as opposed to plastic ones. (Can't quite remember the reasons any more).

Now G&G have gone over to the other side! biggrin.gif
post #6 of 32

Well they did switch from AS to their own factory.  Not sure how shoe OEM business works, but my guess is that AS was using plastic lasts for the initial G&G RTW and G&G just take them over.


Or maybe AS kept the G&G lasts and it became too costly for G&G to remake all lasts in wood again.


At least I hope my bespoke last is not plastic...

post #7 of 32
Great piece!
post #8 of 32
Thread Starter 
Thanks guys - yes, bespoke lasts are wood (I promise, I saw them). Chogall, your story is a plausible one. Also plastic lasts just last longer (at least this is what I was told everywhere. As Bengal said, pretty much everyone uses those yellow plastic lasts.) and I assume are easier to duplicate. That's not too much of an issue if you're going to make maybe a dozen shoes at most for a bespoke customer. But if you want to make hundreds of RTW shoes on a given last, and also need to produce a bunch of lasts, then it's a bigger consideration.
post #9 of 32
What's the benefit of wooden last? I can only think pluses for plastic last.
post #10 of 32
It's not like wooden lasts are less durable; I have a pair of vintage wooden lasts from some factory closing in the US.
post #11 of 32
Originally Posted by clee1982 View Post

What's the benefit of wooden last? I can only think pluses for plastic last.

When leather gets lasted it is 'mellow', the shoe upper has additional moisture and/or heat applied to make the leather more pliable and less prone to tears.

Some (hand) shoemakers do work extremely wet, others less so. In a factory the upper gets conditioned through a short stay in a steam oven. Alfred Sargent might be unique among Northampton firms, having a 'conditioning room' where the finished uppers are kept for days or week at the right temperature/humidity until they get lasted.

If I recall Tony correctly, it was about the process of lasting: with a wooden last, you had more freedom to set the right level of moisture for a particular leather before problems with condensation occurred. It was also about drying down from mellow to normal conditions (just like preferring a wooden tree as opposed to a plastic one to put into a pair of wet shoes). Wood (by it's porous nature) works with the drying process, plastic does not.

I believe that was the gist of the conversation and why Tony (back then) extolled the virtues of wooden lasts in top shoemaking.
post #12 of 32
thanks for the explanation, bengal!
post #13 of 32
unbelragazzo, great photos and article
post #14 of 32
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by chogall View Post

It's not like wooden lasts are less durable; I have a pair of vintage wooden lasts from some factory closing in the US.

Not less durable in terms of time, but in terms of number of shoes produced.
post #15 of 32
very awesome explanation, bengal.
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