We will start the Bespoke Shoe of The Month 2016 series with this classic pair of 3-Tie derby shoe made from Kudu hide. Kudu is a massive and elegant antelope from South Africa renewed for its long & spiral horns, which can grow as long as 72inches. There are two subspecies of Kudu: the greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) and the lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis), both have stripes and spots on the body with a chevron of white hair between the eyes.
Kudu hide is appreciated for its particular pattern. Each hides also feature multiple scars caused by the rustic bush habitat of these antelope types giving an even more unique charactere to its leather. We particularly like the use of the Kudu hide on this very classic 3-tie derby style bringing a casual twist to a rather formal shoe.
A svelte, decoratively laced moccasin, one of the most elegant models purveyed by Britain’s finest bespoke shoemaker, GJ Cleverley, is named the De Redé. The shoe is thus dubbed in honour of the subject we address herein — a gifted investor, decorator and host named Baron Alexis De Redé.
The most prolific, voracious consumer of Cleverleys’ wares ever, De Redé is said to have commissioned roughly 500 pairs from the shoemaker over the course of his life. “There was never really a moment when there wasn’t at least one pair being made for him in the shop,” Cleverleys chief George Glasgow once told me, as I admired one of several pairs of De Redé’s shoes that remain in the shoemaker’s possession. Of course, it isn’t merely De Redé’s passion for fine British footwear that wins his position here. This remarkable individual possessed myriad rakish qualities. Not least, extravagant, exquisite taste.
Born into a prosperous Swiss banking family, De Redé attended elite école Le Rosey, where his classmates included Prince Rainier of Monaco and the future Shah of Persia. His mother had died when he was aged nine, and hitting financial dire straits, his father committed suicide in 1939, leaving De Redé and his siblings in drastically reduced circumstances, with a relatively meager life insurance allowance to live on.
Seeking new opportunities, the dashingly handsome 18-year-old De Redé decamped for New York, where he caught the eye of a vastly wealthy Chilean guano tycoon, Arturo Lopez-Wilshaw. There began a relationship that would continue until Lopez’s death in 1962, De Redé residing in an unconventional, if terribly civilized ménage with the tycoon and his wife at a series of stunning properties across Europe, most notably a grand apartment at the Hotel Lambert on Ile St Louis, which De Redé transformed into a lavish, elegant venue for entertaining the Parisian haute monde at dinners and balls that remain the stuff of legend. (With the help of great friends Marie-Helene and Baron Guy de Rothschild, De Redé would eventually take over the Lambert in its entirety, and would be appointed Commandeur des Arts et Lettres in recognition of its restoration.)
Bequeathed half Lopez’s fortune, which he had already displayed a knack for managing, De Redé proved equally as astute an investor as he was a decorator and host, parlaying his inheritance into a sum that would keep him comfortably ensconced in the lap of luxury — and handsomely shod in Cleverley footwear — until his death in 2004.
When a man visits George Cleverley for a pair of custom-made shoes, the first step is the last. The measurements of his feet are taken, and two models are carved out of wood to form a sort of three-dimensional blueprint for his shoes. When the shoes are complete, these wooden models – known as lasts – are archived for future use in a room above the workshop in London’s Royal Arcade. This last room is a peculiar place; cramped, dark and heady with the scent of cedarwood and leather. Everywhere you look, wooden replicas of the feet of customers past and present dangle from the walls like strange fruit. Each pair is carefully labelled, and as you push deeper into the room you might bump into one of the brand’s illustrious roll-call of former clients.
The reputation of Mr George Cleverley as a shoemaker to the great and the good is well documented. Having learnt his craft at the renowned Mayfair shoemaker Tuczek of Clifford Street, Mr Cleverley opened his own business in 1958, working until his death in 1991. Many a star of stage and screen has passed through these doors over the past half a century, not to mention politicians and even royalty. If you were so inclined, you could probably find the footprints of many of the same men in the cement outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. But this room is no museum, and its contents are treated with little veneration. As Mr George Glasgow, 64, the managing director of George Cleverley puts it, “These are practical objects. They’re made to serve a purpose.” In reality, though, the practical purpose of many of these lasts expired a long time ago – often along with the customers themselves. Mr Glasgow admits that many of them even pre-date him, and he joined the company in the 1970s.
