I don’t often visit Harrods. I used to a great deal when I lived, briefly, in South Kensington. Now that I am in Westminster, it isn’t as convenient a jaunt; I wander through St James’s Park, up Constitution Hill and down Knightsbridge from Hyde Park Corner. It’s a pleasant but rather lengthy expedition and the great store, beautiful as it may be, is so chock full of daytrippers and tourists that local Londoners have ruled it ‘off limits.’
A recent trip to the V&A museum placed me ‘in the area’ and I wandered over to have a look at the new collection in the menswear department of the store. Harrods are sensible and know that menfolk do not have the patience to traverse the escalators, bulging with bands of non-shoppers, and winding stairs in order to browse through a few £100 ties. They have located the entire menswear collection on the ground and lower ground floors, conveniently placed near to the cosmetic and perfume departments, should the cloud of blusher and the stench of patchouli prove too much for visiting gentlemen.
The footwear selection has always interested me. For high-end ready-to-wear shoes, it is fairly comprehensive – Edward Green, Crockett & Jones, Ferragamo, Stemar (including the legendarily expensive Stefano & Mario collection), Church’s, Lobb, Trickers and Tod’s. Tom Ford shoes are also available, as are fashion brands such as Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana et al. No surprises here, as Harrods has long changed from being the Edwardian store of ‘All Things for All People, Everywhere’ to ‘A Lot of Expensive Things for a Few People here in London.’
Its status as a tourist trap means that the products are all showcase products – with showcase prices. Men’s shoes are no exception. Though appreciation of beauty is democratic, Harrods would have you believe that purchasing beauty is another matter entirely; for an average income earner, all of the shoes are big ticket purchases.
All, that is, except for Magnanni. A new arrival to Harrods, five or six pairs were displayed, looking deceptively expensive (burnished leather, gorgeous shapes), and yet costing (at full price) between £180 and £210. My imagination immediately leapt to the next sale, when many Harrods wares can be had for half price. In my opinion, £100 for a good pair of shoes is an absolute bargain and, unlike some of the other sale items in Harrods, the bargain would be in the purchase of design and quality rather than the intangibility of the brand name.
Distinct from the predictable Italian and English shoemakers, Magnanni is actually Spanish and has been “crafting” footwear for the better part of half a century. The Spanish know design very well and have borrowed some of the best elements from the older schools of shoemaking to construct their interesting and very attractive shoes. Aesthetically, some of them reminded me of the excellent Jones ‘One Collection’ which, sadly, does not seem to have survived, and they are comparatively priced. Many models were burnished, which I find gives a shoe an antiqued character, and the shape was slim and flattering – they seem to have used a last from the era of Cary Grant.
Magnanni shoes are made using the ‘Bologna Construction’ method. This method is a ‘tubular construction’ since the leather forming the upper goes all the way around the shoe, then sewn into a ‘tube.’ The upper part of this leather is lined with normal lining leather and the lower part of this leather, where the foot rests in the shoe, is lined with a soft leather insole which is less stiff and substantial than the kind of insole that you would find in Goodyear welted shoe. This soft insole gives Bologna Constructed shoes their famous flexibility, and as a result they are extraordinarily comfortable. However, whilst the method provides comfort, durability is often questioned and they are not considered to be as supportive as the Goodyear model. However, some consider this to be an expected and palatable trade-off for such an attractive and economically sensible shoe.