Following a conversation earlier in the year with Chay Cooper, I commissioned the Alfred Sargent Handgrade shoes above. One of the reasons Handgrade has developed such a word-of-mouth following is the personalisation it offers, both as regards the design of the shoe and the reports on the process. So I reproduce some of the pictures Chay sent me of the shoes being bedlasted below. Personally, I love getting photos like these as well as those of the finished product. They make the waiting a little bit easier and make you feel connected to the shoes before they arrive. The only equivalent I know in suits is Pal Zileri, which has a computerised system linked to every tailor’s table in the Vicenza factory – they can tell you what stage the suit is at at any given moment.
Handgrade is entirely made to order, apart from a small stock at Leffot in New York. It offers three lasts: 53 (square), 48 (soft square) and 19 (almond shaped) in E, F and G fittings. There are five broad styles: Blake, Bristol, Browning, Carrol and Keats. However, given the level of personalisation available (everything from broguing to medallions to toe cap shape) these are really just jumping-off points. My pair below are the Blake style in a mid-brown suede on 19 last – my only point of personalisation was the leather counter instead of suede. I’d never seen this done before but I thought it a subtle little design detail, given that the heel is so often hidden by the trouser.
To see the kind of designs other Handgrade customers have requested, check out the Alfred Sargent blog. Don’t stop scrolling until you get to the burgundy slip-ons.
The Handgrade construction is good, as you’d expect for shoes costing over £600. A gorgeous fiddle-back waist very redolent of Gaziano & Girling, three rows of brads in the toe, initials in brads done very cleanly (other makers do this but sometimes sloppily) and a delicate transition from sole welt to heel.
The packaging is also lovely, not that that should matter really. Special wide, drawer box, including Saphir polish, shoe horn and cloth; solid wood shoe trees with ring pulls.
Personally I think the Blake design is a little busy for leather shoes, but works well in suede. But then, if you thought the same you could always request the toe cap to be replaced with a simple medallion.
For any questions contact Chay through the blog.