Foster & Son bespoke shoes

  
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. 
  

Foster & Son bespoke shoes soles

  
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, 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). 
  

Foster & Son bespoke shoe last shape

  
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.
  

Foster & Son bespoke shoe2

  
Elsewhere the make of the shoe is lovely. Fine closing, a closely sculpted waist and neat welt. Nothing extreme in the waist like a G&G Deco or my Bemer bespoke, but still very elegant. 

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. 

  Foster & Son bespoke shoe heel cup

  
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. 

  
Foster & Son bespoke shoe heel
  
  
The other aspects of the heel you notice when you turn the shoe upside down – above you can see the sides curve inwards (E) to segue into the trim line of the waist. 

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. 
  

Foster & Son bespoke shoe london

  
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. 

   
Foster & Son bespoke shoe profile

  
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.
  

Foster & Son bespoke shoe trees

  
Top images: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man, at Cifonelli in Paris

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Anonymous

Simon,
My godfather used to say to me (and admittedly he was very old fashioned English): “if you want anything beautifully cut, go English, if you want anything beautifully finished, go Italian”. Your posts seem to be reaffirming this – e.g. your English shirts were well-cut on the body but the styles of collar never worked. Do please say if I’m missing something but the shoes appear to “reinforce”…
J

M

Hi S, the colour finishing point is a real shame, I am sorry to hear that.
If budget permits, would you still say that the go-to bespoke shoe maker for a first pair are G&G or Stefano Bemer?
Thanks much,
M

M

Yes, I understand that Cleverley shoes are typically ‘lighter’ whilst G&G’s construct is more like other Northampton manufacturers (i.e. ‘heavier’ and takes more time to soften but becomes very comfortable once it shapes around your foot after a few wears). But unless I misread something , it still sounds that the level of ‘finishing’ is better with G&G? Plus, it looks like they are one of the few English shoemakers who seem to be mastering perfectly coloring techniques… This also perhaps explains the price premium for G&G vs. Cleverley.
Keen to hear your thoughts.
Best,
M

pmarks@travelers.com

Simon,
Interesting review. I have been considering commissioning a bespoke pair of shoes from Foster’s for the last couple of months. Needless to say I will not be bothering now. I presume that the retail cost of such a pair of shoes would be in the order of £1400 ? Incidentally I notice that there seems to be some on line comments that Lobb have abandoned their ‘Parisian Museum’ colour for a brown ‘misty’ colour. Have you come across this ? Paul

pmarks@travelers.com

Wow. I am staggered. I clearly hadn’t done nearly enough research. For the shoes not to be perfect at that price beggars belief.

Reuven Lax

For St. Crispin modified last, is it best to wait and be fitted by them on one of their trunk shows? The folks at the Armoury claim they can do the fitting themselves. This is tempting, but also a bit scary if they don’t do a great job fitting the shoe.

M

S, would you happen to know if St Crispin is coming to London for a trunk show anytime soon? I have not seen a review of their made-to-measure and bespoke offering but I think you mentioned that you were writing a piece on them soon?
Thanks,
M

Anonymous

I’m considering the Cleverleys, a black wholecut oxford with a great finish. I’ll have to have that discussion with them although im questioning the arrangement… I mean whom would you prefer if we’re talking G&G and Cleverley?

Scott

For fantastic finishing and patina it’s hard to match Bontoni. This small group of Italian artisans do some incredible work.

M

Speaking of that, what is your take on Bontoni, Simon? How would you compare them to Santoni and also the top Northampton makers in terms of make (EG, G&G, Lobb)?
Thanks much,
M

Johnnydevore

You mentionned before that you wouldn’t suggest to have too many different tailors. Would you say that’s also true for shoemakers?

Kevin

Just recently had my first fitting with Andy Murphy who was visiting NYC. As an old man with narrow feet and falling arches, I was far more concerned with the fit than the finish. The heel cup was spot on and the support through the arches was most welcome. The “banana” around the left foot’s joint was slightly too tight and will result in excess wear if not adjusted. Frankly, I view the investment as prostheses for my feet and a far superior solution to continued the health of my feet, legs, and spine than a series of visits to a podiatrist.

Anonymous

Completely understand your points but I’d like to play opposing advocate if I may. Fosters et al are traditional English shoemakers and have a more standard finish as such. I question that the style of finish you requested was outside their normal process or oeuvre and, as such, did not work out. Another consideration, having followed the blog for many years, is that your sense of style; broad, international and informed as it is, has an expectation that is now more European rather than traditionally British. I agree re. G&G re. the finishing (I suspect that it is their in-house specialist that delivered the patination?) but for me they are too fashionably Italian in their shape (generally a very pointed toe area). So what we have, essentially, is a conflict of aesthetic traditions – particularly with regards to finishing. Your call for improvement may well be valid but the key is that the Italian finish (think dry, warm Italy) may not be in keeping with the British environment (wet, colder and in winter laiden with salt) ergo the single colour, deep polish (sans wax), Goodyear welt (vs. Blake) is about weather resistant function as well as style. On matters bespoke have you considered Nicholas Templeman – ex Lobb and now out on his own – his online site shows some lovely work.

