Artisan of the year 2019: Gaziano & Girling (or, the ideal artisanal journey)

Monday, March 18th 2019
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Artisan of the Year 2019: Gaziano & Girling

 

The Artisan of the Year category in our annual awards is an opportunity for me to personally recognise a bespoke maker, outside of the usual cycle of reviews and product launches.

It is, in effect, an expanded version of the ‘Reflections on bespoke’ series.

Last year the winner of the award was tailor Musella-Dembech, whose cotton suit I love so much. And this year it is shoemaker Gaziano & Girling.

The first and primary reason I picked G&G was the reflection that, looking back over all my bespoke shoe commissions, at least two of the pairs they have made me are among my absolute favourites.

The hatchgrain loafer that Tony Gaziano made me in 2012 might be my favourite of all time.

It fits well and is made well, of course, with a holding of the ankle that I can never get with ready-to-wear, and that shaping of the waist and heel that you usually only get with bespoke.

But two other points are subtler and probably more important.

The first is the technical achievement of making a shoe without a seam. Not a wholecut with a seam at the back, but one circle of leather - stretched at the ends, shrunken at the sides - with no seam at all.

Others can do this, of course, but I appreciate how much of a pain it is to do, and the fact that absolutely no one outside of a few shoe obsessives will realise that.

Second, the style has both worked well and is rather distinctive. The hatchgrain texture leads to natural variation in colour, both because of the places it is stretched and the way polish cracks on the more densely hatched areas.

And the style is elegant while remaining slightly casual. I can happily wear it with flannels and knitwear, but also sharp worsted trousers and a blazer.

This is the style sweet spot for me and - as in many areas - I think the importance of style is one often underrated by fans of bespoke in favour of tiny making or craft points.

Indeed, I think this is the biggest challenge for bespoke shoemakers going forward.

I don’t think men are going to start valuing craft, fit or personalisation any less. But they are going to dress more casually. (If only because that part of the equation is social.)

The extremely fine, dressy shoes offered by most bespoke shoemakers are going to have a fairly limited and shrinking market.

They need to also offer casual shoes like this that involve no less craftsmanship, but are likely to be worn with more than just a worsted business suit.

Of course, handwork generally makes more of a difference to dress shoes than flat-soled casual ones. But there are always points where that handwork can add value, like a hand-sewn split toe or double sole carved down to one sole at the waist.

The other two pairs of shoes Gaziano & Girling have made for me are not quite as versatile.

But the adelaide shoe (above) is still a fairly useful everyday brown oxford, and the fineness and chiselled nature of the loafer Daniel Wegan made (below) is balanced by its casual brown suede.

The second reason for picking G&G this year is I think their story deserves regular recognition - and it’s easy to forget it.

Tony Gaziano and Dean Girling started their company from a garage, first made bespoke shoes, then produced ready-to-wear in someone else’s factory, then opened their own factory, and then opened a shop on Savile Row.

It is, in many ways, the perfect trajectory for a craft-based classic-menswear company. It’s what we all want from the makers we love - and G&G have done it.

Along the way they’ve made shoes for many designer brands, and collaborated with others - which frankly both elevated the quality the brands offered and demonstrated what great value G&G is.

The arc of the G&G story probably reached its peak this year, when Prince Charles visited the factory in Kettering, as part of a tour recognising the old (Tricker’s) and the new in England's shoe heartland.

G&G’s recent launch of a ‘Classic’ range can also be seen as a stage in their development.

When G&G launched their ready-to-wear, it had to be something different to stand out in a crowded market.

The headline was bespoke-level materials and craftsmanship, but the last shapes were also different for an English maker - elongated and chiselled. Deco, which came a few years later, was even more extreme.

Today, Gaziano & Girling is a bigger brand with a shop that many tailors of the Row send their customers to. It makes sense that the offering is broader.

The Classic range does that, by using a more traditional last shape, a lower heel, and by taking out some of the more time-consuming bits of make, particularly around the waist.

