“Elegance begins with the shoes”
Hungarian Master Shoemaker
Here is the third part of classic English ready-to wear shoemakers. In this part I write about those traditional brands that are re-inventing themselves and two very stylish new shoe brands, which have become new classics.
Part 1 of the this article “Introduction to English shoemakers” is here
Part 2 of this article “The Traditional Brands” is here
Part 4 of this article “Caring for handcrafted shoes” is here
Barkers “Quintessentially English”
Barkers produce English shoes of superb quality. Barkers, like Loakes, are at the affordable end of the quality English shoe spectrum. They are famous for the rugged wearability and the large amount of hand-crafting that goes into the making of their shoes. Barkers shoes have the spirit of the North of England about them, well-made, with integrity and craftsmanship. Handsome and manly.
Barker’s shop, Cheapside, London
Until recently Barkers were famous as the traditionalists of the English shoe craftsmen. They excelled at producing shoes in the classic styles Oxfords and Derbys. For my taste, their moccasins and slip-ons are not as successful, looking a bit seventies. However, for classics, especially oxfords, they are hard to beat.
Recently Barkers have become more contemporary, with some very nicely designed modern shoes, with lighter styling and clever designs such as two-tone leather uppers, long-toed Derbys and unusual broguing. They also have a new shop in London’s financial district, which showcases many of their newer designs. Barkers are clearly aiming at the new designer shoe market, which is flourishing amongst London’s financiers.
Barker Arnold (Professional range)
Barker also have a recently launched US venture, Barker Black. Barker Black shoes showcase the superb craftsmanship of Barkers with classic shoe types in fine leathers. The collection appears to be aimed at stylish modern man who wants a shoe that he can wear both to work and for leisure. This collection includes some very racy monkstraps and a fine town-boot. In England, as far as I am aware, this collection is only available at Harrods.
Barker Black Blenheim Boot
Like Churches, Barkers are one of the bigger English shoemakers and have a number of ranges of shoes:
This is the range I know (and like) the best. This range consists of classic shoe types in good leathers. They are very attractive and also like Churches, these shoes will take a really high shine.
The Hand-crafted collection
This is a small collection of hand-crafted shoes. They are very competitively priced for the amount of hand-crafting.
I mention these because it is so welcome to find a permanent collection of men’s sandals. They have some interesting English variations of the classic Italian basketwork shoe.
Barkers are one of the most interesting English shoe brands around at the moment, because they are clearly stretching themselves beyond their traditional styles. One to watch.
Who buys them
No-nonsense men who get things done, military men, industrialists, stylish American businessmen
Prices: Barkers shoes start at around £100.00
Stores City Store
Tel: 44 (0)20 7600 7855
Barkers are also sold online through various retail services.
Repairs eight weeks
Cheaney, distinctive and colourful
Cheaney are another classic shoe brand undergoing a metamorphosis. Founded in 1886 by two brothers, Joseph and Arthur Cheaney, Cheaney quickly became one of the premier shoemakers of England. Like the other classic companies, they are based in Northamptonshire.
Cheaney have less of an obvious presence in the market, having for many years sold their shoes through the stores of other English brands. In 1964 they were bought by Churches, who to their credit have kept Cheaney as a distinct brand. Now, under their chairman Stephen Etheridge, they are building their brand identity anew.
This re-invigoration of Cheaney automatically feels right. Cheaney shoes have a very distinctive style and shape and stand out from their peers and it is right that is acknowledged. Cheaney shoes are more rounded and have a softer line than Churches or Barkers. Their classic shoes are characterised by a graceful swooping vamp which curves into a very rounded, almost bulbous toe.
Cheaney are what I think of as the shoes of the English establishment. There is an aristocratic beauty about Cheaney shoes that is visible in the shape, the leather, the grain and the finish. They are one of a kind and men who wear them understand that implicitly.
Cheaney have several shoe styles:
Cheaney of England
These are the classic Cheaney, strong bold shoes in distinctive leathers. Buy these if you want the real Cheaney style.
Mostly classic Cheaney, this is an all-black range for business.
Classic shoe types, Oxfords and Derbys, with a larger amount of handcrafting and hand-finishing.
