Once upon a time, a long, long time ago I became fascinated by shoes. Some memories are more vivid than others…
I am a proud Englishman forever inspired by my Father and Grandfather. Dad was a highly skilled Tradesman who enjoyed getting his hands dirty crafting intricate wooden spiral staircases, ornate cabinets and the grandest bespoke furniture. Equally he ‘scrubbed up’ well keen to uphold the standards set by his Father, my Grandfather. Fred was a senior engineer working for Rolls-Royce, building engines for British fighter planes in the 1940’s. My Grandfather would go to work in a jacket and tie, go out in a jacket and tie and would relax reading the Sunday newspapers at home in a tie! The bar was set high for me in terms of integrity, passion and commitment.
I clearly remember my Grandfather’s words of wisdom including “attention to detail, dear boy” and “you can always tell a man by his shoes and his wristwatch”. Some things just stick with you, after all it is often said we are a product of our environment.
A memory or two then: at 10 or 11 years of age I recall furtively leaving the house for school with my ‘Sunday best’ shoes smuggled away in my bag ready to change in to them, out of sight, at the end of the street.
Much better to wear my smartest black footwear than the robust, hard-wearing shoes bought at least a size too big to ‘grow in to’!
Swiftly on to aged 16, when a pair of loafers were sought for the look of the day. Funds were tight so a little creativity was required. A penny loafer without the tassel (how things change?) was the grail, though they were not on sale. A glorious pair of fringed loafers were ‘on offer’ and dutifully bought. How difficult could it be? Attacked of course with blunt kitchen scissors! Fringes snipped and off into the night I went, proudly striding out to the local hostelry keen to buy an underaged beer. Imagine my consternation at the slapping sensation of the docked flap now not long enough to be retained by the strap. That was a long and tortuous night! Nevertheless a solution was found, courtesy of Evo-Stick Glue, and the shoes were worn, literally, into the ground. Memories indeed!
I’ll save more tales for another day and fast forward to my first trip to the Row, Colmore Row in Birmingham, England. By this time I had bought two or three pairs of Crockett and Jones shoes from a local ‘high-end’ shop namely His and Hers. I clearly remember a snuff suede Chukka (lined) and a Derby shoe (dark grey!) yet wanted to add more and made my way to the hallowed ground of Crockett and Jones.
I do recall feeling somewhat intimidated approaching the shop, which was bedecked in green and gold livery with a stunning window display. It was all too easy to linger intently gazing at the goods whilst mustering the courage to enter! I had little to worry about though, as I was warmly welcomed by Jo, Linda and Mark.
Now, Mark (Retail Manager) has to take some responsibility as to the course of my shoe/boot exploits! Whilst I rarely needed any encouragement he, probably unwittingly, sowed a couple of extra seeds and the rest is history. I bought a pair of Dartmouth that day, I loved the last and it suited me. We talked about lasts, well I listened to be truthful, and a whole new chapter opened up for me. In demonstrating a last he took the time to delicately dust off a display shoe with his pocket square (from Turnbull & Asser) and replaced it with an effortless sweep, all whilst extolling the valuable resource that is Styleforum. Another seed sown…
I return to see the kind people of Colmore Row on many occasions. Purchases included suede Dartmouth, Hallam, Chelsea, amongst others including some for my wife and a pair of Barstow. Funnily enough, Mark wore a pair of these on that first visit. All of these, and more, I still own. Each are lovingly cared for when necessary by the Factory in Northampton, to which I am a regular visitor seeing old friends and new.
Little did I know those shiny black shoes smuggled out of the house as a boy would lead ultimately to my current shoe and boot collection, a quest best described as a journey with no end. Or being persuaded to wear an elasticated necktie as a youngster would pave the way to my never ending fascination with English and Italian tailoring, bespoke ties, shirts, pocket squares, wristwatches and of course socks. After all ‘attention to detail dear boy, attention to detail’!