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BeShoes 2015


The London's oldest bespoke shoemaker

by Redazione
January 9th, 2015

The history of your maison. When was it born? Which are the most significant steps you made in the evolution of the tecnique and in your production?

Foster & Son were established in 1840 and Henry Maxwell 1750, so have been trading continuously for a combined total of 438 years. Foster & Son has traded at 83 jermyn street for almost fifty years; Henry Maxwell was originally a very famous spur maker who turned to boot and shoemaking early in the C20 before joining our stable in 1999. Our bespoke shoemaking uses the same techniques and hand tools as in 1840, so everything is done by hand except that a special sewing machine allows us to ‘close’ or stitch the uppers together more uniformly. The key steps involved in making english bespoke shoes to our ‘west end’ standard have remained unchanged for the last 200 years, handed down from master shoemaker to apprentice. Evolution of technique involves staying true to our traditions, constantly learning and staying focussed on producing shoes that are consistent with our heritage. The shoemaking team are passionate about their craft and everyone associated with the company is very proud of them.

Heritage Factor. Is there any philosophy of “heritage” in your product? How does it influence your final project?

As London’s oldest bespoke shoemaker, we are keenly aware of the reputation we have for the impeccable quality and excellent fit of our shoes, and we aim to produce a shoe that delights the customer by reflecting his or her aesthetic, but also expressing the unique personality of a Foster shoe. In our case we strive for a refined and elegant look wherever we can, so that our customer feels relaxed and confident in our shoes. The toe shape is always crucial, and Foster & Son subtle dropping chisel toe is certainly a foster classic, much imitated over the years.

Artist of shoemaking: bespoke and ready-to-wear. What do they repre- sent in business market and in production?

Our true heritage is in bespoke shoemaking, which is one of the most ancient crafts known to mankind. These shoes take around 9 months to make and each pair is unique. Today our bespoke archive collection is on display at our shop at 83 jermyn street and we make it available to customers and friends as a source of design and craft inspiration. In 1966 we launched out first ready-to-wear range of Goodyear welted shoes, based on the bespoke aesthetic for which we are so well known. Our 2015 ready-to-wear range currently in development reinterprets some of our ready-to-wear and bespoke models, bringing them up to date whilst respecting their authentic provenance. In financial terms, our ready-to-wear shoes together with our wide range of high quality leather goods such as cases, wallets etc. outsell the bespoke product by about 2:1 so bespoke is still extremely important for us. Our ready-to-wear customers often aspire to have bespoke shoes made, and we can make unique designs of other leather goods as well.

Models and collections. Can you describe your production and your models? Which are your best sellers?

Our customers are often looking for a high quality classic shoe, and so the best-selling shoes are the traditional Cap Oxfords and punch caps or brogues, with our loafers for which we are so well known also selling strongly. Our bespoke customers frequently work with us on more exotic designs that reflect a wide range of personal choice. Styles come in and out of fashion and we are constantly updating our offering, but a top quality classic english shoe has ever been considered “unstylish” even if its design roots go back to the early 20th century. Current favourites span the spectrum of design with boots for country and town enjoying a vogue, and double monks and tassel loafers enjoying a strong following.

Making of: which is the difference of manufacturing between your “making of by request” and an authentic bespoke?

Our Made to order programme allows a ready-to-wear shoe to be produced in different leathers, colourways and width fittings. These shoes are usually Goodyear welted and all are made on a standard last. This is known as “Made-to-order” or “special order”. Some firms call them “semi-bespoke”, but we prefer our description because the true bespoke process is entirely different. In the bespoke process, an individual wooden last is made for each client to fit his (or her) foot perfectly with the toe shape and all other elements of the design specified by the customer. The shoe is then built around the last by hand. A trial fitting is usually held when the shoe is part made, after which the outer sole is stitched on by hand, the shoes polished and finished to the customer’s requirements.

After market. Do you have any care or recrafting service for the customers of your bespoke or ready-to-wear shoes?

We hope that a Foster shoe will give long and pleasurable service and it is very important that shoes of this quality are repaired on the original last, which we keep for many years. A cheap repair may save money in the short run, but afterwards it will no longer be a true foster shoe. We are also well known for restoring old briefcases and other high quality leather goods, many of which have acquired a beautiful patina over the years.

The future: any strategy?

Demand for fine english made shoes is buoyant and so we are feeling confident about our long term future as people rediscover the benefits of genuine high quality footwear. We are fortunate to have personal customers in over 80 countries and it is clear from our travels that there will be opportunities to build on those links to expand our offering, perhaps with high quality retail partners. Our footprint in the far east is increasing and we expect to see strong business growth from some of our other partnerships over the next year or two. The model line-up will, from next year, include our new Hollywood collection, based on the shoes we made for Charlie Chaplin, Paul Newman and Clark Gable. This is the core of our strategic approach, building on our heritage, something we will continue to do.

Can you describe the shoe you exhibit at “beShoes” and why did you decide to join this first edition in Florence?

We will be exhibiting vintage sample shoes together with the lasts of Charlie Chaplin, Paul Newman, Fred Astaire and Clark Gable, and will bring our new ready-to-wear Hollywood range of shoes for their unveiling. BeShoes is something we believe will rapidly become an established part of, and essential reading for, any shoe connoisseur’s life. Foster & Son/Henry Maxwell is delighted to be part of this from the word go.

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