These are rugged, handsome country/walking/hiking shoes. In my opinion there are none better.
I originally bought my Cheaneys in the old, now closed Bond Street store. However my favourite store these days is the Cheaney store in the City, where I always receive excellent service.
Cheaney are a surprising brand and little unsung. When I visit their shop I find some very modern styles that do not appear in their web catalogue. A stylish man looking for something different would do well to visit their shop.
Who buys them
The absolute individualist, the countryman, the English gentleman in town.
Prices: Cheaney shoes start at around £150.00
9a Lime Street
Tel: 44 (0) 20 7283 7485
Cheaney have a telephone sales service: 44 (0) 1536 760383
Cheaney shoes are also sold by a variety of online retail services
Repairs Return to factory eight to ten weeks
Oliver Sweeney: Sexy and street smart
Oliver Sweeney Shoes is nearly twenty years old now and I still remember the uproar he created when he emerged on the London style scene with his sexy, manly shoes.
Oliver Sweeney shop, Bond Street, London
Sweeney took the classic shoe shapes and English shoemaking and gave them both a creative twist. Sweeney took basic shapes like the Derby and changed the shape of the toe, the length of the vamp, to alter the silhouette of the shoe. His shoes have a sleek, streamlined shape that suggests they are Italian but their details and finishes are edgy British street fashion. He is a new classic brand.
Oliver Sweeney shoes are well made, using traditional British techniques, but usually use softer, smoother leathers, giving his shoes more of an Italian look and feel. Beyond that he experiments with the shape and look of the shoe to produce something unique. His current collection includes shoes with a sole shaped as an extended hexagon, which sounds weird but works well. Sweeney’s shoes are always risky and sometimes they do not work for me. But Oliver Sweeney’s creative re-forming of classic types produces shoes that stand out and are widely admired.
Last season I bought a pair of black narrow-toe derby’s with a cross-weave up the middle of the vamp, from their Bond Street shop. It was an experience for several reasons.
Firstly I remembered how important it is to try Sweeney shoes on. They really come to life and look so good on one’s foot. Also how comfortable they are. Oliver Sweeney have pioneered an “anatomical last” and shoes built on it have a gently curved arch which supports the foot. You can feel it the first time you put a pair of their shoes on.
Secondly there is the service. Sweeney’s staff are passionate about their shoes and will definitely give you an opinion about whatever shoes you try on. Wonderful guys to talk to about shoes and clothes, very stylish and very friendly at the same time. They know their shoes and will even help you accessorise the shoes from their business accessories range. They are the only shoemaker who will give definitive advice on whether a pair of shoes will suit particular clothes. Bold chaps, one and all.
The Sweeney effect
Thirdly there is the effect. I wore the black Derby’s the first time, with a grey Italian suit and sky-blue shirt, to go out to dinner. I thought they were perfect, they set the suit off and made it look loose and casual. However the real effect was when my wife saw them. She looked at the shoes, looked up and said, “God, what sexy shoes! You look so cool! She then took my arm, leaned in close and whispered “You can make love to me anytime wearing those!”.
Oliver Sweeney proudly make classic shoes with a difference. They are a young man’s classic, full of fun and style.
Who wears them
Media people, men looking for fun shoes, men obsessed with style.
Prices: Shoes start at around £240.00
Stores Flagship Store
66 New Bond Street
Tel: 44 (0) 20 7355 0387
Oliver Sweeney shoes are also sold through a variety of online retail stores
Repairs Return to factory, ten weeks
Grenson: “A glorious rebirth”
So, time for full disclosure here. I have always loved Grenson shoes, for their sophisticated styling, their supple leathers and the reliability of their construction. I have written about Grenson before here.
For a while in the nineties Grenson seemed to be a bit lost. However the new millennium brought new management, new confidence and a return to being one of the best quality shoemakers in the world. They have returned to producing some of the best traditional bench-made shoes.
Grenson were founded by William Green in 1874. Green was a skilled shoemaker who built one of the first brands (Grenson was a contraction of Green and Sons).
