This article was originally written back in 2014. Back then I had tried seven bespoke shoemakers, and nothing in Japan. Seven years later, the number has more than doubled, and the spread is wider – also encompassing some semi-bespoke and some remote fittings.
This then is a summary of my experiences with different bespoke shoemakers, meant as a jumping-off point for those new to the area. Have a read of each summary, then use the links to find the articles with more information. Usually there are at least two – one background article and one specific review. Both will be helpful.
I have three pairs of bespoke shoes from Cleverley – brown cap-toes, black imitation brogues and Russian-reindeer monk straps (above). I covered the process of making the first pair in detail, over 13 posts, so there is no lack of detail on them.
I had a few issues with the fit of the first couple of pairs, specifically around the outside joints and my little toe. This was mitigated with stretching – something I should have gone in and asked about earlier. More on that in my update post on the brown pair here.
Surprisingly, Cleverley might be the most distinct shoemaker on this list, as their standard shoe is lighter in construction than anyone else. This means they are comfortable slightly quicker in the morning, but less comfortable towards the end of the day, in my experience. Cleverley also tends to do less burnishing or patina work.
Foster & Son
I had a pair of dark-brown oxfords made with Foster & Son, and they too were surprisingly unusual. The last shape was more curved – ‘banana’ shaped – than any other pair I’ve had, though this wasn’t that noticeable unless you looked at the profile from the top.
The fit was good, better than the Cleverley for a first pair. But there were issues with the finish, where the heavily patinatation began to quickly flake off. Still, this was quite easily dealt with and they remain a very good fit.
Nicholas Templeman is an ex-John Lobb shoemaker, and his approach is best thought of as grounded in that tradition, with a slightly wider appreciation of styles elsewhere.
He made me a pair of grained derbys with a beautiful chain stitch around the apron (above). The fit was very good, and comfortable immediately. I also liked the subtle styling, with no work lacking in the waist or heel, but less extreme than with other makers.
The facings needed to be tweaked a couple of times, to get them to line up better when laced on my foot. But Nicholas was very happy, indeed insistent, on correcting this as much as possible.
Gaziano & Girling
I have had three pairs of bespoke from Tony, Dean and co – a seamless slip-on in hatchgrain leather, an oxford adelaide (pictured above) and a suede slip-on (below). The adelaides were made in the wrong colour originally, and were subsequently patinated to the dark-brown you can see here.
Those shoes are among my best-fitting bespoke. It helped I think that the style is quite a standard G&G one – this was not starting from scratch on a new design. The seamless loafers were beautiful, and one of my favourite pairs from a style point of view. But the fit was trickier, both being new and being a loafer. More on the suede slip-ons below.
Daniel Wegan / Catella
These suede slip-ons were made while Daniel Wegan was at Gaziano & Girling, and they are Gaziano & Girling shoes. However, Daniel made a new last for these, as well as making and fitting them throughout. So now that Daniel is set up on his own, they do provide some experience of his service as well.
The loafers were probably the most beautiful in terms of the sole and heel work I’ve had, with a thin sculpted waist and pitched heel. The shape was also very elegant. The fit wasn’t the best, and we had a couple of tries at stretching them since to improve that. But part of that is probably down to having loafers as a first pair of bespoke.
The Tim Little brand (at Grenson) used to offer a little-discussed bespoke service, with Tim doing the consultation in his shop and the measuring and pattern-making being done by Tony Botterill. The key attraction was the price, which back in 2014 when I had my boots made, was £1950 for the first pair and £900 thereafter (once the last was done).
Tim was upfront from the beginning that the shoes would have none of the delicacies of top bespoke – the shaped waists, pitched heels and so on. But they would be hand-sewn on a bespoke last. And that delivered, in that the fit was good (after an initial fitting where I couldn’t get the boots on!).
However, the materials are still at a Grenson level, and I feel like this is a bit of a mismatch. I wouldn’t use the service again, preferring decent-fitting higher-quality RTW, or an adjusted last from the likes of Saint Crispin’s, if I wanted something cheaper.
These are among my favourite pairs of bespoke shoes, and yet they’re not strictly speaking bespoke, which I think speaks to how important design remains in bespoke shoemaking – as in tailoring.
I had wanted a pair of Yohei’s shoes for a long time, yet he wasn’t doing trunk shows in the UK. So when I visited Japan, I tried on the classic oxford he makes, and asked Yohei to adapt a RTW last as best he could. The result was good – not the best bespoke fit I’ve ever had, but still better than ready-to-wear, and exquisitely made.
Masaru Okuyama is a Japanese shoemaker, based in Hong Kong. He made me the dark-brown oxfords shown above (I know, a recurring style for me, but it is the one I wear the most by far). They were superbly made, and I think reflect at a broader level the excellence that Japanese shoemakers have brought to the industry – whether working in Hong Kong, Italy or England.
The fit was also very good. Not perfect, but then a first pair of bespoke usually isn’t – something that I think should put off most readers that are unsure about committing the time and money. The last was also a little long and there was a bit too much room in the vamp, both of which I would have changed had I commissioned a second pair.
