While up in Northampton last week, I stopped in to see Gaziano & Girling’s new workshop. And Dean was kind enough to show me round. There aren’t many shoe makers in England that combine a bespoke and ready-made business in the way that G&G now does, both responding to client’s requests and designing new collections for wholesale and private-label work.
These two sides of the business inform each other in some interesting ways. For example, working with clients on their ideas for bespoke can create inspiration for a ready-made collection. And while some other brands get input from clients through special orders, it is not the same proportion or relationship as that gained by bespoke. You can see some of the slightly more daring G&G bespoke ideas here, from stingray through to laser designs. These are all waiting to go to Japan with Dean for a trunk show.
“Having a ready-made business also teaches you rigour,” comments Dean. “Manufacturing forces you to be disciplined and consistent. If a bespoke shoemaker makes one pair wrong, he can tweak it or redo it. You can’t do that with an order of 100 ready-made.”
Bespoke shoemakers without any manufacturing, on the other hand, have a slightly narrower perspective. For example, they often have to use merchants for sourcing leather. A business with bigger volume can afford to order its own leather in bulk, and deal with the tanneries directly.
“I think it also teaches you how much tolerance men have for the fit of their shoes,” says Dean. “Bespoke tends to focus quite narrowly on how a man’s shoes should fit, according to fixed ideas or a golden formula. But if you watch a man try on sizes, you realise how much personal preference plays a role. You remember there’s a person on the other end.
“Some men prefer very tight, others quite loose; the Japanese will nearly always go for a size longer and narrower than you’d think. There’s a difference between having the size that ‘fits’ and the size that a customer thinks looks good.”
And of course, bespoke shoes inform the quality and design of ready-made, as these pictures and Gaziano & Girling’s burgeoning reputation attest. Characteristic design features include the peaked toe-cap and aggressive waist treatment.
Finally, a quick tip from Dean on polishing: try mixing the water you use with a little surgical spirit, in around a 4:1 ratio. Brings out the shine just lovely.
Good luck to Dean and Tony in their new home.