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Log for Francis Bown

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Bown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country ShoesBown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country ShoesThere are occasions in life when – for reasons of space, weight or inclination – one wishes to travel with only one pair of shoes. But should they be brown for the shires or black for Mayfair? Suppose one is going to wear them in both the country and in the town? The problem appears to be insuperable. Yet now it is not. For I, dear reader, after much hard thinking (aided by dishes of smoked salmon, for, as a boy, I was much impressed by the observation of Jeeves to Bertram Wooster that fish is good for the brain cells), have come up with the perfect answer: town and country shoes. These are not black and they are not brown. They are both black and brown. The combination sounds odd, and friends to whom I mentioned my idea did, indeed, look at me very oddly indeed. These shoes would therefore need to be exactly right in order to be successful. That meant, of course, that there was only one maker to whom I could turn. I would have to go to the best bespoke shoemakers in the world. I would have to go to George Cleverley & Co., of London W.1.

Bown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country ShoesOf course, George Cleverley himself (pictured, in black and white) is no longer with us, having passed to his eternal reward, full of honour and distinction, in 1991. But his noble legacy is brilliantly continued by his two pupils, George Glasgow and John Carnera (pictured). Mr Glasgow is a Londoner, born in Pimlico of Irish parents. Mr Carnera has family in Northern Italy, and is proud that his uncle, Primo Carnera, was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world in 1933 and 1934. Together, these gentlemen have ensured that the high standards set by the Great Man have been rigorously maintained. “Cleverley shoes,” we might say, “are still Cleverley shoes.” Only the finest materials are used – the leather for the uppers is from the Freudenberg Company near Cologne and that for the soles is oak-bark tanned at Bakers’ thousand year-old tannery in Devon. Much of the work – including the carving of the individual wooden lasts for each customer – is done on the premises.

Bown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country ShoesHaving had shoes made by Cleverley before, my wooden lasts reside upstairs in the last room at the Royal Arcade. This means that for my new shoes I could take for granted the perfect fit for which the firm is known around the world. But, of course, I needed to discuss the details.

Mr Glasgow is one of jolliest men you will meet in London. Whenever I see him, we fall into reminiscences about the grand hotels of America, for he travels widely in the United States (and Japan) to see Cleverley’s clients, and we have a good number of the ‘palace’ hotels in common. He has many an amusing tale to tell of his experiences. But, eventually, we always get down to the serious business. He knew immediately what I wanted and agreed with me that, in order to prevent the contrast between the black and brown leathers from being too harsh, the leather of the uppers should be ‘distressed’ mildly. This imitation of a slight fading would help to avoid any sense of a clash of colours, and would impart a sense of the ‘antique’ (so necessary when one is producing something new).

I decided upon a red lining. Red is my favourite colour, and I love to have it for the linings of my jackets, my waistcoats, my overcoats… and my shoes. It adds to the sense of occasion when one dresses. I commend it to you.

The design would be what I consider to be one of Cleverley’s best: the Adelaide semi-brogue. The body of each shoe would be brown (of a darkish shade) and the toe caps, the facings and the counters would be black. The toes would have that “hint of chisel” which Mr Cleverley made famous. The sole would be of ¼ inch leather with a close welt. This would ensure a measure of sturdiness (for the country) together with a light elegance (for the town). That elegance would be accentuated by bevelled waists (to produce the ‘fiddle back’ effect).

Bown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country ShoesBown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country ShoesBown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country Shoes

Two rows of brads would be nailed into the very front of the soles at the toe, to reduce wear, as the manner of my walking seems to cause particular wear at that point. The heels would be 1⅛ inches high, with quarter iron tips. This last feature ensures that I make the proper ‘clicking’ sound as I walk along. (I do so like to be reassured that I am still capable of locomotion.) As always, specially made wooden trees would be supplied to ensure that the shoes would keep their proper shape. (It is important to follow the rule that shoes should not be worn on consecutive days. Always allow shoes to ‘rest’ and regain their shape for at least one day after they are worn.)

The price for the shoes would be £3,600. This is now the standard price for Cleverley’s bespoke shoes. It is lower than some other makers, but I know that it still occasionally startles those who make do with lesser, off-the-peg footwear. But we are talking about the best shoes in the world. I therefore regard this price as very good value indeed. No-one who can afford Cleverley’s shoes will, as long as they retain their sanity, wear anything else.

There is only really one distressing part of the ‘Cleverley experience’. That is the waiting. The order having gone in, I had to be patient while the craftsmen gradually constructed their work of art – for, I need hardly say, there is always a queue of work to be done. There are, thank goodness, still enough persons of taste and discernment in this naughty world who love Cleverley’s shoes to ensure that those craftsmen are kept very busy. Still, the months rolled by as months tend to do, and eventually my enquiry was met with the words I wanted to hear: “Mr Bown, your shoes are ready.”

Bown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country ShoesBown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country ShoesBown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country Shoes

I hurried along and there they were: the incarnation of my brilliant idea. The photographs do not do the shoes justice, but allow me to direct you to those points which, even so, should be evident. The balance and poise are remarkable, both in the shape and in the colour. These are qualities for which the coachbuilders strove when they put their bespoke bodies onto Rolls-Royce chassis in the 1930s, and here they are in bespoke shoes made in the 21st Century. It goes without saying that the shoes are supremely comfortable. This, after all, is what one expects when those high levels of skilled workmanship for which George Cleverley & Co. is renowned are employed for one’s benefit.

But it is the fact that these shoes are so obviously ‘right’ which impresses most. They are right for the town and they are right for the country. These are shoes which will grace both the mansion flat and the Norfolk rectory, and go – as the pictures illustrate – equally well with both the chalk stripe and the tweed. Bespoke town and country shoes from Cleverley – a brilliant idea, brilliantly turned into reality. 

Bown's Bespoke - George Cleverley & Co, Bespoke Town & Country Shoes



13 The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4SL, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 493 0443 or 1058
Fax +44 (0)207 493 4991
Email: enquiries@gjcleverley.co.uk
Bespoke shoes, including trees, are from £3,600 a pair. All bespoke shoes now come in a splendid box (pictured) with a drawer, fitted with a shoe horn of real horn.
Visits are made to Japan and to cities in the United States. Ask for details.

Francis Bown 2004
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