The result is a shoe with the same quality materials (same uppers, same oak-bark soles) but in a design that I think will have a broader appeal. (It's also good value, at £580 + VAT.)

Pictured here is the Chadwick in polo suede, one of the five styles in the range that also includes a cap-toe, half brogue, full brogue and chukka boot.

The whole team at G&G richly deserve this award, and I hope highlighting their story reminds us how far they’ve come.

I should also say that the seamless loafer is now available as a ready-to-wear shoe from G&G, called the Crompton.

I feel very honoured Tony and Dean decided to name it after me, but of course I did nothing - the entire credit goes to Tony.

You can read more about Gaziano & Girling around PermanentStyle.com here:

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man except numbers 2, 5 and below, Luke Carby. And Prince Charles photos, Gaziano & Girling. 

Although the Crompton is named after me, I receive no commission or similar from its sale. Want to learn more about Permanent Style’s commercial relationships? Read here.

 

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JB

Those Chadwick loafers looks truly amazing , rich and lustrous suede. Very nice pairing with the green socks and taupe (stoffa?) trousers too. I’ll be saving that for the upcoming season.

Scott

Simon, those Chadwick loafers are spectacular indeed. Hopefully that model will be offered in other colors, both suede and leather, at some point.

Jamiemcp

Ive have been a fan for a while so whole hartedly agree. I brought my first pair from tyem when they were in the Basment sharing space with C&M.

When funds (and kids) allow i will be back for a bespoke pair.

Love their story

JamieMcP

First time I went i must have walked past about 4 times before i was sure i was in the right place. The sales guy was a French chap, he was outside having a smoke so I browsed whiost he finished it. Brought a pair of dark brown Kensingtons. It was basically MTO without the mark up.

Paul J

Love the reminiscences about the early days of G&G down in that C&M basement – with no sales person! I was knocked out by their style (classic but just that bit edgier and more interesting than most EG etc) and the possibility of MTM. Second time I visited Tony Gaziano was there – so friendly and helpful, and told me about their ambitions to develop the fledgling business. I ordered the Gable and must have been one of their very early orders. It’s still going strong (with a resole along the way) 12 years later. Prices have gone up a bit since those days! However, I’ve remained a customer ever since and consider their ‘shop floor’ service to be the best I’ve ever encountered, along with a couple of clothing stores such as Anglo Italian. When you’re paying serious cash, being treated more like a friend than just another customer makes such a difference. I’m so pleased to see the success and Royal recognition that Dean and Tony are now achieving.

Rabster

On a more general point how did you climb the ‘shoe ladder’?
I.e. was it a case of Clarke’s, Jones, Cheaney, C & J , Edward Green etc

Rabster

Fascinating !
There’s a longer blog in that reply.

Interesting how you were buying shoes from named brands which were manufactured by the likes of Cheaney , EG etc

Fred

Lodger also had their shoes made by Alfred Sargent.

Rik

What happened to Lodger? They had a nice store near the row and made a big thing of oxblood shoes and a machine that measured your feet. Then suddenly they were gone.

Carl

A worthy winner. I bought a couple of G&Gs when they were the latest hype. I especially like the Gable (cap-toe with a twist) and the Burnhamn (wholecut chelsea). I have since then bought more conservative makers (mostly EG and St Crispins). But the new classic line is very nice and I bought the derby brogue that is a very nice and beautiful shoes. I had a pair of C&J Pembroke which I never really liked (the tan brown was too light and it was not elegant at all). The G&G version of the derby brogue is much nicer.

R Abbott

Those brown suede shoes look especially beautiful.

Slightly off topic, but do you have a post on which brown shoes (light or dark brown) to wear depending on the outfit? Leaving aside considerations of formality (i.e., dark brown more formal than light brown), I sometimes have a hard time deciding which brown shoes to wear with which sports jacket. I remember reading something in the past here but it might be in one of the comments.

By the way, what do you think of oxblood colored shoes? I’ve mostly seen it with jeans, but the other day, I saw someone in my office wear it with charcoal colored trousers, and it seemed to work surprisingly well.

