GEORGE CLEVERLEY & CO LTD
The firm of George Cleverley & Co. makes the finest shoes in the world. This is a bold statement. But, having just been fortunate enough to have had a pair of exquisite Cleverley shoes made for me, I have no doubt about its accuracy. If you want bespoke footwear which is light, elegant, astonishingly comfortable and supremely well-made, you, too, should make your way to the small shop in The Royal Arcade, off London’s Bond Street.
There you will find the two upstanding gentlemen who shoe some of our planet’s most famous feet. They are George Glasgow and John Carnera. They have the modest courtesy of true craftsmen. I have observed in my travels that those who strive for perfection frequently have in their demeanour a quiet patience – born, I suspect, of knowing that the best cannot be achieved by way of the short cut. Mr Glasgow is a Londoner, born in Pimlico to Irish parents. He it is who travels to the United States and Japan, to measure those who are unable to visit The Royal Arcade to place their orders. Mr Carnera hails from Northern Italy. His uncle was Primo Carnera, the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1933 and 1934. I can report that the nephew shows none of his relative’s pugilistic tendencies.
What of the eponymous George Cleverley? Sadly, the great man is no longer with us – having gone in 1991, full of years and distinction, to the great Boot-maker in the sky. But his principles and his style are continued by his pupils, Messrs Glasgow and Carnera. This means the use of only the finest materials: the leather for the upper part of each shoe comes from the Freudenburg Company, near Cologne; that for the soles is oak-bark tanned at Bakers’ thousand year-old tannery in Devon. And it means lightness in the construction and design. Look carefully at the heels of my new shoes, and you will observe that they are slightly tapered. Details like this are not only delightful in themselves: they also impart harmony and delicacy to the overall appearance.
The process for making my pair of bespoke shoes was six-fold. First, my feet were measured and the outline of each was drawn in the pattern book. Second, a last of beechwood was made, to the size and shape of my feet. This is unique to me, and can be modified – by addition or subtraction – as my feet change over the years. (I was privileged to be invited to climb up the winding, Dickensian staircase from the shop to the second-floor. There I gazed upon row after row of carefully annotated lasts. The store room contains over two thousand.)
After the uppers had been made around the last, there came the fitting. Even with the shoes in this unfinished state, the quality of the workmanship was shining through. I had chosen the Adelaide design – semi-brogues, with punched toe-caps and the famous Cleverley chisel toes. I had also decided upon an unusual colour for the leather – burgundy. It was clear that my decisions had been wise. I was impatient to have the finished shoes. But there is no rushing to be tolerated here. It had been three months to the fitting, and it would be another three months for the completion of the final two stages: the welting of the soles to the upper bodies and the polishing of the completed shoes, and then the making of the shoe trees.
Finally, the call came that my shoes were ready. I rushed – or as close to rushed as my ageing frame would allow – to Bond Street and eased my feet into the gleaming burgundy leather. Had the wait been worthwhile? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. We all know that the judgement of any male in our Western culture can be done by a glance – at his shoes. My new shoes will proclaim to the onlooker that the wearer cares about his appearance, that he demands the very best and that he strives to achieve impeccable taste. To these proclamations I gladly assent.
Good dress can sometimes require a degree of discomfort. Not in this case. Indeed, so snug and light are these shoes that it is easy to imagine that one is shoe-less – and there can be no better praise for the fitting than that.
Now, it will come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that such shoes cost a lot of money. £2,500 a pair, in fact. Yet this is really astonishingly good value. Look at it this way. Shoes need time to recover after wearing. Suppose, therefore, that you invest in seven pairs – one for each day of the week. With proper care and maintenance, these should last for twenty years – for Cleverley shoes are famously hard-wearing. This means that your feet can be shod in the best manner possible for a trifling £2 a day. I have thought long and hard, but I can come up with nothing in the sartorial realm which would yield so much pleasure and so much satisfaction for so modest an outlay.
So I will add to my opening statement. The firm of George Cleverley & Co makes the finest shoes in the world – and they are a bargain.