Winot

Fosters were my first foray into bespoke footwear. My last was made by Terry Moore before he retired.

Unfortunately I had the opposite problem to you. The shoe looked wonderful but they didn’t manage to nail the fit. Also, there were a number of problems of communication and timing (due I think to the company going through some internal changes).

I still wear the shoes, but I never went back. Instead I went to Cleverleys and have been a happy customer ever since.

MD

Simon,

Thank you very much for this review. For me, your comments and photos explained very clearly in one place the elements that should distinguish bespoke shoes from good quality RTW. You may wish to file it on the site so that later readers realise its value goes far beyond a review of a maker they might never use.

Oliver Mueller

Hi Simon,

this is a bit off-topic but i could not find a recent tie-related blog entry so here it goes: Could you shed some light on “Viola Milano”? You mentioned some of their products, their stockists seem legit and their prices on par with Hermes and Drakes. However I cannot find anything on the history of the brand at all. So I would assume it’s a new operation? Do they contract other tie makers? do they have a workshop? Is the quality good? Unfortunately it seems I would have to order only without seeing the product first (no local stockists) so an assessment would be appreciated.

Thanks!

Andreas

Viola Milano actually invested in one of the great factories in the south of Italy quite recently so they at least owns part of their manufacture.

regarding the quality I think they are a lot better than in the beginning but I can’t really say if they are better or in line with Drake´s or Hermès. I think it´s mostly a question of personal preference.

Anonymous

I’m not sure the use of the word patina is appropriate in this context, as patina is something that develops over time and therefore cannot exist when something is new.
In French the word to describe what you refer to Simon as Northampton burnish is “cirage”, and for a highly polished finish it is “glacage”

Anonymous

Not really. Cirage is the build up of polish. Glacage is how you get the build up of polish to go very shiny.

facebook_Nathan Rehbock.10153412857680880

Hi Simon,

Very useful article. Are you able to please roughly list the various bespoke makers in your article from lowest to highest price? Also, if W&S is the best starting point for a bespoke suit (in terms of price/value ratio) who, in your opinion, is the equivalent for bespoke shoes?

Many thanks,

NJR

JL

Hi, Simon. I’ve been following your writing for a quite while, and really appreciate your efforts to promote/consolidate the value of great traditional artisans.

There is a question in my mind that always confuses me…I have a pair of Carmina oxfords, they start to “squeak” right after 2-3 hrs wearing. the noise sounds pretty much like the air is being pushed out from the shoes, sometimes it embarrass me while walking in the office. After some search, it seems happen quite commonly among the others. Some said it is caused by a bad fit, but that pair has fairly snug fit. Even tighter than my other Goodyear welted shoes, will now i haven’t found any workaround(some suggested to pour some foot powder in between insole and shoe…which sounds odd to me).

So i am wondering if you could share your thought on it, that would be much appreciated.

Tom

Simon,

any chance of ever getting any of your shoes done by one of the Warsaw / Polish shoemakers and doing a review here?

Regards,
Tom

ANM

Simon,

I am not sure this would be possible, but is there any ranking you might consider as to your experiences in bespoke outfitting?

Do you think a ‘star’ or number/points system is in order?

Is there any experience (coats, suiting, footware, etc.) that you would rate as being superior above all, or as close as one could expect in trying to satisfy that impossible to tag feeling of satisfaction?

Looking forward to your reply.

M

Hey, did you happen to be at Marinella today? 🙂 Was rushing between meetings to leave with them a tie for cleaning and I thought I might have seen you checking on some ties while I was leaving. Not sure but would have been a funny coincidence or you do have a twin somewhere out there!

M

Ha! I am sure we will have other occasions to meet up! I was in Paris today, not far from Rue Marbeuf, so I took advantage of that to pay a visit to your friend Lorenzo… What a lovely guy. I could not resist the temptation of commissioning a first suit with him in his famous 6×1 DB in a beautiful VBC navy fabric… Thanks again for being such a prolific source for craft lovers, Simon! M

lsp

Simon:

A lot of interesting information in this post. In my case, very timely as well, as I’ve been messing around with different last shapes.