R Abbott

Thanks, that makes sense. I think the hyperlink is missing from your reply… (“see post here”)

Anonymous

Wrong, sorry.

Brown shoes don’t need to be darker than the trouser if suede.

Is that what you meant to say?

R Abbott

Sorry this is again off topic, but while we’re on the subject of color, do you think about alternative colors? For instance, many shoe companies are starting to sell men’s leather shoes in navy blue / dark navy. In theory, navy/slate/dark blue leather shoes would go well with grey flannel trousers, for many men, grey trousers and sports coat is almost a uniform. I see women wear navy colored leather shoes all the time, which suggests there’s nothing wrong with the color combination per se. But I rarely seem men wearing navy shoes, so it strikes me as a bit out there.

I guess it depends on the type of shoe? (E.g., it might be easier to get away with wearing navy suede loafers than navy blue wingtips or double monks, and easier to get away wearing navy wingtips/double monks than navy oxford cap toe shoes).

R Abbott

Thanks, that makes a lot of sense. Often, I have a sense that something doesn’t work but I’m not sure why. These posts and follow up comments are insightful!

As an aside, it might be useful to make comparisons with women’s wear. From what I can tell, some rules are objectively grounded (e.g. on color theory), while others are more of a matter of convention. E.g., women rarely wear brown leather pumps, while for men, brown is the most commonly used shoe color. I guess an explanation might be that for women, the shoes or purse can be the focal point of an outfit (e.g., black dress with bright red pumps) but that is rarely the case for men.

Scott

I too have a pair of navy Lobbs(lace ups) and never wear them! The model is fantastic, but the color is difficult to work with, at least for me. Any suggestions?

Scott

Thanks. I don’t see navy belts offered much, if at all. Would a black belt work reasonably well?

R Abbott

By the way, aside from aesthetic considerations and appreciation of fine workmanship, it would be interesting to have a post for what type of people would benefit most from bespoke shoes.

E.g., not sure where the problem lies, but I have a really hard time finding loafers that fit: if they fit in the front then the heel pops out as I walk. And if the heel fits then the shoes are inevitably too tight in the front. I’m not sure how common this problem is but it is pretty frustrating.

Martin

Have you tried stretching shoes that are just slightly tight in the front?

Anonymous

C&J addressed this very point with their 325 last.

On their Cavendish, they tightened the heel and called it a 327 last.

Gonzague

Surprised that you wore Berluti and Corthay (I still do, for the most classic ones); your taste in clothes must have been pretty different then.

Kev Fidler

I would have initially looked for a more rounded last in loafers but I could very well change my mind with that suede pair. I was surprised at G&G’s prices for RTW; they look to be halfway between the likes of Crockett & Jones and say, Edward Green. Would that middle position be reflected in the materials and production, Simon?

Kev Fidler

Thank you, Simon. Certainly worth considering that bit extra then.

Anonymous

Adore those loafers. Normally G&G is too pointy for me, a bit naff in my view (albeit it with incredible finish and make). The classic range likely to make me a buyer (even if lower level). Thanks as ever Si

John

Hi Simon,
Thank you for this post. G&G really deserve this recognition.
They also happen to be one of PS readership’s closest mainstay in the shoe industry. It’s absolutely stunning how they have contributed directly or indirectly to shaping our tastes – whether we are aware of it or not – with respect to shoes.
Equally startling is how they have kept moving alongside our own journey and sharing our fortunes, while upholding their commitment to craftsmanship.
John

Paul

Just wondering if you choose to purchase shoes for a specific maker based on the type of shoe / desired look? For example, would you, say, buy a pair of oxfords from G&G but boots from Edward Green and so on? If so, how do you make your choice? I’m thinking about a pair of top drawer monk straps from EG myself, but am also considering a MTO from G&G. Where I live, it isn’t possibly to physically try the shoes on.

