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Handgrade v. Handmade?

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by demeis, Jan 3, 2005.

  1. demeis

    demeis Senior member

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    I have heard the two terms thrown around a lot since joining this forum and was wondering if there is a difference. Handgrade seems to come up more with shoes.
     
  2. Manton

    Manton Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    "Handgrade" is a marketing term used by shoe companies (e.g., Church's) to denote shoes with a higher level of handwork. "Handmade" is generic term that, theoretically, refers to a shoe that is completely handmade. Although it could, I suppose, also refer to specific parts of a shoe that are hand made (e.g., the uppers), even if other parts (e.g., the soles) are machine stitched.

    As a rule, only bespoke shoes and shoes by top makers (Lattanzi, Vass) are 100% handmade or even close.
     
  3. RJman

    RJman Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    An exiguous clarification: the only place I have seen the word "Handgrade" used is for the Crockett & Jones Handgrade line -- They use it to denote their top-line shoes since it implies that the shoes are made to such a careful standard it is tantamount to their being made by hand.

    People often use the term "benchmade" or "benchgrade" in discussing the C&J lower line, which is a good shoe still.

    Church's used to call its best shoes "Custom Grade" and/or "Masterclass". The term Custom Grade, once again, is not a term of art. It's a catchy term that implies that the shoes are made to custom shoe standards (which they aren't by a long shot).

    Like with shirts, I believe that using machines in certain processes in shoemaking may produce work that is fine or better than hand work. A truly handmade shoe is a wonder, but apart from Lattanzi or Vass I don't know of other RTW that is. Certainly not Berluti, Lobb Paris, etc. I don't think all custom houses produce 100% handmade shoes either. We have to admit that the Industrial Revolution wasn't all bad. Indeed, from their posts on other fora here, I get the feeling some posters have prospered from "dark satanic mills."
     
  4. shoefan

    shoefan Senior member

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    I can assure you, no shoes aside from historical reproductions are 100% handmade.  All shoes have uppers and linings that are sewn on sewing machines, which comprises probably 80% to 90% of the stitches in a shoe.  The handmade component of shoes such as Vass (and most bespoke shoes) are: hand sewn welts and hand sewn outsoles.  Further, there are other tasks in shoemaking, such as lasting, skiving, and building of the heel, that may or may not be done by machine.  In general, virtually all RTW shoes have most of these tasks performed with machines, whereas in English bespoke shoes much of this work is done by hand.
     
  5. Manton

    Manton Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Shoe fan: I though it was much more than that. But I am far from an expert.
     
  6. Horace

    Horace Senior member

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    RJ and ShoeFan: thanks for the interesting (and somewhat contrary to received wisdom of this and other discussions) concerning hand and machine work.

    I'd asked this q. before, but never received an answer.

    Anyone have a good book they could recommend on the building of a shoe from start to finish as it is done at Lobb or the other bespoke houses?
     
  7. jcusey

    jcusey Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Handmade Shoes for Men by Laszlo Vass and Magda Molnar. Of course, all bespoke makers have slightly different techniques.
     
  8. bengal-stripe

    bengal-stripe Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    There is one book aimed at the (interested) general public and therefore read and owned by quite a few members here:

    László Vass & Magdar Molnár
    Handmade Shoes for Men
    Published by Könemann, Cologne 1999
    ISBN 3-89508-928-1

    I believe it is out of print at present, publisher gone under. Check on eBay or with google where you can get a copy.
     
  9. Alexander Kabbaz

    Alexander Kabbaz Senior member

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    Beg to differ: I have sat and watched as Roman (to quote many, "the irrascible owner of Vincent & Edgar") sewed an entire pair of shoes by hand on his lap. I do not know or claim that he hand sews every pair he makes. I do know that he does carve every client's last from a plain block of wood.
     
