Custom/Bespoke Shoes

 

Hand burnishing - dyes are applied and then removed selectively to produce a pleasing patina.

Hand burnishing – dyes are applied and then removed selectively to produce a pleasing patina.

This is an area for theological argument. When is a handmade shoe not a handmade shoe and when is it a custom, or bespoke  shoe?

This shows the "rib" - the white ridge on to which the welt will be sewn. If the rib isn't in the right place, the welt won't be in the right place and the show won't work! So - rib-sewing is not a complex craft, but it has to be accurate.

This shows the “rib” – the white ridge on to which the welt will be sewn. If the rib isn’t in the right place, the welt won’t be in the right place and the show won’t work! So – rib-sewing is not a complex craft, but it has to be accurate.

Handmade?

Does a hand made shoe have to be made using a process that is completely free of machinery? If so, the hand-made shoemaker should really become a tanner as well, since the tanning process involves significant machinery. Is it enough that a shoe has some operations performed by hand? If so – how many? My personal view is that a shoe is handmade if there is significant human intervention in its manufacture that actually makes a difference to the shoe. In other words, if some bits of leather go into a series of machines, while humans simply keep an eye on them and carry things from one machine to another, and shoes ultimately come out of the other end – they are not hand-made. My definition says that a shoe is hand made if significant human skill/craft is exercised in its making, even when machines actually do part of the job. Some jobs may require a high degree of manual skill and an artistic eye (e.g. burnishing a shoe … on the left). Some may simply need to be done very accurately (e.g. stitching ribs – shown on the right – the rib is the white bit with serrated edges). If the rib is in the wrong place, at best the shoe will look funny. At worst, it will fall apart! So – by that definition, well-known English shoemakers including Loake , Church, Cheaney, Barker, Crockett and Jones and Trickers … all make handmade shoes, despite using machines that do many things faster and often better than a pair of hands. I’ve been shown around the Loake factory as part of a “Loake-Super-fan” event – and the influence of skilled human hands, alert human brains and keen human eyes is enormous and vital.

Sole stitching by hand

Sole stitching by hand

Custom-made/Bespoke

This is slightly simpler to define and significantly more expensive. A true custom-made shoe involves making a custom last for the customer’s foot. On that basis, John Lobb,  Robinson’s in N. IrelandHimer and Himer, KlemannVogel and Moore make only bespoke shoes. A few shoemakers, including Vass in Budapest , Balint and Berluti makeboth off-the-shelf and custom/bespoke shoes. However, some “bespoke” shoes are made on a pre-existing last that the maker helps the customer to choose. Is that really bespoke?

A sole getting its beauty treatment ... by hand of course!

A sole getting its beauty treatment … by hand of course!

Bespoke shoes from a “Shoe Factory”?

It is very difficult to combine bespoke shoemaking with “production” shoemaking on any scale, as the demands of volume production are not consistent with the use of custom lasts and the extra work involved. As a result, for example, Lobb in England only make bespoke shoes, while Loake , Church, Cheaney, Barker, Crockett and Jones and Trickers concentrate on  high-quality, very individual, hand-made (by my definition) but off-the-shelf shoes.