The seam in a George Cleverley split-toe shoe is so fine it must be stitched with a pig’s bristle. So perfect must the calfskins used for the uppers be that each skin supplies just a few shoes, not a dozen.
(Offcuts, though, are not wasted, being used in invisible parts of the shoe.)
This is the world of benchmark bespoke shoes, the shoes of the English gentleman, recognised by footwear purists around the world. G.J. Cleverley & Co is the shoe of Prince Charles, Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh – when he’s playing Olivier.
It is not the world one would expect to find in the less gentrified end of Smith Street, Fitzroy, in Melbourne’s inner north – although the antique parquetry floors are a hint. As are the bespoke ladders by the Putnam Rolling Ladder Company of Manhattan, used to reach shoeboxes – which, for Cleverley and other bootmaking names such as John Lobb, Edward Green and Crockett & Jones, are artefacts in their own right.
Double Monk, a nod to the classic shoe style as well as the ascetic devotion to footwear of the shop’s owners, is a new men’s shoe emporium pitched right at the top of the market. Beyond the male equivalent of Manolo or Jimmy. These are shoes a year in the making for the full bespoke treatment.
The monks sartorial, brothers Chris and Nick Schaerf, are a doctor and a lawyer by training. But they share a passion for the British gentleman’s attire, and shoes in particular, that descends from their working-class father who nevertheless was tailored bespoke.
Chris quotes approvingly the father of English fashion fop Jeremy Hackett, who said, “I am too poor to buy cheap shoes.”
The entry level at Double Monks is around the $400 mark and comfortably over $1000 is to be expected for Edward Green, John Lobb or George Cleverley. Head further north for bespoke.
“But when you consider people have these shoes for 30, 40 years, that they are such works of art, I think the value is clear,” says Chris.
A suitably top shelf whisky array is available at the back of the shop to ease the decision, a smoky, peated Laphroaig the house choice. The bar doubles as a shoe service area where the unguents, polishes and creams are, of course, the superb French brand Saphir.