Bespoke shoes, the late AA Gill once wrote, “can take over your wardrobe and your life, and walk away with the school fees”. For Gaziano & Girling’s six master craftsmen, who make just 100 such pairs a year, they can also occupy a significant chunk of the diary, with each taking around a year to complete.
The commissioning process starts at the company’s Savile Row store (or at one of its regular trunk shows in New York or Hong Kong), where a last maker measures the precise dimensions of the customer’s feet, then heads off to create a beech wood replica around which the shoe (£5,000 for the first pair, £4,200 for subsequent pairs) will be fit.
The client then makes decisions about materials (which range from pig skin and alligator to more exotic aquatic options), which a clicker in Gaziano & Girling’s Northampton factory will handcut before a closer stitches the upper part of the shoe together using a hand-waxed linen thread. Recent years have seen a change in bespoke requests, Gaziano & Girling says, with clients moving away from traditional black or brown Oxfords to be worn to the office, and instead ordering more casual shoes. An Asian client, for example, commissioned a bold wingtip double monk in burgundy alligator and iguana.
The final steps see one of the six makers moulding the upper section of the shoe to the last shape, then hand-stitching the welt and the sole onto the shoe, before a finisher creams and colours the shoe, cleans the inside and fits an inner sock. Embroidered initials can be added (they are most often placed on the waist of the shoe), and finally a carver creates a shoe tree to the shape of the last, hollowing it out for lightness.
At this point, the customer takes over duties. “Care for bespoke shoes is a must,” explains company co-founder Tony Gaziano. “The shoes need to be regularly moisturised with cream and polished with wax to protect them from the elements, and the soles must be monitored so they’re not worn out too much before being repaired. If a customer does this regularly, there’s no reason why the shoes will not last 20 years plus, and grow more beautiful and comfortable with age.”