  10. A Harris

    A Harris Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Well said. As mentioned, nearly all RTW shoes are almost entirely machine made. On the US market you have three levels at the top end: shoes that are largely machine made but that are extremely well finished, often by hand (Edward Green Lobb etc., you might think of these as "hand-grade",) shoes that have the welt and sole seams sewn by hand but which save labor by incorporating machines or pre-cut/processed materials for many of the other, smaller steps (Mantellassi, Santoni etc.,) and then you have shoes that are made in the same manner as bespoke. Vass is in that last category, as is Lattanzi I assume, though I have not actually witnessed their production. But, as shoefan said, even a Vass or Lattanzi shoe is going to have a machine-stitched upper. Handstitching would be too imprecise and uneven unless you are designing a very rustic looking shoe... Mr. Kabbaz also brings up an interesting point about the last. A hand carved last is a work of art, but you will only find those used for bespoke shoes. Vass lasts for instance, are carved by hand and then duplicated, in wood of course. Interestingly, it has become very common for top-end shoe companies to use composite lasts. Makes sense from their perspective, as it would be easier to redesign the last, and it doesn't matter as much what the last is made from if the shoe is lasted by machine. But if the shoe is hand lasted, a traditional wood last is preferable for several reasons, for instance, the way the wood reacts under the hammer. Truly handmade shoes are a real rarity these days. That's because they are a hard sell - they require MUCH more labor and care to produce, but all that handwork is hidden inside the sole, and is only apparent to men who really know shoes. Add the fact that everybody and their brother are claiming that their hand-finished shoes are "handmade" and you hardly have a easy market... Heck, I can't even seem to sell you guys truly handmade shoes for $425 [​IMG]
     
  11. Horace

    Horace Senior member

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    I can assure you, no shoes aside from historical reproductions are 100% handmade. Â All shoes have uppers and linings that are sewn on sewing machines, which comprises probably 80% to 90% of the stitches in a shoe. Â The handmade component of shoes such as Vass (and most bespoke shoes) are: hand sewn welts and hand sewn outsoles. Â Further, there are other tasks in shoemaking, such as lasting, skiving, and building of the heel, that may or may not be done by machine. Â In general, virtually all RTW shoes have most of these tasks performed with machines, whereas in English bespoke shoes much of this work is done by hand.
    Well said. As mentioned, nearly all RTW shoes are almost entirely machine made. On the US market you have three levels at the top end: shoes that are largely machine made but that are extremely well finished, often by hand (Edward Green Lobb etc., you might think of these as "hand-grade",) shoes that have the welt and sole seams sewn by hand but which save labor by incorporating machines or pre-cut/processed materials for many of the other, smaller steps (Mantellassi, Santoni etc.,) and then you have shoes that are made in the same manner as bespoke. Vass is in that last category, as is Lattanzi I assume, though I have not actually witnessed their production. But, as shoefan said, even a Vass or Lattanzi shoe is going to have a machine-stitched upper. Handstitching would be too imprecise and uneven unless you are designing a very rustic looking shoe... Mr. Kabbaz also brings up an interesting point about the last. A hand carved last is a work of art, but you will only find those used for bespoke shoes. Vass lasts for instance, are carved by hand and then duplicated, in wood of course. Interestingly, it has become very common for top-end shoe companies to use composite lasts. Makes sense from their perspective, as it would be easier to redesign the last, and it doesn't matter as much what the last is made from if the shoe is lasted by machine. But if the shoe is hand lasted, a traditional wood last is preferable for several reasons, for instance, the way the wood reacts under the hammer. Truly handmade shoes are a real rarity these days. That's because they are a hard sell - they require MUCH more labor and care to produce, but all that handwork is hidden inside the sole, and is only apparent to men who really know shoes. Add the fact that everybody and their brother are claiming that their hand-finished shoes are "handmade" and you hardly have a easy market... Heck, I can't even seem to sell you guys truly handmade shoes for $425 Â [​IMG]
    Not a reply to your post, necessarily, as just a general observation that I've never seen a convincing argument outside of aesthetics (which is fine and which is persuasive) that hand-stitched shoes (or shoes with any handwork at all) are superior to machine-stitched shoes. It's almost this fetish on pre-capitalistic labor that I would guess is at the root of the reverence for hand work.
     
