31 January 2011
14 January 2011
Stepping Into the Sole of Luxury
From Oxford brogues to Derby loafers, English shoemakers still lead the way in bespoke footwear
by William Lyons
Tony Gaziano loves shoes. Which is a good thing, since he has spent his entire career making them—first, in the Northampton, England, workshops of Edward Green, before moving on to learn the art of handmade shoes at neighbors George Cleverley & Co., and finally setting up his own bespoke and made-to-measure shoe business in Kettering, with his partner Dean Girling.
To speak with him is to shine a light into a little bit of British manufacturing history that has survived. The U.K.'s reputation for making the finest cars, building the most luxurious ocean liners and running the greatest leading hotels may have waned, but in the county of Northamptonshire, which lies between London and Birmingham, workshops still produce what are regarded by many as the finest gentlemen's shoes in the world.
From Oxford brogues to Derby loafers, opinion formers and captains of industry have flocked to London's Jermyn Street to frequent the boutiques of shoemakers such as Church & Co., John Lobb Ltd. and Tricker's. Former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir Winston Churchill, Aristotle Onassis, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplin and Fred Astaire all bought and wore English shoes.
"Obviously, I'm biased," says Mr. Gaziano, speaking from his workshop in Kettering, "as I spend so much of my time looking at people's shoes that I have become an atrocious shoe snob. But there is something special in an English shoe. First, there is the longevity; they are built to last. The sole is thicker, more durable and weighty. Then there is the upper. The calf leather is tougher; overall, it is a heavier-looking shoe. All this is balanced with a more refined, delicate look."
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