Paul

Thanks for the reply Simon. If you don’t mind commenting, how do GG MTO compare to EG Top Drawer in terms of last design, leather, and overall construction? I assume you find them more similar than not, given that you are willing to purchase shoes from both companies.

VSF

Simon, would you put Lobb in this group concerning similarity of the quality of construction and materials?

Hristo

Very well deserved award!
I was very closed to commissioning a pair from them, but their bespoke prices kept increasing regularly.

R Abbott

By the way, would you consider doing a guide to shoe styles to go alongside your guide to suit styles? Thanks!

Anonymous

Simon
I am getting married in a few weeks and want to get a serious serious shine on the toe of my oxfords, something beyond my ability.
I have seen online someone who calls themselves the Jaunty Flaneur who works out of Cad and Dandy on the Row – will they do? Or anyone else you would recommend for top quality work in this area?

Anonymous

Thanks. If you know of anyone else in London that would be highly useful!!

SG

Off topic: but what fabric are those white trousers made of? Wool by any chance? They look great.

I’ve been searching all over for pure-white, pure wool and have had no luck. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

RUSS

I do hope HRH is sufficiently taken with their excellent product that he gives Tony and Dean a Royal Warrant. They deserve it (I was impressed with the care they take to get the last and fit right, including making a trial shoe – unlike some other more traditional bespoke makers who seemingly now rest on their laurels).

William Foster

Simon- the G&G Chadwicks in polo suede don’t have that same rich look when I look at the shoe on their website. Any reason to think they’re not the same?
Thanks!

Heiko

Hello Simon,
I really like these Gazziano & Girling Chadwick loafers and play with the thought to purchas a pair. Just some questions:
Would you say the loafers have a good fit, especially in the heel area? After wearing loafers for a while the leather often stretches and widens a bit and the foot starts to slip out of the shoe while walking. Would you say the construction of the Chadwick puts that risk to a minimum? And is the last working for a wider foot?
This polo suede is a beautiful colour. May I ask what kind of belt you wear with the Chadwicks – suede belt of the same colour?

Kind regards

Heiko

H

The classic line seems to have exactly what I’m willing to pay for – top notch materials on classically elegant British lasts. I had bespoke seconds from G&G early on (which I could never afford to have resoled – a harsh lesson in not shooting too high too soon) and the bespoke waist was nice, but it was the leather quality that really stood out to me. I must have polished them about twice as much as any other shoe I’ve ever owned – because doing so was a genuine pleasure. Now I’m looking for a Black cap-toe Oxford as my next shoe, and the “Churchill” seems to fit the bill, but there are just two hesitations preventing me from pulling the trigger.

1) How are they offering this shoe for so much less than Edward Green? I’d always felt EG was fairly priced, but Classic is almost 30% cheaper. I’ve heard the top makers buy the same hides as C&J do for Handgrade, but are just pickier with what they use – throwing more away. This is pure speculation – but I wonder whether classics uses leather that would otherwise get wasted: so are more like C&J handgrade quality leather with an EG level make. Still great value, but much easier to explain.

2) On style, do you think the punched cap is going to make the shoe much less versatile than if it were a plain cap-toe? The choice for me is probably between the Churchill and EG’s Chelsea (although I’m looking at Foster’s too) – and I like both – but I worry whether that tiny bit of brogueing could affect its suitability for the most formal occasions, like black tie. £270 feels a lot to pay to drop that one detail, but is worth paying if the alternative is getting the wrong shoe.

A.

(maybe it’s better to post here…)

Hi Simon,
I want to add another pair of loafers to my very small collection of shoes.
I already have burgundy tassels and dark brown suede penny.

What’s next? I’m not looking for something very dressy but something to wear with spezzato and sometimes with shirt and shorts.
I thought about Cavendish in polo suede by C&J or Chadwick like yours by G&G.
I tried the B&L Sagans with back luck because the 44 was large and the 43 was annoying mostly to my right foot .

