Style: Best of the Best Shoes: G.J. Cleverley

  • William Kissel

George Glasgow and John Carnera never worked for George Cleverley, the late venerable British bespoke shoemaker under whose signature they now produce men’s bespoke footwear. In fact, they met their mentor while working at another shoemaker, New & Lingwood. Cleverley was semi-retired at the time and building custom shoes in a corner of the shop for a handpicked group of gentlemen. From his vantage point, Cleverley observed and recognized the pair’s unique shoemaking talents. When Cleverley died in 1991, he left his name, his business, and the valuable wooden lasts of his best customers in Glasgow’s and Carnera’s capable hands.

Together, Glasgow and Carnera have maintained Cleverley’s reputation as the “Rolls-Royce of bespoke shoemaking” in London. What’s more, they have brought the business into the 21st century without compromising the artistry and craftsmanship of Cleverley’s original bespoke designs. That includes offering the finest calf leathers, buckskin, and suedes; ostrich, crocodile, and other exotics; and even some rarities such as a special Rus-sian reindeer hide recovered from a 200-year-old sunken ship. The duo produces everything from a classic cap-toed oxford to a Norwegian lace-up to a tasseled loafer, and they are the only bespoke shoemakers who can properly fashion the master’s distinctive chiseled square-toe construction—an elongated profile that even trendy Prada has imitated in its latest designs.

For most new clients, a pair of Cleverley shoes requires three fittings and half a year to produce from the time they are measured until the leather “sock” bearing the shoemaker’s name is inserted inside. “We get embarrassed telling clients that it will take six months to get a pair of shoes,” says Glasgow, whose firm employs six full-time workers. “But we can only produce 10 pairs a week, maximum.”

The long lead time is, naturally, an integral part of the bespoke shoe business. So, too, are the basics of custom shoemaking: accurate measuring, carpentry skills for last-making, knowledge of hides, strong hands for cutting, and excellent vision for precision sewing. To prevent shrinkage after construction and to ensure proper fit, Cleverley spends weeks wetting, molding, re-wetting, and drying the individual leather components.

“The art of a good handmade shoe lies in its lightness and springiness,” George Cleverly used to tell his two protégés. “The leather must be well worked, well hammered, so as to get the pores tight. And then everything depends on the last. If you don’t get it right, it’s a washout.”

While Cleverley understood the nuances of fine shoemaking, Carnera and Glasgow have raised the bar when it comes to design innovation. “Our customers want more refined, elegant shoes,” explains Carnera, who spends his days on the top floor of the company’s three-story shop at the Royal Arcade on Old Bond Street, hand-carving for each customer the beechwood lasts on which his oxfords, brogues, dress slippers, or loafers will be assembled.

G.J. Cleverley & Co. Ltd., +44.20.7493.0443, www.gjcleverley.com

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