“I vividly recall first meeting the late George Cleverley – the shoe brand’s founder – 30 years ago, when Hackett had the second-hand shop down on the New King’s Road. One Saturday Terence Stamp walked in and introduced us. George immediately noticed that I had some vintage handmade shoes on a rack: he’d made them and knew exactly what the shoes were, when they were made and who for. Meanwhile, Terence had been browsing and found three pairs of white, unworn Huntsman buckskin britches I’d bought at the market that very morning. He showed them to George, who said, ‘Magnificent – I haven’t seen buckskin like that in years. Why don’t I make you some shoes out of them?’ And that went ahead.
“A couple of weeks later I bumped into George when he was working for Poulsen Skone at New & Lingwood, and he invited me to come and have some shoes made myself. One of the main things that struck me, when I went to the Royal Arcade premises on that first visit, was what a keen eye George had. He just looked at my foot, felt it and wrote some things down, and the result was a pair of black Oxfords with the classic, trademark Cleverley toe shape that they then referred to as ‘suspiciously square’. I’ve had those shoes for 30 or so years now and they’re going strong.
“People say bespoke shoes are an extravagance, but I see them as a bare necessity. As my father once put it, ‘I’m too poor to buy cheap shoes.’ Besides, I have quite narrow feet and find it difficult to buy shoes off the shelf. Only one or two shops sell the right fit – JM Weston is one, and I used to buy a lot of shoes from Alden in America in order to get a B fitting. But once I’d had a pair made at Cleverley, that was it.
“These days [the company chairman is now George Glasgow Sr, and the CEO and creative director is George Glasgow Jr] getting shoes made there is kind of ad hoc for me – I go when the mood takes me. I picked up a pair about six months ago, but haven’t worn them yet. The trouble is, they look so fabulous when new, in the trees, almost like a piece of art. So it always takes me a while to get around to wearing them, but once I’ve put them on, I wear them constantly. Today I’m wearing a pair of Cleverley black Oxfords.
“When I visit the shop, I’m in and out in 10 minutes, as I always know exactly what I want. I’m so used to dealing with colour and fabrics and so on that it’s a simple case of ‘George, I’d like a pair of brown Derbys, heavier sole, welted’, etc – and a few months later they turn up.
“My current order is for some tan and white Oxfords for the next Henley Regatta and the Goodwood Revival, made from a batch of reindeer leather salvaged from the Metta Catharina – a 53-ton brigantine that sank off the southern coast of England during a voyage from St Petersburg to Genoa in 1786. The leather was tanned in St Petersburg by artisans whose techniques were secret for centuries. It’s got this magnificent smell, quite unlike any other leather I’ve ever come across.”