Happy New Year to all. I thought for my first contribution of 2011 I would share an interview I conducted back in November while in London. James Ducker, half of the dynamic duo that make ups Carréducker shoes, was kind enough to meet with me in his Cockpit Yard studio in Bloomsbury to talk bespoke footwear.
James ended up making shoes almost by accident. After university, James wanted to go to South America, but his mother luckily convinced him to try Spain first. While spending some time there teaching English, he discovered that a father of a student of his worked as a shoemaker, and he enrolled in a class in Barcelona. When the course was over, James kept making shoes as a hobby. Evidently he was no slouch, and upon returning to England was received into a coveted apprenticeship at John Lobb. This is where he met Deborah Carré, and the seeds for Carréducker were sown.
In 2004 the duo launched the mutually eponymous brand, diving head first into the London bespoke shoe scene. With names like Cleverley and Lobb down the road, the pair knew they would need to do something innovative and different if they wanted to make it. The craft of shoe-making is and old and traditional one, but Deborah and James wanted to respect this storied past while injecting it with a heavier dose of design and modernism. Wild bragging, contrast piping, and crazy colored skins are just a few of the options they offer, but really the only limits are the imagination.
The key to Carréducker’s success though seems to me to be the intimacy of the process. They make less than a hundred pairs of shoes a year, and when you order a pair, you know it will be James and Deborah doing most of the work themselves. When I asked James about expanding the business, he told me “I would never want to stop making. This is what I love. I love making shoes. I can’t imagine not doing it.” This connection between artisan and consumer is one of the most distinct facets of bespoke anything. “You have to respond to it, change it, and you’re involved in it,” James told me. “Bespoke, under whatever guise it takes, is more about buying into a process than a product,” and just as any house on Savile Row, “we insist on fittings, because it’s not really a bespoke product if it doesn’t fit you perfectly.” You can be sure that when your shoes are delivered, James and Deborah are almost sad to see them go.
After his time at Lobb, James spent some time teaching shoe-making at Cordwainer’s College and the London College of Fashion, and he and Deborah got the idea to start their very own Carréducker shoe course a number of years ago. Now they hold three courses a year, two in London and one in New York, teaching about eight students per session.
Image credit: gievesandhawkes.com
Carréducker’s latest endeavor is a partnership with Gieves & Hawkes at No.1 & 2 Savile Row. “We’re behind a glass partition in the shoe department, and you can just about see us from Vigo Street. I think we’re going to provide a bit of theatre because you can actually watch us making.” Unlike the tailors, who do most of their work in basements out of sight, you can actually walk right up to the glass pane and watch Deborah and James at work.
You can tell from the moment you meet him that James is someone passionate about what he does, and for me, this passion is one of the joys of real artisan-made goods. It’s not just about “buying into a process” as James said, but but also about buying into people. Carréducker have lots of new and exciting things coming up that I’m not allowed to tell you about quite yet, but keep an eye out. I think we’ll all be seeing a lot more of Deborah and James in 2011.
PS – Mr. Andrew Williams wrote a piece about some of Carréducker’s offerings last April, which you can still find here.