I am rather emotional about my Stefano Bemer shoes, given I was measured and the first pair ordered from Stefano, before he passed away. I have since had three pairs in total: tan oxfords, tobacco-suede oxfords and hatchgrain oxfords (above).
The fit of the first pair was quite good, but we did have issues with the in-step and the way the elongated toe-cap bent the vamp. These were corrected on the second pair, which were a great fit. And the third demonstrated a way that bespoke can be more accessible – they were partly machine made, on my bespoke last, under the ‘Blue bespoke’ offering from Bemer.
Antonio pio Mele
Antonio is a shoemaker in Milan, who does a wide range of leather goods and styles of shoes, including trainers. He has a lovely atelier, and offered to make me a pair of oxfords when I visited him several years ago.
Unfortunately the fit of the shoes at the fitting was not that good, and we subsequently had a disagreement about covering them. As a result, I didn’t receive a final pair of shoes and can’t comment on the full process.
Savoia is another Milanese shoemaker, and an old, storied one. ‘Stivaleria’ means bootmaker, and the company was founded by the makers of boots for the Savoia, or Savoy, cavalry. They are also owned now by the famous Neapolitan tiemaker E.Marinella, which has helped bring them more attention.
The shoes that Savoia made me (above) were OK in the fit, but lacked something in the style. This wasn’t just the absence of bespoke touches like fine waists or heels. Lobb and others do that too. It was more the fact that the shoes looked like old-fashioned and perhaps even characterless. I do like rounder, wider shoes often (such as Aldens) but these weren’t to my personal taste from a style point of view.
Rivolta are also based in Milan. Their inclusion here should be heavily qualified by the fact that I had boots made by them 11 years ago, and I’m told their process has changed since then.
They used an electronic foot-scanning machine to make a last for me, which was then made into (beautifully crafted) suede boots. Unfortunately the scanning process didn’t work perfectly, and they didn’t fit. They were subsequently remade, and much improved, but still didn’t work out in the long term. Interestingly, there was a bit of a vogue for these machines back then, with old brand Lodger using one too. This seems to resurface now and again.
I would like to re-try Rivolta sometime, given this was quite a specific experience.
We’re now into semi-bespoke. Saint Crispin’s do offer a bespoke service, but it’s not one used that much. They are better known for a handmade shoe made on an adjusted last – so without multiple fittings – and being cheaper as a result.
I have had two pairs of shoes and two pairs of boots made, with the first being the wing-tips shown above. The make of the shoes has been fantastic, and I couldn’t recommend that more highly, given the price. However, there have been issues with the fit, with the two boots working out a lot better than the two pairs of shoes. The latter have both needed to be relasted, but still weren’t as good.
However if the fit can work for you, it’s the first thing I’d recommend to a reader looking to upgrade on RTW, but not sure about bespoke.
Petru & Claymoor
I put Petru & Claymoor here in the list, because they also make in Romania, like Saint Crispin’s, and are similar in style as well. The shoes above were made for me last year, during lockdown, and so measured and fitted remotely. They do offer full bespoke, but I include the shoes in more of a semi-bespoke section for that reason.
The shoes were very well made, although rather stiff. They also fitted well, which was impressive given the remote process. But that lack of direct communication probably affected the style, as they were made particularly wide in the joints, creating a wide shoe that I didn’t like so much the style of.
I’m not a particular fan of the Santoni style of shoe. But I was interested in trying out the service when it was offered – as part of work for a magazine – because it’s always interesting to see how bigger brands handle a bespoke type of service.
The shoes were nice, but I think more like an extension of the ready-to-wear, rather than the bespoke covered elsewhere in this piece. So although a new last was made, the fit around the arch and heel was not that precise. And that goes for the make too: the welt and sole were hand-sewn, but the look is still very much of a RTW Santoni shoe.
Norman is one of my favourite people in the world – a wonderful person and a great craftsman. We started a project to make a bespoke pair of boots years ago, after a long discussion about boot styles in Madrid.
We did get to a fitting stage, in waste leather, but we couldn’t agree on the style. Perhaps because I had in mind something more traditionally English, and not so much what Norman normally makes. From the start it had been an experiment Norman was trying out with me, rather than a commission by a customer, and not something he was charging for as a result. And in the end we decided to leave it, with the hope of doing something else more Norman, in the future.
Carreducker and Calzoleria Carlino
These last two are holding posts. I am in the process of making a pair of bespoke boots with James at Carreducker, but with two interesting variations. First, the entire process has been done remotely, and Carreducker have been more thorough with this than any other craftsman I’ve seen, from making instructional videos to adding more forms of measuring.
And second, the boots are being made in their ‘Bespoke Manufactured’ service, which is similar to the Blue bespoke from Stefano Bemer. The fitting and lastmaking are done as with bespoke, and the welt is hand-sewn, but the rest of the making is my machine, like a good Northampton shoe. This lowers the price and makes it easier to make more casual styles on a bespoke fit.
Lastly, I recently began the process of trying a bespoke pair of shoes with Calzoleria Carlino, the Italian maker based in Sassuolo, Modena. That too, at least at the start, is being done remotely.