BESPOKE DRESS SHOES
GEORGE CLEVERLEY & CO. LTD.
In my salad days it was my habit to don, with both black and white tie, dress spats. I see these items infrequently nowadays, and I have lost my own pair, having abandoned their use about thirty years ago. But the memory of them came to mind as I contemplated the recent (and very welcome) renewal of interest among young gentlemen in formal evening wear. As during the day, so in the evening, upon meeting a fellow my eyes always glance at his shoes – to observe those signs of character and taste (or lack thereof) which shoes invariably reveal. I expect to find proper dress shoes, needless to say, but I also hope for so much more: I hope for bespoke dress shoes, of superlative workmanship and exquisite style. I needed to have some made, so I turned, of course, to the world’s finest shoemakers, George Cleverley & Co. And, as I entered the lovely little shop in the Royal Arcade, I remembered my liking for spats.
Number Thirteen draws lovers of fine footwear from all parts of the civilized world. And so it should, for here is to be found a team of true craftsmen. At its head are Messrs George Glasgow and John Carnera (pictured, with Mr Carnera on the right), two gentlemen who continue to devote their lives to the pursuit of shoe perfection. Having worked with the late Mr Cleverley himself, they are true disciples of the Great Man and share his great passion for elegant shoes (if not his other passion – for horse racing). They make for many of the most famous and most important men of our day, although it would be quite improper of me to mention the names of any of their current clients. I am content simply to list a quartet of those who have worn Cleverley’s shoes in the past: Sir Winston Churchill, Rudolph Valentino, John Gielgud and Humphrey Bogart. George Cleverley & Co. is used to dealing with those for whom only the best will do.
Let me at this point say a word of thanks to an American, Seth Boyden (1788-1870). He devised a nail-making machine and built his own steam boat. But my admiration for this talented chap stems from another of his achievements. It was Mr Boyden who invented patent leather. He discovered that, by applying lacquer at the end of the tanning process, the finished leather could be given a durable shine which would gleam and sparkle for years thereafter. This, in black, is the leather we now use for our dress shoes.
Apart from the use of such black patent leather for the uppers, there were many other details to be discussed with Mr Carnera. My wooden last, made for my first pair of Cleverley’s shoes, was already upstairs – carefully stored along with those of all other Cleverley customers. But I had the impression that my right foot had ‘dropped’ a little, so new measurements were taken to facilitate modifications to the last. Comfort, as always, would be the first priority.
Then there were decisions to be taken about style and construction. I enjoy hearing myself on the pavement, so I like to have metal quarter heels – for the ‘click, click’ effect. I tend to wear the front tips of the soles disproportionately – even though, as always at Cleverley, they are made from oak-bark-tanned leather from Bakers’ thousand year-old tannery in Devon – so I have two rows of nails to slow the wear. The impression of lightness – one of the hallmarks of Cleverley’s shoes – would be assisted by the slight tapering of the heels. To the same end, the shoes would have the “extended Cleverley look”, a lengthening of the toe.
I settled upon the Balmoral design, with no brogue effect, with the typical chisel toe for which George Cleverley remains famous, with stitched toe caps, five eyelets and black silk laces.
But what of my concern for spats? The suggestion of a white dress spat would be achieved by having each shoe made with a galosh in white calf. For a moment I thought this should be in white patent leather, but the original spats were made of cotton and were not shiny, so white calf – introducing a contrast of surface texture, as well as the contrast of colour – would be far more appropriate. This offered the prospect of a most exciting effect, and I was pleased that Mr Carnera shared my enthusiasm. (Mr Carnera’s uncle, Primo Carnera, was the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1933 and 1934, so I suspect the combination of bravery and risk-taking which is essential to the pugilist is part of his inheritance.)
The waiting followed. Social occasions came and went when I wore my usual dress shoes – black patent leather Oxfords. These shoes have served me well over the years, and still look smart. Yet now I could see them only as second-best. I began to study the dress shoes of others with increased diligence. At no point did I see any which were at all similar to those which were being made for me. I began to wonder whether they would be a mistake. Eventually, the call came. The shoes were ready.
I hurried along to the Royal Arcade. Mr Carnera came down the spiral staircase, holding the shoes in their bags, so that the moment of revelation was delayed. Then they were in front of me. Please forgive the exclamation mark, which is over-used nowadays, but it is appropriate here. Magnificent! Even before I tried them on, I could see that these shoes were a triumph, both in the elegance of the style and in the excellence of the making. Everything I had wanted was there. It was a joy to have them in my hands, and marvel at their smooth lines and subtle proportions.
I need hardly report that they have proved supremely comfortable. I do hope that the photographs convey the sheer quality of these shoes. As you look at them, you are looking at a work of art. That is what these shoes are. And to wear a work of art with formal dress wear makes me feel very good indeed.
As such, I regard the price - £2,500, including wooden shoe trees – as very good value. I wonder whether they will start a trend? Whether they do or not, my advice to those who want bespoke dress shoes of the very highest quality is clear: go to the gentlemen at George Cleverley & Co.
GEORGE CLEVERLEY & CO. LTD
Bespoke shoes from £2,500 a pair, including wooden trees.
The ‘Anthony Cleverley’ range of ready-to-wear shoes uses bespoke grade leather with hand lasting, hand welting and hand finishing - £950 a pair, including wooden trees.
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