I had a most educating morning one day last week.
A young friend of mine took me along to his father’s shoe shop in St James’. His father is no ordinary cobbler let me tell you. He is a Director of a very well known and established shoe retailer called Lobb. The people who work at Lobb make some of the finest footwear I have ever seen. Royal Warrants line the walls for all to see alongside letters of appreciation from some very well known names.
I was fascinated to see both shop and workshop, I was given almost an hour’s guide and instruction rich in all details of the process of shoe and boot making and the history of the shop and how it all came about.
I understand that it takes very skilled craftsmen 5 months to make one pair of shoes. They still do everything by hand in there from making the lasts to every tiny detail of the shoe making process – I did notice how lovely and quiet it was with hardly any background noise of machinery humming. Even the shoe laces are made from hemp and coated in beeswax. I found it so interesting due to my love of fine shoes and an admiration for everything that is well made. These days they train their people from scratch because this is (sadly) a dying profession and I understand there is nobody doing this sort of training.
Stepping into that wonderful shop and workshop is like walking back in time. The chairs in there are leather, and look as though they have accommodated many, the carpet is a thick and richly red colour blending with the mahogany cabinets displaying the old tools and mini versions of some shoes and there was one large display cabinet housing some riding boots and shoes, some of which are over 100 years old and still look new. They were really exquisite pieces of craftsmanship. I could have stayed there all day.
I was taken downstairs to observe some of the men at work and shown every step of the way in the making of a bespoke shoe. I have to say I even admired the shoe trees which are specially made for their owners, they are made from the most beautifully carved and varnished wood with fabulous hinges in the middle so that one is able to fold them in half. I have never seen anything like it. These shoes can last 40 years plus if they are given TLC..
There are shoes that have been ordered but never claimed. Boxes line the walls waiting for their owners to claim them for years. People die or just never turn up to collect their shoes.
I have made a decision, one day – fairly soon – I shall have all my shoes hand made – it has always been one of my dreams. They are all pieces of art. I know when that day comes I will feel as though I have finally arrived!