So, you note that you would have preferred a more symmetrical toe shape — i.e. less curved to the inside. Is that for aesthetic reasons? In terms of fit, do you notice a difference in how these Fosters fit, vs. your more standard toe shapes? Certainly the banana shape may be a more ergonomically correct shape (less pinching and lateral dislocation of the big toe), but I would be interested in how they feel on your feet. Given the width of your forefoot, and particularly the outside joint, perhaps this much swing to the last was a bit of an unusual decision (although that would also depend on how long your various toes are and other factors). Certainly, relative to the Terry Moore lasts I’ve seen, this is a bit anomalous (Terry trained John, I believe). Did John have any comments for why he chose such a curved shape for your lasts?

A broader point which, I think, the London firms are still slow to recognize: at 3000 GBP per pair, they are selling a luxury good (I believe you reference this yourself). I don’t think, in terms of the experience or the process, that they understand that reality yet. Perhaps Tony Gaziano or Nicholas Templeman does, but the bigger firms do not seem to. To fail to do a fitter shoe, at this price point, seems inexplicable to me. It is quite apparent that there is excess leather in the waist, as you note. Maybe, in the old days, customers wouldn’t have noticed, or cared. Today, at these prices, I think they will have a different point of view.

When I got interested in bespoke shoes, say 12 years ago, I think the going price was around 1200 GBP. To have a 150% price increase, when inflation has been perhaps 40% (say 2.5% per annum, compounded), is putting these shoes in a whole ‘nother realm. Not to say it’s not justified or undertstandable (Baumol’s cost disease), but I think the firms need to rethink some of their business practices.

Andie Nicolas

Good of you to give an honest appraisal. Andie

Reuven Lax

The points on inflation are interesting. Overall inflation is an average measure based on cost increase of a prototypical basket of goods. However inflation in specific areas of the economy might always be higher or lower. If the specific costs associated with shoemaking have inflated faster (Simon mentioned Mayfair rent and leather), it’s not surprising that costs will rise faster than overall inflation. However it’s not a question of fault – the rise in prices relative to inflation has pushed these shoes much more firmly into the realm of luxury goods than maybe they used to be. The makers do need to recognize that they are in the luxury market and act accordingly.

Andrew Stanhope

Fosters made me a pair of bespoke shoes a few years back. They’ve sat in my wardrobe unworn ever since, I really should dig them out and wear them! I had a problem with the fit on one shoe and after various adjustments they remade the shoes for me. They never felt quite right and have lingered in the wardrobe ever since, which in itself is a crime. Will have to dig them out and hope that after a few wears the comfort will come. They look fantastic and the staff at Fosters were really good about my complaints. As Dr Johnson said – “vanity leads to folly”.

John

What kind of foot do you have then? Don’t you think an orthopedist would have done a better job?

ANDREW STANHOPE

Fair comment John. The problem was the instep on one shoe felt too pronounced. I’ve dug the shoes out and have worn them around the house with thinner socks and the fit feels good. Will have to take some pictures of them before the sole gets scratched. I went for the “Thomas” in oxblood. Simon is quite right with regards to the make as they really are top quality.

John

Hi Simon,
Presumably, you are already in the mood of the latest post on RTW, MTO and bespoke garments. But I happen to be stuck in the conversation over this one. And there are many reasons for that. For one, since I saw the first pic of these shoes on Instagram, I have been waiting for this review wondering what you would have to say.
But to be honest, I don’t think you have fully done justice to these shoes. The reason is fairly simple: Foster & Son (F&S) – arguably alongside with Lobb St James – are second to none of the whole shoemakers you have come to speak about on this site since its launching! Indeed, they are squarely above all!!! You have written about F&S as if you were writing about any shoemaker, yes as if they were crafting any kind of shoes for the market instead of “shoes with character”, as Will Boehlke once put it! And he is absolutely right! That is where – to me at least – you have missed the point in this review. Because F&S are not any shoemaker.
Perhaps, a bit history of British shoemaking was therefore necessary to begin with. And then, there are questions that automatically arise, such as their pecific place in the tradition of that craft in GB since the days when its leadership on the world stage was incontrovertible to anyone who really valued the cultural value of this craft. Yes, how do they relate to this tradition? How their way of crafting shoes today reflects their understanding of and their moorings to that tradition and the challenges it faces?
The shoes you have purchased are full of history, loaded with a specific tradition of a craft, which expectedly has willy nilly come to be tied to a specific understanding of elegance and a specific social world in sight, to which the “frimeur”, as the French would call it, doesn’t appear. This doesn’t mean that that world were void of the kind of folks who have their quirks and affectations. But those leanings remain constrained by the rules of “understated elegance” assumed within that specific tradition.
For sure time is changing, and the social world within which the shoe craft has hitherto evolved – be it in the UK or elsewhere – is changing too. Thus, your complaint about the finishing would be a signal to be heeded. But I doubt you meant F&S were become lousy at finishing. For I squarely can’t swallow that!
By the way, the art of coloring shoes that has taken hold first in France before spreading around the globe could be seen as an epiphenomenon of the shoe industry’s shaky state in that country.
I hope you will have an opportunity to write a second review up to the stakes of the cultural challenges related to the shoe craft in G.B.
John

John

The day I would be in the position to purchase a pair of bespoke shoes, I would go to F&S and just request a “Thomas”.

