Swellboy on… an Oxford shoe fit for a prince

Gaziano & Girling’s feather design for the Prince of Wales is the harbinger of the launch of a unique personalised heraldic brogue-punching service

The Prince of Wales on a visit to Gaziano & Girling’s Kettering factory, with Tony Gaziano (centre) and Dean Girling (right)
The Prince of Wales on a visit to Gaziano & Girling’s Kettering factory, with Tony Gaziano (centre) and Dean Girling (right)

Shortly after the new year I received a call from an agitated Tony Gaziano. Tony is co-eponym of shoemaker Gaziano & Girling, and I have followed his work with interest since I first met him over two decades ago at the Edward Green factory in Northampton, where he worked in the bespoke department. In fact, I think he was the bespoke department. I liked his work very much: highly detailed hot-fudge wheeling on the welt that concealed the stitch; delicate gimping created one indent at a time, each broguing hole made individually; and a fiddleback waist of a quality that I had only ever seen on the work of my own shoemaker, the mighty Eric Cook.

I am not the only person to appreciate his work. It appears that word of Gaziano’s gimping has reached Clarence House and that when a visit to Kettering, in Northamptonshire, appeared in the royal diary, the Prince of Wales – a staunch champion of craftsmanship and quality – made it known that he would like to stop by the G&G factory in Kettering to see that wheeling, gimping and broguing for himself.

The punched-Oxford shoe with a broguing pattern inspired by the Prince of Wales’s feathers
The punched-Oxford shoe with a broguing pattern inspired by the Prince of Wales’s feathers

HRH’s interest was conveyed via various high sheriffs, lord lieutenants, deputy lord lieutenants, comptrollers and what have you to Tony who then communicated it to me and asked what he thought he should do to mark this event. He had clearly caught me in an ebullient mood: I suggested that G&G might like to make a punched Oxford with a broguing pattern inspired by the Prince of Wales’s feathers, and Tony agreed this was an attractive and feasible idea, given that HRH was due in a couple of weeks.

I then got a bit carried away. Perhaps they could emphasise the fiddleback waist by picking the letters HRH out in nailheads, and while he was at it why not replicate the Order of the Garter on the heel? In fact, why stop at a punched Oxford? Why not go for a full brogue – that way you could use some thistle broguing on the back quarters to recall Dumfries House, the Prince’s charitable endeavour in Scotland, and of course the laces could be made in Prince-of-Wales checked fabric… I was about to get started on my plans for a Prince-of-Wales-themed spade welt when Tony said he had to go because he had just remembered some urgent toecap polishing that needed doing.

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He rang back a couple of days later and said that the feather broguing looked very nice and so discreet that one could barely notice it. He was curiously silent on my notions of the “pearly king” (or rather pearly prince)-style waist and heel decoration, nor was mention made of the special laces and Scottish broguing – genius is seldom appreciated at the time.

As well as making a pair for the Prince, G&G has also decided to roll out a heraldic brogue-punching service (price on request) for others. Indeed, there is a Foulkes coat of arms and crest (whether I am entitled to use it is another matter) involving a number of boars’ heads. I am not sure that the porcine motif would convert as elegantly or symmetrically to broguing as the Prince of Wales’s feathers. But you never know it might just take off; after all, it is the Year of the Pig in China.

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