With space in central London at a premium, many of the older, disused lasts are currently being shipped out of the city. With no archival process to speak of, they face the likely prospect of slipping into obscurity or being lost altogether. According to Mr Glasgow, the lasts of men such as Sir Winston Churchill have already been placed in storage. With that in mind, we thought it might be an excellent time to have a look around and see what we could find. We’re not sentimental at MR PORTER; we just like a good story. As luck would have it, Mr Glasgow has a few of those up his sleeve.
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Medium grey suede pair of chukka boots made for a client in Los Angeles. The chukka boots has always been well appreciated by our clients as it offers a wide range of possibilities in terms of wear from smart attire to more casual look.
London’s historic pub The Punch Bowl is no longer owned by Madonna and Mr Guy Ritchie. Although Mr Ritchie gained the pub in the couple’s 2008 divorce, it was sold five years later and has now been completely refurbished. That work deliberately brought out all the beauty of the wooden beams, the rich paneling, and the history of this Grade II-listed building – a public house that has been at the centre of Mayfair life for almost 300 years.
Today, it provides an apt setting for the craftsmen that are gathered in its attic dining room. Their crafts have changed little over those same centuries. Their suits are still cut with shears from a paper pattern. Their bespoke shoes are still made on wooden lasts, chiselled into the shape of a customer’s foot. And their bespoke perfumes are created by hand mixing and sampling, each ingredient weighed in the imperial measurements of original, centuries-old recipes.
Each of the six has a passion for a traditional – but still, arguably, the best – method of dressing and adorning a man. And they have brought along items that demonstrate that tradition. Asked to bring something of sentimental value, each presents a practical piece rich in history. “We are mere custodians of our crafts,” comments bespoke tailor Mr Davide Taub. “We maintain our techniques and traditions, handing them down just like these items have been handed on to us.”
Mr Adam Law, 34
Soft-spoken and unassuming, Mr Adam Law has become a mainstay of George Cleverley in his 10 years with the company. In that time he has sized up the great and the good: Mr Michael Caine, Prince Charles and Mr David Beckham are all customers. Mr Law creates the individual lasts and cuts the patterns for the shoes that are made from scratch in the tiny workshop directly above Cleverley’s store in Mayfair’s Royal Arcade.
Did you always want to be a shoemaker?
No, after graduation my first job was at Rolls Royce, doing upholstery on the Phantom. I was stretching leather over foam and the different styles of seats. It was interesting initially but got a little repetitive, so I decided to go back to school and do a course at Cordwainer’s studying shoemaking – and do work experience at the same time. In the end I got a full-time job at Cleverley before the course finished.
Are there many similarities between cars and shoes?
A few. You’re working with leather, but there isn’t the tension or force required with upholstery that you have with shoes. And it’s all quite homogenous – you don’t have the challenge of fitting different shapes of foot to a pattern and leather pieces.
What personal item did you bring with you?
It’s the size stick that belonged to Mr George Cleverley, the founder of the firm. It was made in 1928. I use it every day in the shop to measure the length of customers’ feet.
How would you advise someone buying their first pair of bespoke shoes?
Get something simple and elegant. Sometimes too much choice is a bad thing. Ordering a classic shoe that is handmade will always look great because of what it is, rather than how fashionable it is.
Photography by Mr Alessandro Furchino
No matter the leather or the colour the De Rede bow tassel loafer always as a unique shoe only worn by the dapest and most confident gentlemen. Myself I particularly like when the lacing of the tasel is slightly contrasting with the rest of the shoe like on this pair where the lacing is made from a dark green calf to contrast with the green suede of the main body.
Another classic made by our bespoke workshop, our famous "Albert" style. Made from one single peice of leather, it is a very comfortable yet an elegant style. Cut from two exquisites alligator hides with a nubuck soft finish giving this usually rather obstentatious hide a much more understate look which is all what fine bespoke is about isn't it?
Many thanks to Milk Magazine & On Pedder for their lovely article on Cleverley CEO, Mr. George Glasgow Jr.