I’d planned to visit Cleverley’s on an upcoming trip to London, in August, so this was a good time to bring that meeting forward and move ahead with a commission I’d planned, anyway.
The first part of the bespoke process is to talk through ideas and decide on exactly what the commission will be. I already had a clear idea about what I wanted, but George, Teemu and I spent a good deal of time refining the concept, until we reached agreement on exactly what I would have made. My plan had been to have a pair of brown, cap-toe double monks created. I wanted these, in part, because I’m yet to own a pair of double monk’s and I liked the uniqueness of them. And partly because I thought the idea would tie in well with the inspiring space that Chris and Nick have created since opening Double Monk around 2 years ago.
George and I looked through the available leathers, which are comprehensive, including exotic skins from elephant, hippopotamus and just about any other animal you can think of. It’s a credit to Cleverley that they only buy exotics (such as their elephant and hippo hides), from certified sources, comprised mainly of zoo’s around the world who sell the skins after an animal has died of natural causes. I’d been considering the now famous Russian reindeer leather, salvaged from the Metta Catharina shipwreck of 1786 (see image below, for the story) but George suggested it wouldn’t be ideal for this commission as it’s a heavier leather and our hope was to create a lighter shoe in this instance. I’d like to commission a pair of loafers in this hide at some point in the future, though. The romance of the story and their unique smell (best described as a musty, smoky smell) is too special to pass up. The challenge will be to do this before all the hides are gone forever.
So with the reindeer hide off the agenda, we chose a mid brown calf skin in “antique whisky”, the antique finish achieved by a unique process during the tanning stage.
Typically, I’ve always chosen a creme lining for shoes, but these being my first pair of bespoke shoes, I thought it would be nice to have something different. So, on Teemu’s suggestion, we chose British racing green.
Then we moved on to the finer details. The cap (line running across the toe-box) will be done in a single stitch, with no brogueing or additional detail, to keep the lines clean and simple. We will use a single leather sole, with a fiddle-back waist and metal toe taps screwed into the sole to protect the toe from excess wear. One of the most unique features of bespoke shoes, from the worlds top makers, is the ability to create a very slim waist, perfectly sculpted to the wearers foot. It’s a beautiful aesthetic detail, makes for an elegant silhouette and remains one of the hallmarks of a bespoke shoe. I asked Teemu to bring the waist in as close as possible.
The final points of difference would be to have my initials nailed into the sole with small brass tacks, something that’s become a bit of a tradition with other shoes I’ve had made. For those who have read part 1 of my commission of a bespoke sport coat with Bijan, you’ll remember the “fish” symbol I have sewn in to bespoke coats (a reminder of my Father), so I explained this to Teemu and asked if he wouldn’t mind doing something similar with these shoes. We’ll have the same fish symbol sewn or punched in to the heel. The straps would be secured with brass buckles, complimenting the brown calf skin and much more in harmony with the colour of the leather than silver buckles would be.
One of the most rewarding parts of any bespoke experience is the connection you make with the crafts-person, it’s something I’ve really come to enjoy. There are only 3-4 people involved in making each pair of bespoke shoes, so I asked if it would be OK for each person who played a role in making the shoes to sign the underside of the strap which closes across the shoe. The unique closure of a double monk would mean the signatures would stay protected and invisible. However, we realised the green lining we chose wouldn’t allow the signatures to show up. Teemu suggested sewing in a cream leather patch, but then noted that the stitches would be visible externally and take away from the clean aesthetic of the shoe. A little bit of brainstorming and a few minutes later, the decision was made to have the custom shoe trees signed by those involved, or possibly to have their initials nailed in. We can cross that bridge when we come to it.
Once all the details had been finalised, Teemu took my measurements which requires his “last” book to come out and to have me place one foot on each page. A pencil traces around each foot, the first pass gives the overall outline, the second requires the pencil to be angled in at 45 degrees to take the shape of the arch. This allows a 2 dimensional image to be created, highlighting every bump, anomaly, and curve of each foots perimetre. Next, I placed my foot on Teemu’s leg and pressed down, he took a series of measurements of the key points of each foot. After that, he ran his hands over the upper parts of my feet, helping him to take in any other unique aspects of each foot, which he would then write himself notes about, to keep in mind when making the last. After all that, it turns out I have wide feet, narrow heels and a collapsed arch.
With all the details of the shoe sorted and my measurements taken, Teemu will take that information back to London, to the workshop of Cleverley’s Royal Arcade premises and begin carving a custom last for each foot, which will form the template for my future commissions, for the decades to come.
I came back the next morning and Teemu was kind enough to create a cardboard last for me, on the spot. It’s an amazing thing to watch, with the measurements being transferred to the card and an exact 3D replica of your shoe begins to come alive. I asked He signed it for me and I’ve taken it home with the intention of having it framed.
I’ll catch up with George and Teemu in August, for the first fitting, when I’m in London for a few days and they’ll be back at Double Monk in September. With a bit of luck, we may be able to squeeze in a second fitting at that point. The whole process will take the better part of this year and possibly beyond. Art takes time.
The finished price for the shoes will be in the vicinity of 2,600GBP