Genson Shop, Great Eastern Hotel, London
Grenson have almost achieved the holy grail of shoes, a synthesis of English and Italian shoes. English shoes are beautifully made but generally the leathers (especially the soles) make them much heavier than Italian shoes. Grenson’s shoes are lighter and more supple (and incredibly comfortable) than many other benchmade English shoes. The soles are lighter and the uppers slightly softer than those of Church or Crockett and Jones. However they have lost none of their superb craftsmanship in doing this, the shoes are still well-structured benchmade English shoes
The shoe designs have more than a nod to Italy. Shoes are slimmer than those of their rivals, the vamp of the shoe is longer (though not as long as the vamp on Jeffrey West shoes) and the shape of the toe is sharp, even on their plain Oxfords. Like John Lobb they have updated classics with some very colourful and distinctive leathers. They are particularly good at tans, deep browns and off-brown shades. These are business shoes but are also playful enough to be night-time fun-time wear.
Grenson Noble (Rushden range)
I once had a conversation with a Church’s salesman who told me, “We have got the best blacks but Grenson have some really good browns”. Unsolicited compliments are the best.
Grenson have two ranges. The Rushden range are their entry level shoes, classic shoes with modern designs. These retail around £140 making them (along with Loake and Barkers) the lowest priced quality English shoes and a good place to start. The Rose collection are their premium brand, costing around £220. These are beautifully made shoes, using very supple, high quality leathers.
Who wears them
Famous actors, men who truly have style
Prices: Prices for Rushden entry level shoes start at around £140.00
Stores: Flagship/City Store
The Great Eastern Hotel,
Tel: 44 (0) 20 7618 5050
Grenson are also sold through a variety of online retail stores
Repairs return to factory, six to eight weeks
Jeffery West “Pimp my shoe!”
You do not buy Jeffery West shoes, you join a cult. Jeffrey Wright fans are fanatics.
Jeffery West are now over twenty years old which does not feel possible. This is partly because every man who buys Jeffery West shoes feels like they have just discovered them and therefore they (Jeffery West) must be new.
Jeffery West shop, Piccadilly Arcade, London
Men (mostly) do not talk about clothes, they are unsure about the masculinity of it all. However find a man who wears Jeffery West and ask him about the shoes and you will not be able to get him to shut up about them. Once you buy Jeffrey West shoes and realise how good you look in them, you are a convert. Jeffery West do not advertise but have grown by just this kind of word-of-mouth.
Jeffery West are actually Mark Jeffery and Guy West. They make classic English shoes redesigned for the stylish modern man. Their shoes are characterised by long vamps, elaborate and clever brogueing, hidden eyelets, high facings and other beautiful design elements. The leathers of the uppers are often glossy and ostentatious. Every style has a uniqueness about it that catches the eye. The end-result is a sleek eye-catching, sexy shoe.
Like other quality English shoe brands Jeffery West shoes are comfortable, hardwearing and well made, but these are really shoes for being seen in. They are manly, sexy and improve your look with their extreme stylishness. They are made to be a dandy in, a well-dressed man about town. Think Michael Caine in Get Carter, Terence Stamp in Modesty Blaise, hip English actors of the sixties. Put these shoes on and you become cool, cultured and irresistible to women. Even if not, you certainly think you are.
Jeffery West shoes start at around £200. You can buy them from the Jeffery West website but I would recommend going to one of the shops, just for the experience. The colour scheme is black, with red velvet and lots of gold-gilt, like a slightly seedy brothel. The shops are small and packed with more shoe styles than you could count and all of them are timelessly stylish. Their shop in the Piccadilly Arcade is style central.
Jeffery West 2-hole long vamp brogue derby
Service is, shall we say, distinctive. The staff love their shoes and are men (and women) of the world in their own right. They are as likely to give you an opinion on malt whisky as on shoes, and they will certainly tell you which shoes suit you. Shopping here is a real pleasure, in a very manly way.
Who wears them
Real men who are irresistible to women, poets and mavericks of every kind.
Prices: Shoes start at around £200.00
Stores Their website lists all of their stores but the one below is a favourite of mine:
16 Piccadilly Arcade
Tel: 44 (0) 20 7499 3366
Jeffery west are also sold through a variety of online retail stores.
Repairs Return to factory, eight weeks
Here ends Part 3 of my guide to classic English shoemakers. In Part 4 here I talk about how one cares for classic English shoes.
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