I was having a set of keys cut in a local cobbler yesterday and couldn’t take my eyes off the guy resoling shoes. He banged in the nails on the new shoe with abandon, filed off the edges of the leather while barely looking at it and then threw (yes, threw) the completed shoe onto the shelf above him.
It landed on a mound of similarly maltreated shoes, a few ladies’ heels sticking out from between a dozen black brogues. It looked like a mound of stricken corpses. You could almost hear the pain inflicted by his whining machinery.
These high-street cobblers barely deserve the name. (They certainly are nothing close to cordwainers – the old English term for makers of shoes.) But then what should you expect from someone who is equally adept at cutting keys, dry cleaning and resoling?
But there aren’t many other options. If you want a good pair of shoes resoling or reconstructing, your only choice is a high-street butcher or the original manufacturer. And the latter is likely to be prohibitively expensive – possibly involving the shipping of the shoes to France or Italy (it’s even worse for US readers, who might have to send them to Northampton as well).
This service is undoubtedly worth it if you want the shoes reconstructing, with new welts and linings etc. But it’s a little excessive just for a new sole.
I asked Steven Taffel of Leffot in New York for advice on this but without any luck. Apparently the problem is similar in the US – nothing in the middle ground.
Steven suggested I try Dean Girling (of Gaziano & Girling) to ask his advice. Dean’s best suggestion was to send them to his team, one of whom would be happy to reconstruct a shoe. This is useful and more local, but doesn’t really solve the problem.
“The problem is there just aren’t any high-quality cobblers out there any more,” said Dean. “My father still does a lot of that work but he’s in his sixties now and has more work than he can handle. It seems there isn’t the volume of retail demand for high-quality work.”
So this is a request for recommendations from the readership. There must be some good cobblers out there that I can feel confident giving my JM Westons to for a new heel. It doesn’t matter where you live, any recommendations would be gladly received.
[I also need to find somewhere that sells tongue pads that you stick to the bottom of the shoe’s tongue – it helps tighten the top of the shoe when the leather has expanded over time.]