A little while ago I was fortunate enough to secure a copy of Hugo Jacomet and his wife Sonya Glyn’s latest book, “Shoes – The Art of Male Footwear”.
I was fortunate to spend some time with both Sonya and Hugo at Pitti Uomo in Florence a few years ago, before my life went crazy (2 baby boys born within 11 months of each other) and then the rest of the world went crazy (Covid).
We’ve kept in touch since then, so when I heard about the upcoming release of their new book I jumped at the chance to get a copy for review and for our home.
Both Hugo and Sonya have a depth of knowledge of tailoring and menswear which few others can match. Their previous books, “The Parisian Gentleman” and “The Italian Gentleman” covering French and Italian tailoring and menswear respectively, have been well loved by an international audience and I have copies of both on our bookshelf at home. Their latest book refines the subject matter from the wider range of tailoring and menswear previously covered and specifically brings into focus men’s shoes, which, as this book justifies, are worthy of their own sizeable text.
Where this book differs from others is in its imagery. Other books on tailoring or footwear, as well as blogs (including this one) typically use images of the products themselves along with a significant percentage of images and focus of the content dedicated to the makers, founders, owners and workshops. The benefit here is the behind-the-scenes look you get which anyone not actively inside the industry isn’t able to see.
What’s striking in Hugo and Sonya’s new book is the near complete absence of any images which aren’t of the shoes themselves. Of the 219 images, just 6 are of a workshop or maker. I found this interesting and asked Hugo about it specifically as I suspected there was a reason for focusing the images in this way. There was.
Their goal was to highlight the shoes for the first time as works of art in their own right and to show the reader each maker’s product, stripped of anything but the final result itself. Not worn, not of the manufacturing process, just the shoes as if presented in an art gallery.
Where this choice really succeeds is in how it’s been complimented by the sheer size of the imagery and the book itself. The images are literally life-sized and come alive from the detail that such large images are able to show. You can see the pores of the leather, how the polished toe-box creates a mirror flat surface before the pores begin to show as the mirror shine fades as you move further back in the shoe. You get a sense of just how much detail goes into the making of bespoke and high-quality men’s shoes.
I put one of my bespoke Cleverley’s on top of one of the Cleverley shoes featured in the book and it fit perfectly on top. True to size with the real thing.
The added benefit is that it conveys a real sense of the nuances of each maker – the suspiciously square toe of a pair of Cleverley’s, the insane colour palette of Pierre Corthay, and the “you’d swear it was photoshopped if you didn’t know any better” perfection of Yohei Fukuda.
The second aspect of the book which is most valuable for readers is the comparison in one place between not only the different styles of the makers but of the different styles of the major high-end shoe-making nations. The book is categorised into primary chapters of English, French and Italian makers, then the rest of the world (Spain, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Austria, Poland, and Japan).
I’m fortunate to own shoes from many of the makers covered in this book and the descriptions of the styles, manufacturing, and personalities provide an accurate and nuanced picture of the stories behind the brands.
As you move through the book you see how the styles change from the clean, simple and generally conservative styles of the English makers, to the more artistic and colourful French, to the frequent boldness and flamboyance of the Italians. All the way back to the start with Japanese makers who, as the Japanese do in just about everything they touch in instances where they import an aesthetic they like (in this case the conservative English style of footwear) obsess over every detail, refine it in a maniacal pursuit of perfection and make it better than the original. I love that about the Japanese.
To produce the book was a logistical undertaking, requiring makers from all over the world to send their shoes to Hugo and Sonya as all images used in the book are originals. All up, that meant importing over a ton of shoes, photographing them, then returning them to the makers.
All in all, as with Hugo and Sonya’s previous books, this is an investment piece, a work of art in its own right and a fantastic conversation starter as a coffee table book… assuming your coffee table is strong enough to support its weight.