  12. A Harris

    A Harris Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    There are advantages. The welt and sole stitching on a handmade shoes is much stronger for one thing. To illustrate that, nearly every single pair of my Edward Green shoes (I hae 9 pr or so) has separated a bit, developed a seam if you will, between the welt and sole, especially in the waist area. My Vass shoes have not. Under the stress of walking the machine stitching of the sole on the Green shoes has loosened a bit, while the handsewn sole stitching of the Vass has not. The insole on a handmade shoe has been skived down so that it is much thinner than the pre-cut insole of a machine made shoe. Thus a handmade insole conforms better to to the foot. The toe and heel stiffeners of a handmade shoe are leather instead of celastic so the shoe breathes better. There are also many advantages that are gained when the upper is wet and hammered over the last, and then left on th last for some time, rather than just stretched over it by a machine.  And though perhaps not conclusive, many men report that the feel and fit of a handmade shoe on the foot is significantly superior to a machine made shoe.

    These advantages are perhaps not commensurate with the increase in price (though with Vass, there is no increase in price vs a top hand-finished shoe) but they are still advantages...
     
  13. Horace

    Horace Senior member

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    Thanks Harris.

    4 notes:

    1. How can you be sure that the stitching between welt and sole is not a question of materials. 2. Same for the skived insole. Still at least on point 2 I find it convincing.

    3. Why cannot a machine-made shoe have stiffeners made from leather rather than plastic.

    4. What are the advantages of wet upper hammered over last, and then left on for some time. May not some (if not all) of these processes be duplicated by automation?

    Not necessarily trying to play the old devil's advocate (though I enjoy countering received wisdom) as much as curious.

    This all being said, I'm inclined to believe the anecdotal evidence.
     
  14. A Harris

    A Harris Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    1) Well it's just leather-to-leather, the difference is on how the stitch is done, see this link: http://mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk/tumblehome 2) a hand-skived insole starts as a thicker piece of leather, which is then scraped down (not a uniform thickness either, thinner in some areas and thicker in others.) With pre-cut insoles they remain at their original, uniform thickness. 3) They could, but usually don't. A leather stiffener has to be hand cut (or at least trimmed,) tapered by hand as it is very three dimensional (not of uniform thickness,) and hammered to compress the leather fibers. A celastic stiffener is molded the the right shape - much less work. I believe that Edward Green uses a leather heel stiffener and celastic toe stiffener, so there are some instances of hand-finished shoes using leather stiffeners. Â 4) It compresses the leather fibers, making the leather more durable, also the upper holds the shape of the last more permanently. Perhaps I should explain how most top-end shoes are lasted - from what I have seen in pictures, the upper is positioned on the last and held in place by a few nails, and then a machine is used to draw a wire around the bottom of the last/upper which stretches the upper around the last.
     
  15. RJman

    RJman Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Get me a pair of Vass for that amount and I'm all over it. P2 or U last, please; Austerity Brogue or Balmoral Oxford please. Bevelled waist too.
     
  16. STYLESTUDENT

    STYLESTUDENT Senior member

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    You only had large, narrow sizes in your sample sale. If you had size 9 (particularly a 9E), I can assure you'd have had at least one response.
     
  17. Giona Granata

    Giona Granata Senior member

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    I just want to add that handmade does not mean bespoke, and bespoke does not mean handmade.

    I know that gentlemen that have - well - written in this thread do know it well; maybe someone else could confuse the two things (handmade, bespoke) by reading this thread without this precisation.

    This discussion has been made about suits, and it is applied in the same way to shoes.
     
  18. tiger02

    tiger02 Senior member

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    (A Harris @ 03 Jan. 2005, 10:29) Heck, I can't even seem to sell you guys truly handmade shoes for $425 Â [​IMG]
    Get me a pair of Vass for that amount and I'm all over it. Â P2 or U last, please; Austerity Brogue or Balmoral Oxford please. Â Bevelled waist too.
    umm... A Harris' Vass shoe sale
     
  19. RJman

    RJman Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    (RJMan @ 04 Jan. 2005, 3:54)
    Heck, I can't even seem to sell you guys truly handmade shoes for $425 Â [​IMG]
    Get me a pair of Vass for that amount and I'm all over it. Â P2 or U last, please; Austerity Brogue or Balmoral Oxford please. Â Bevelled waist too.
    umm... A Harris' Vass shoe sale
    yeah, I know. Not my size though.
     
  20. A Harris

    A Harris Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    Sorry guys, perhaps I should have said: 'Heck, I can't even seem to sell you 10 / 10.5's truly handmade shoes for $425' Â [​IMG]
     

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