Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes
Located at the epicentre of bespoke sartorial savoir faire, Savile Row, I arrive to meet Deborah Carré of Carréducker. This is the home of some remarkable bespoke, hand made, shoes.
I have always had an empathy with those who create bespoke suits, shirts and shoes. It is the pursuit of excellence which spurs a craftsman or craftswomen to create a product free of compromise.
The parsimonious may dismiss expenditure on bespoke goods as frivolous or extravagant. However, this would be a misplaced perception. Bespoke goods often afford the owner longevity seldom found in the ordinary, mass-produced items which will ultimately nourish the local landfill.
Bespoke suits made by the finest tailors can in some instances outlive their owner, ultimately being passed from one generation to the next. Bespoke shoes may have a life expectancy reaching into double figures, 15 to 20 years is not uncommon.
Moreover, the bespoke shoe fits its wearer’s foot with perfect intimacy and union. The nuances of the individual’s gait are taken into account. The future plight of those with excessive supination or pronation may manifest in referral pain in the knees or back problems later in life. A bespoke pair of shoes will compensate for the intrinsic facets of one’s gait and help mitigate long term musculoskeletal pain sometimes suffered with the onset of middle age.
The epicentre of bespoke sartorial savoir faire, Savile Row
Located at the epicentre of bespoke sartorial savoir faire, Savile Row, I arrive to meet Deborah Carré of Carréducker. My thirst for details of life’s finest things was soon to be quenched by this titian haired lady, with engaging eyes. Indeed, after short acquaintance with Deborah, you can sense the passion she has for her craft with every twinkle of her irises as she enthuses about the details of the special shoes they create at 1 Savile Row within the Gieves and Hawkes premises.
Deborah Carré met James Ducker whilst they were apprenticed to Paul Wilson, master shoemaker for John Lobb of St James. They share an eye for design and are both accomplished shoe makers.
A series of trades
High-end shoe manufacturing comprises of a series of trades often undertaken by outworkers who possess the rare skills and specialist knowledge required for fine shoe making.
The first step is to appraise the gait of the customer, take numerous measurements and forward these to the last maker. The last is a wooden facsimile of the foot, created by the timed served artisan, who has spent at least four years acquiring the necessary know-how to perform the task.
Carreducker design each shoe on the last before sending the drawn-up last to the closer – another specialist trade, requiring patient endeavour to master the necessary skills. The closer creates the pattern from the design, cuts the leather, and sews the upper. Then the work is passed to the shoe maker, Deborah or James in this instance. They have to create the shoe.
The shoemaking process begins
German box calf is often selected. It is of the finest quality and ideal for the task. Deborah and James have studied the individual’s foot at the first meeting. The customer will bring a pair of their existing shoes and Deborah or James can then appraise how the shoes have been worn. They calculate the proportions of the shoe. An Oxford will be designed with the ideal toe shape to flatter, whilst offering the peerless comfort only bespoke can deliver.
The insoles and the internal leather components of the shoe are prepared. The toe part provides protection for the toes and helps preserve the shape of that element of the shoe. The pronation which afflicts my own gait would probably necessitate an extended stiffener from the heel to provide greater support.
Then the uppers are braced over. Stretching the leather is not for the inexperienced. It has to be manipulated in the optimum direction to ensure the shapes does not degrade over time. The initial series of fittings can now follow. Once the shoe is felt to fit correctly, it is dismantled the insole is prepared, the upper re-lasted and the welt and sole stitched by hand.
The sole, heel and the final polish
The insole and sole comprise two core thicknesses of cow hide, oak bark tanned in a tannery in Devon, a process lasting about 18 months. The pre-soaked leather, in combination with the stitching and hammering, provides a greater resistance to moisture. The finished sole has a granite-like hardness once completed, ensuring superior wear characteristics.
The heel is layers, once again of oak bark tanned leather, nailed and glued together and smoothed with a rasp. The sharp edge of a piece of broken glass and finally three grades of sandpaper achieve a finish on the sole and heel with the smoothness of a baby’s derrière. They are dyed or polished to achieve the desired look. Finally, a burnishing iron is used to melt in the wax or polish to protect and make them water resistant.
It takes approximately 60 hours to complete a pair of bespoke shoes.
Those who may be tempted to criticize the financial outlay on a pair of bespoke shoes should stop and dwell for a second on the artistry, craftsmanship, skills engaged in their making and the fine materials sourced to ensure their perfect fit and durability. The value of bespoke shoes is evident once you are familiar with the extended process of their extraordinary manufacture. Walk a mile in a pair of Carréducker shoes and I am sure you will be rewarded with comfort and the promise of being able to enjoy that pleasure and their style for many years to come, imparting value for money few could dispute.