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Log for Francis Bown

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George Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone Shoes“Why do you like Cleverley’s shoes so much, Mr Bown?” The speaker was John Carnera, and I was sitting in the upstairs work-room of the premises of G.J.Cleverley & Co. Ltd. I blinked and looked across at Mr Carnera. He was wearing his customary white coat and looked, for all the world, like a friendly consultant physician. But I was not in Harley Street: I was at number Thirteen, The Royal Arcade, Bond Street. I thought for a moment and then replied, “Because, Mr Carnera, they are wonderfully light, supremely elegant and truly ‘sharp’; and because I believe them to be the best shoes in the world.” These words – expressing, as they did, my honest and firm opinion – seemed to satisfy my interlocutor, so we proceed to discuss the details of my new shoes.

George Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone ShoesWhen I speak of Cleverley’s shoes, I refer, of course, to bespoke shoes. But it is worth recording that the firm also sells ready-to wear shoes of good quality. But there is now also a ‘semi-bespoke’ range, which is well worth the attention of those who do not wish to spend £3,600 for the full bespoke. These are not made to your own individual last, but they are made of the same materials, on lasts of refined shape, with narrow waists and welts and with tapered heels. They are also hand-lasted and hand-welted.

My own requirements were causing me some excitement. I had decided upon a pair of co-respondent shoes. These are the sort of shoes in two colours which became popular in the carefree 1920s. They were, even then, regarded as somewhat decadent, and were therefore identified with the sort of fast and rather louche fellow who would be cited as a co-respondent in a divorce case – hence the term: co-respondent shoes. You might suppose them somewhat risqué for a respectable chap like me, but life is short and I need a sartorial thrill from time to time.

George Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone ShoesIt did occur to me to wonder what the eponymous George Cleverley (pictured, in black and white) would have thought. Born in 1898 into a shoe-making family, he worked for Tuczek in Mayfair for 38 years, before starting his own business in 1958 and rapidly becoming famous for his graceful shoes with the chisel toe, with clients of the calibre of Rudolph Valentino, Humphrey Bogart, John Gielgud and Winston Churchill. Eventually his pupils, John Carnera and George Glasgow (pictured, with Mr Glasgow on the right), became his successors. Mr Cleverley worked right up to his departure from this life, aged 93, in 1991. He had two great interests: shoes and horse-racing. Indeed, it was one of Mr Carnera’s regular duties to take his boss off for the day to the racecourse at Newmarket. I hope that the great man, who clearly enjoyed the good things of life, would have permitted himself a smile at my desire for co-respondent shoes.

George Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone ShoesI knew that my shoes would be made of the finest materials – the leather for the uppers coming from the Freudenberg Company near Cologne, and that for the soles from Bakers’ thousand year-old tannery in Devon. I knew that the craftsmanship would be exemplary, for I have been wearing Cleverley shoes for years. And I knew that the fit would be perfect, for it would depend upon the last with my name upon it – made when I first went to Cleverley – which was hanging at that moment in the Last Room (pictured). But what of the details? 

George Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone ShoesThese formed the bulk of my conversation with Mr Carnera. Here are the results. The shoes would be brogues of white and brown – brown for the caps, the facings and the back counters. In former times the white would usually be buckskin (with a suede finish), which requires a good deal of upkeep. Nowadays, when servants are less plentiful, white calf is the usual choice, and seemed to me the sensible option. I looked at numerous shades of brown, eventually choosing the ‘fumed oak’. Eighteen different designs for the decorative perforation of the toe were offered to me. I went for number two, one of George Cleverley’s own creations. The other features would be those I always like in my shoes. The toes would, of course, be chiselled. The heels would be 1⅛ inches high, pitched (tapered) and with metal quarter-heels (for I love to hear the click as I walk along). The waist of each shoe would be bevelled and the welts would be close. The cost would be £3,600, including VAT.

After this consultation I went down to the ground floor shop and looked again at the pictures on the walls: the photographs of Mr Cleverley, the water-colours of John Carnera and George Glasgow and the ancient engravings of cricketers at the crease. I knew that this was a fine corner of real Britain. Then I had to return home and wait for a few months, until the happy call came to say my shoes were ready.

George Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone ShoesGeorge Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone ShoesGeorge Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone Shoes

I hope that the illustrations convey to you the wonderful nature of these shoes. To wear them is a tonic – for me, certainly, and I suspect also for those persons of taste and discernment who happen to pass me on the pavement. The fit, needless to say, is exactly right. But the look ... ah, the look. What can I say of that? I can only return to the reply I gave to Mr Carnera’s question. I love these shoes because they are wonderfully light, supremely elegant and truly ‘sharp’; and because I believe them to be the best shoes in the word.

George Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone ShoesGeorge Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone ShoesGeorge Cleverley & Co Ltd, Bespoke Two-Tone Shoes



13, The Royal Arcade,
28 Old Bond Street,
London W1S 4SL,
Telephone +44 (0)207 493 0443/1058
Fax +44 (0)207 493 4991
Email:  enquiries@gjcleverley.co.uk
Bespoke shoes: from £3,600 a pair, including VAT and including individually made shoe-trees
Visits are made to the United States (ask for details)

Francis Bown 2004
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