Fol­low­ing a cou­ple of dif­fi­cult decades, the in­ter­est in tra­di­tional be­spoke shoes from Bri­tain is boom­ing and a new gen­er­a­tion of skilled shoemakers are now en­ter­ing the trade to en­sure its fu­ture. Plaza Uomo met up with some of the young in­no­va­tors of B

Plaza Uomo USA - - JOURNAL - Words and photography by jesper in­gevalds­son

Ni­cholas Tem­ple­man had what many peo­ple in the in­dus­try would call a dream job, work­ing as a last maker for the glob­ally renowned John Lobb in London. But Ni­cholas had big­ger plans and left the shoe gi­ant to pro­duce hand­crafted shoes on his own. To­day he works from his home in Is­ling­ton in cen­tral London. To get to his work­shop you’ll have to zigzag down a nar­row stair lined with toys and a doll-sized pushchair un­til you reach the base­ment and the small­est room in the house which is where he’s set up his own work­shop. Un­de­ni­ably this is some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent com­pared to John Lobb’s large premises on St James’s Street. “I pre­fer it here and that’s the most im­por­tant thing,” com­ments Ni­cholas.

The 34-year old is born and bred in the English cap­i­tal. When he was older, he stud­ied fine art at the Univer­sity of Brighton where he found him­self drawn to more hands-on tech­niques. The idea of work­ing with shoes, which was an­other long-held pas­sion of his, came to af­ter spot­ting some shoe­mak­ing tools and shoe lasts in the win­dow of a shoe shop. Ni­cholas gave John Lobb a call to hear if they had any tips for get­ting into the shoe­mak­ing in­dus­try. At Lobb’s they wanted to know if he was call­ing about the ad for the last-mak­ing ap­pren­tice­ship, some­thing that Ni­cholas wasn’t aware of. Two weeks later he started his ap­pren­tice­ship. “Nat­u­rally it was an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity,” he says.

This was in 2007 and Ni­cholas was young and ea­ger to learn. Soon he was work­ing for the com­pany as a pro­fes­sional last maker. The last maker is in charge of cus­tomer con­tact; mea­sur­ing, fit­ting and mak­ing the last us­ing the cus­tomer’s mea­sure­ments, upon which the shoe is later con­structed. When Ni­cholas and his wife had their sec­ond child in 2014 he grabbed the op­por­tu­nity of­fered by pa­ter­nity leave to build his own work­shop, pro­duce sam­ple mod­els, build a web­site and cre­ate his own brand – Ni­cholas Tem­ple­man Be­spoke Shoe­maker.

“It was now or never. That’s how it felt to me. The op­por­tu­nity to take con­trol in a whole dif­fer­ent way, be­ing fully in charge, that’s what at­tracted me to run­ning my own busi­ness.”

The busi­ness is now three years old and has per­formed above ex­pec­ta­tion with an ex­pand­ing cus­tomer base that in­cludes plenty of Amer­i­can clients.

Nat­u­rally, Ni­cholas makes the shoe lasts him­self as well as the struc­tur­ing and the fin­ish­ing touches, while the stitch­ing of the up­per leather and the as­sem­bling of the shoe are made by free­lancers in London. In many ways the style leans to­ward the French, and the slightly lighter and softer look, rather than the tra­di­tion­ally Bri­tish. “These days I make shoes the way I want to, not on some­body else’s terms.”

jermyn street

is London’s num­ber one street for shoes. Much like the pearls on a neck­lace, the street sees row upon row of Bri­tish shoe brands and a large num­ber of big Euro­pean brands. Some­where in the mid­dle you’ll come across Foster & Son, the sole re­main­ing be­spoke shoe­maker on the pres­ti­gious street. This is where you’ll find Jon Spencer, a last maker who works in the com­pany’s first-floor work­shop that he shares with five other em­ploy­ees. Foster & Son has been lo­cated here since the 1970s. The com­pany was founded in 1840 a mere stone’s throw away and is one of the most renowned be­spoke shoe man­u­fac­tur­ers in Eng­land.

“There’s a cer­tain sense of added re- spon­si­bil­ity when you know your em­ployer’s her­itage,” says Jon, who is one of two last mak­ers work­ing at Foster & Son.

