BESPOKE COUNTRY SHOES
GEORGE CLEVERLEY & CO. LTD.
I have the most elegant country shoes ever made. That is a bold claim. Still, I am going to make it. As a city boy, I am only too well aware that Elegance and The Countryside are not always happy bedfellows – indeed, they can sometimes appear the worst of enemies. But even for those of us who regard a healthy adventure away from town as nothing more strenuous than a couple of hours with Country Life in the morning room of a friend’s hunting box, there is a need for footwear which is at home in the shires. Yet it must be exquisite, for the lowering of standards with regard to shoes is the first step on the road to sartorial perdition. I have little need of stout boots, for I have no intention of encountering a ploughed field. But I do require – as every gentleman surely must – shoes which will look right with a tweed suit from Savile Row. Hence my visit to the Royal Arcade, wherein are to be found the finest shoemakers in the world. I refer, of course, to George Cleverley & Company.
A reader recently wrote to me and used these words: “I think that Cleverley is one of the most wonderful companies in all London.” I concurred. In the premises at number thirteen is to be found workmanship which reminds us of times gone by. Do you recall when gentlemen opened doors for ladies, and ladies thanked them for the courtesy? Do you remember when fellows tucked their shirts into their trousers and did their best to conceal – rather than display – their undergarments? Can you bring to mind the days when children gave up their seats to adults on ‘buses and underground trains, and were instructed to do so by their parents? If you answer these questions in the affirmative, you will know the kind of world which still exists at Cleverley, and will rejoice at it. Younger readers will find its discovery just as delightful.
The eponymous Mr Cleverley (pictured, in black and white) was born in London in 1898 into a family of shoemakers. After service in the First World War, he joined Tuczek, the fashionable maker of shoes in Clifford Street, Mayfair. Here he stayed for 38 years, only setting up his own business – in Cork Street – in 1958. His skill attracted many discerning patrons. Humphrey Bogart, Rudolph Valentino, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Winston Churchill all entrusted their feet to Mr Cleverley’s shoes. He worked right up to his death, at the age of 93. Eventually, his pupils, John Carnera and George Glasgow (pictured, in colour, with Mr Glasgow on the right) became his successors. And worthy successors they are – as determined as their mentor to maintain the highest standards of British craftsmanship. (Despite his Italian ancestors – who include a world boxing champion – Mr Carnera is as English as it is possible to be, and has a copy of every edition since 1938 of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.)
Both these gentlemen know me well, and I have worn their shoes for a good many years. And, I am pleased to say, people do notice – in the most charming way. Recently, I was staying at a very grand hotel in Italy. The owner, a lady of impeccable taste and perfect manners, looked down and then spoke to me. “What beautiful shoes,” she said. “Were they made by Mr Cleverley? My father used to have his shoes made by Mr Cleverley.”
Mr Carnera dealt with the details required for making my shoes. He knew immediately that I was not after anything heavy – although, to be sure, such could have been constructed for me, had I so desired. He wrote at the top of his sheet, ‘Smart Country’. The country colours are, of course, brown and green, so these would be the colours for the leather used – medium green calf for the vamps and grained tan for the rest. The design would be the Balmoral full brogue with winged caps – the toes having that ‘suspicious hint of chisel’ so beloved of the Founder. As with all bespoke shoes from Cleverley, the leather for the uppers would be from the Freudenberg Company of Cologne and the soles would be made with oak-bark-tanned leather from Bakers’ thousand year-old tannery in Devon. The waists would be bevelled, the tapered heels would be 1⅛ inches high (with steel inserts, to ensure the correct sound when walking) and two rows of brads at each toe would help to prevent wear. The price would be £2,500.
New customers have their feet carefully measured and their own unique lasts made. My lasts were already in the Cleverley archive, so all I had to do now was to wait. And, for me, as always, this was the difficult part. Unfortunately, when the virtues were distributed, I must have been looking the other way when patience was being given out. Still, the months did eventually pass, and then the shoes were mine.
I hope you can see from the photographs just how wonderful these shoes are. It hardly needs to be said that the fit is exceptional. But so, too, is the lightness. The combination of the brown and the green is spectacularly successful. Indeed, I expect it to start a trend. Of course, if you yourself go off to the Royal Arcade, you might soon be able to dispute my opening statement. But, for the moment, I am confident in my claim: I have the most elegant country shoes ever made.
GEORGE CLEVERLEY & CO. LTD.
13 The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4SL, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 493 0443 or +44 (0)207 493 1058
Fax +44 (0)207 493 4991
Bespoke shoes from £2,100 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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