Thank you in advance

Heiko

I just received a pair of the Chadwick model and love it! Also the make and design of the soles looks superb. I was wondering if adding a thin rubber sole would be a sacrilege. What are your thoughts on that – is the extra protection worth to be considered or does it destroy the shoes balance and design?

Juan Huertas

Hi Simon,

I was hoping you might enlighten me regarding the fit of the last on which the G&G Classic range is based.

I understand it is a slightly wider last than their traditional offerings. I have received conflicting advice from their staff regarding whether I should take the size and width I regularly wear on their traditional lasts. Some have said that I should size down, while others have said to use the same size, and yet another one said, rather alarmingly, that the wider last would likely make them unsuitable for me, given that I always wear their E fitting. Annoyingly, they cannot be tried in New York, and since G&G does not offer return shipping (they would do well taking a page from your book on that regard), I am hesitant to try my luck, given past experiences with customer-arranged returns outside of the US. I would much appreciate to learn your experience.

Best, Juan

Winot

Has Daniel Wegan left G&G?

Mike T

Hi Simon

I think those socks go very well with the colour of shoe. I am really struggling to find a decent shade of green so may i ask where yours came from

Cacofonix

Thanks to PS awakening my inner rake/volpe, I ventured into G&G last week and discovered their MTO offer. I have therefore ordered a Rothschild (8.5E) on a square deco in espresso calf, with green lining, as a very conservative first pair from them. I am plagued by doubts about my choice, will the square deco make the brogue look slender or effeminate, is the espresso calf a little too bland or will it develop character slowly. One definite question is should I have ordered metal toe tips? Any advice would be welcome.

Calvin

Hi Simon, thanks for the article. How would you describe the difference between a G&G MTO vs. that of the Japanese brands such as Yohei Fukuda. Thinking of purchasing a pair and would like to be informed of the difference and considerations. Thank you, Calvin

Anonymous

Hi Simon, what would you think of a pair of GG St. James adelaides on dark brown hatch grain (same leather as your loafers but darker color)? Would that be a versatile shoe? Would you wear it with a business suit? Thanks.

Vinay

Hi Simon. What are your thoughts on the G&G classic line? Given their price point, how do they compare to a similar model in C&J Handgrade or Edward Green? Thanks.

Vinay

Apologies Simon. I didn’t not review the comments in detail previously. That was my oversight.

To clarify your views, are you saying the G&G Classic is essentially on par with Edward Green but at a lower price (i.e. very good value)?

I am trying to essentially understand how you would rank G&G Classic, Edward Green and C&J Handgrade. It seems as though, from a price perspective, C&J and G&G Classic are much closer than say Edward Green, hence the confusion.

In terms of your shoe collection, it seems as though you have a lot more EG than G&G. Is there any particular reason for this?

Your thoughts are much appreciated.

Thanks.

Vinay

Thanks. I thought the G&G Classic and EG were similar, both slightly above C&J Handgrade.

I agree design is very important. The fact G&G is slimmer and more sculpted makes it a riskier purchase for me, as I live in Australia with no access to any of the G&G models to try on for fit, outside of a irregular trunk show here and there. Meanwhile, we have a retailer of C&J and EG which makes it easier to select a last and model that fits well. Just wish the EG RTW models had a slimmer more bevelled waist!

Interesting point about the level of breadth of the product range. G&G seem to focus on stylish dress shoes, which are limited for their RTW offering, whereas EG (and C&J) provide much more range in terms of heavier country boots, city rubber shoes and casual loafers. I never really thought about it but your comment does make sense. If you are going to have a number of shoes from one quality brand, it needs to have breadth and variety in their RTW model line up.

Thanks again for your advice.

Russ

Having been in both stores this morning (in what is still an alarmingly deserted West End) the G&G’s fit me undoubtedly better than the EG’s. There’s a similarity in quality, good service in both stores and both makes offer elegance, but perhaps shoes from G & G are a bit more edgy? Ultimately it depends on your feet and what they tell you.

Bill Foster

Hi Simon- do you wear taps on your shoes?
Thanks,
Bill