“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.
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.