Jon ended up at the com­pany by a chance of sorts. He’s from the coastal re­gion of Nor­folk but de­cided to move to London six years ago where he worked as a free­lance il­lus­tra­tor. A close friend in the shoe­mak­ing busi­ness heard that Foster & Son was look­ing to train a new last maker. Equipped with his sketch­pad Jon went to meet the leg­endary Terry Moore who took him un­der his wing.

“Learn­ing the trade from one of the most es­teemed last mak­ers of all times was ob­vi­ously a priv­i­lege,” says Jon.

For the older gen­er­a­tion in the in­dus­try it’s im­por­tant to find tal­ented, am­bi­tious young peo­ple who are able to pass on the art of mak­ing hand-crafted shoes. To­day the fu­ture of the craft looks brighter than it has for quite some time, thanks to the de­mand from young peo­ple wish­ing to en­ter the pro­fes­sion.

“We’re con­tacted all the time by peo­ple hop­ing to be­come an ap­pren­tice here. All the in­for­ma­tion, in­spi­ra­tion and op­por­tu­ni­ties for dis­cus­sion you get with the internet and so­cial me­dia means that not only are more peo­ple in­ter­ested in buy­ing qual­ity shoes, more and more want to learn how to make them as well. This means that the fu­ture is look­ing bright for a craft that was on the verge of ex­tinc­tion,” says Spencer.

Gaziano & Gir­ling

is among one of the younger com­pa­nies in the English shoe cap­i­tal, Northamp­ton, and was founded by Gaziano and Dean Gir­ling in 2006. Since their in­cep­tion they’ve pro­duced ready-to-wear shoes as well as hand­crafted be­spoke shoes and amaz­ingly enough the com­pany has en­joyed great suc­cess in both ar­eas. Eight years ago Daniel We­gan from Swe­den started work­ing as an ap­pren­tice in the be­spoke depart­ment. A depart­ment he is now man­ag­ing. An­other Swede has now taken over his place in the work­shop. 33-year-old An­dreas Rei­jers used to work as a chef but af­ter watch­ing a cou­ple of YouTube clips about hand­craft­ing shoes he be­came fas­ci­nated by the pro­fes­sion. Three years ago he packed his bags and moved to Northamp­ton in Eng­land. He was ad­vised that in or­der to break into the in­dus­try he would have to be where the jobs are. An­dreas con­tacted sev­eral shoe fac­to­ries and soon found him­self work­ing for Crock­ett & Jones.

“But work­ing in a shoe fac­tory wasn’t what I’d been dream­ing of. I wanted to make hand-crafted shoes,” says An­dreas. At night he’d prac­tice mak­ing shoes by hand on his own and on the week­ends he’d travel down the A43 to Ket­ter­ing to learn from Daniel We­gan. When an ap­pren­tice­ship po­si­tion came up at Gaziano & Gir­ling he was of­fered the chance he’d been wait­ing for.

“It’s an in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult craft and a slow process. I can see why a lot of peo­ple give up but I re­ally like the challenge,” says An­dreas.

He’s al­ready proved that he’s got a ta­lent for the pro­fes­sion and is cur­rently fo­cus­ing on the bot­tom mak­ing, the ac­tual assem­bly and the fin­ish­ing touches. Even though he’s only been with the com­pany for a year he’s al­ready work­ing on cus­tomers’ shoes. An­dreas be­lieves that be­ing rel­a­tively young is a pre­req­ui­site for him be­com­ing a highly skilled crafts­man. On the other hand he doesn’t want to waste any time and would rather work very hard now in or­der to get to a level where he’s able to make a proper liv­ing. As a new ap­pren­tice you don’t make an aw­ful lot of money but the more you’re able to con­trib­ute to the art of mak­ing ‘real shoes’ the bet­ter the pay – even if you’ll never earn a sig­nif­i­cantly amount. Be­com­ing rich and fa­mous is not a rea­son why more and more peo­ple are seek­ing to work in the trade; it’s all about the pas­sion for the craft.

Ni­cholas Tem­ple­man The En­trepreneur TEM­PLE­MAN BE­SPOKE SHOE­MAKER

Be­fore start­ing his own busi­ness Ni­cholas Tem­ple­man worked for the pres­ti­gious John Lobb.

Jon Spencer LAST MAKER Foster & son

THE SHOE­MAKER An­dreas Rei­jers Gaziano & Gir­ling An­dreas Rei­jers is work­ing hard to get to the level of be­ing able to make a proper liv­ing from his pro­fes­sion.

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