A few weeks ago I received my final pair of Foster & Son bespoke shoes. The process has, unfortunately, been both good and bad.
First, the good. The fitting I had with John Spencer – Foster’s lastmaker – was impressive. The fit around the heel cup was spot on, which is particularly important to the fit of a shoe, and particularly required for me as I have a very slim heel and ankle.
As you can see in the images lower down, that bespoke fit on a slim heel is also beautiful – one of the most attractive aspects of a finished bespoke shoe.
When I received the final shoe, the fit was even better. Not only perfect in the heel but with exactly the right amount of room for my toes to move freely.
It was the best fit (in a first shoe) I have had from any of the bespoke shoemakers I’ve used (Cleverley, Santoni, Stefano Bemer, Norman Villalta, Tim Little, Antonio pio Mele, Gaziano & Girling).
The only thing that could have been improved was the arch of the foot, which had some excess leather. Interestingly, this is something most makers have struggled with, with the exception of Saint Crispin’s (review coming soon).
The last and toe shape was a little unusual – ‘banana shaped’ as some of the Italian makers call it. Essentially, the inside line of the shoe (A, above) was straighter and the outside line (B) more bent than any other last shape I’ve had made.
I have wide joints (where the toes meet the foot) so there is some width to get around. But other makers have angled the inside line more, to make both inside and outside more similar. Compare them to my first Cleverleys as an example.
It’s not something I feel strongly about, particularly as you only notice it when looking from the top, which no one but myself will do. But on balance I would have that changed.
You can see the effect of that sculpted waist in the image above, where the sole effectively disappears halfway along the shoe. The look is so much lighter.
My favourite area of bespoke making is the heel, however.
Look at the heel cup from the side (above). Not only does it follow a lovely, bespoke line around my heel and up into the ankle (C), but the heel stack of the shoe itself is pitched forward (D), continuing that line.
Some bespoke shoes don’t use a pitched heel anymore and I think it’s a real shame. Without being anywhere near as extreme as a Cuban heel, you can get a lovely angle that is much more in keeping with the curved line of the heel cup above it.
Of course, some RTW shoes have the same lines (eg Deco) and other bespoke makers (largely Japanese) are more extreme. But I find it striking how much I enjoy the way that shoe’s heel is shaped to mine. So many heels suddenly look very square and clunky.
Unfortunately, there were some significant problems with the finishing of the Foster’s shoes.
When I first received them, the height of the polish and variation in colour was beautiful. That’s the finish you can see in the images at the top of this post, and I mentioned how impressed I was on Instagram at the time.
But that polish quickly began to chip away. Within three days’ wear, large chips of the polish started to come off, making the colour patchy and horrible. (Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures at this stage.)
It turned out this was because the extreme colour effect had been attempted just with polish, rather than dye, and on aniline leather, which is much harder to add colour to than a crust leather.
Foster’s offered to redo the finish, and stripped back most of the colour. But that left black streaks around the welt and a pale patch on the toe where too much had been taken away.
In the end, I took the shoes to another patina-artist who was able to give them the colour you can see on all these other pictures. That wasn’t easy on aniline either, but I’m pleased we were able to rescue them.
City makers such as Foster’s, Lobb and Cleverley have never done much finishing of shoes. But they need to get it right when they do more.
If I had paid full price (I only paid for the cost of materials in this case) I would have been very unimpressed. In fact it might put the normal buyer off bespoke shoes entirely.
So a tale of two halves, but hopefully something Foster’s can correct given the fundamentals of a great bespoke service are all there.
Top images: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man, at Cifonelli in Paris