Michael

Bro, you haven’t even had a bespoke shoe experience and just because you’ve became fascinated with the history of bespoke you think you can tell Simon anything.
Look, he has had multiple bespoke shoe experiences through the years and subsiquently has gotten to talk with many of the best and most knowledgable shoemakers around the world. Not to mention he is dedicating a significant portion of his life to promoting and sheading light on these wonderful craftsman. So, if anyone could give an opinion it would be him.
And, as for Lobb and F&S being highly special and revered, I think anyone who isn’t souly caught up with the companies historical reputation would agree that they seem dated and boring relative to their competition. And, I don’t mean that in how they make their shoes because every legitament bespoke shoe company adheres to the traditional methods.
This is indicative of what happens in artisan trades like this. It take passion a a lot of effort to create each and every shoe on this level. And, it take special craftsmen to start a legacy as well as maintain it, but how long does that legacy last, and does it get better with time or lessen as the company changed hands.

Reuven Lax

Are there any pictures of those St. Crispins shoes you keep hinting at?

Zi Ye

Hello Simon,
May I ask what shoe care product do you use to maintain your shoes?
I have seem some people suggesting to use saddle soap for regular cleaning and some says the opposite.
Regarding to shoe cream and shoe wax, I am also confused about whether a neutral color or a slightly lighter than the shoe color should be preferred?
Regards,
Zi

Zi Ye

Thank you Simon, very prompt reply! Still have some follow up questions:

– When using shoe cream on a mid brown antique shoe, will matching the cream colour darken the shoe and dull the antique as there is normally a lot more pigment in cream than what it is in a polish?
– In your opinion, what colour of cream and polish will you use respectively on a mid brown antique shoe?

Regards,
Zi

Zi Ye

Hi Simon, sry for bothering you two days in a row. I recently bought a Edward Green Chelsea on the 82 last (quite new to dress shoes but decided to go for high quality ones after reading your blog and a few others’).

– Is Edward Green shoe tree lasted/semi-lasted?

– With the most common spring loaded shoe tree, as the spring applies a continuous pressure to stretch the shoe out, is it possible a snug fit shoe tree will loose the shoe in long term?

– I saw some post with pictures of fabulous lasted shoe trees which does not contain spring. They consist a hinge between the heel and the front piece. I can see those ones need to be shaped exactly the same as the last since there is no tolerance from the spring system, so a higher price is expected. But are these ones noticeably better than the premium springed ones (like the one from EG) especially when dealing with the desired stretch pressure (stretch the shoe to maintain the shape but not to stretch too much to loose the shoe)?

Thank you in advance.

Zi

Richard

Hi Simon,

As someone who is planning to invest in a poor of bespoke shoes this year, may I ask a couple of questions? Firstly, I always tend to find with Raw shoes that after a while my heel starts to move freely in the heal cup (presumably this is because it was never correctly sized in the first place and therefore stretches). Is this is problem you still encounter with bespoke shoes and if so, can it be rectified? Secondly, will all your vast wealth of experience. If you were to recommend one shoe maker for a traditional black, capped toed Oxford, who would it be?

Joel

Hi Simon

Any chance on a review of Berluti RTW shoes?

I definitely can’t afford bespoke, however, I can just afford their new Oxford Ultima and I read this particular model is constructed with a Goodyear welt. One of my “put-offs” for a Proud French company everything is made in Italy it seems in their RTW.would love your thoughts on quality, not style, as that’s dependent on each individual.

Kindest regards

Joel

Joel

Is it that they are just overpriced? I assumed the quality is still good if overpriced?

Anonymous

Any chance to disclose which patina artist you used, Simon?

Peter

Had the same colour/polish issue with Fosters in the mid 80’s. I find it strange that in over 30 years such a high profile company haven’t addressed the problem. I also found the shoes to be rather fragile which was a huge disappointment. Of all the high end shoe makers I have tried Lazslo Vass offer the best combination of value for money durability style and comfort and the finish on the inside of the shoe is exquisite but then language can be a problem.

H

Have you tried the Fosters ready to wear line made at their new factory yet or do you have any idea how it compares to the other top range RTW lines (Lobb, EG, G&G, Anthony Cleverley etc)? I know the range is currently very limited, but given that its the first new factory around Northampton for a while it would be great to have a post on it, even if the product turns out to be disappointing.

Anonymous

Simon I noticed you rarely get medallion on your oxford. Is it because it makes the shoes look a bit too casual?