Foster & Son: An Ode To Archaic Bespoke Shoes
I am a firm believer in the thought that technology, albeit amazing, has made society as a whole, a lot lazier. We don’t have to work nearly as hard (or at all in the case of some production) to create the same things that our forefathers did. And in many industries, this change in quality of production is very obvious. Let’s take the shoe industry for example. In my opinion, the quality of production has taken the form of a giant U, when put onto a graph of where X represents the year in time (e.g. 1941,1942 etc.) and Y represents quality of production, although we have not actually reached the top of the right side of the U, more so that we have just passed the all-time low and are now working ourselves back up. That being, to me, shoes +80 years ago were made a lot better than they are today, with a whole lot less stuff to work with from materials to tools to comfortable working environments. This is not to say that shoes today are not well made, only that I believe that they were made better before. Attention to detail was higher, shortcut taking was less prevalent and probably the most important of all, is the fact that people were proud (very proud might I add) to actually be making the shoes, whether bespoke or in the factory. For many, these days, it’s just a job that pays the bills. Don’t get me wrong, there still are passionate people out there, and I have met them, some beyond passionate, but still, there is a difference to the way it used to be.
As you might be able to tell from the title to the pictures, the reason that I am on about this subject was due to my recent visit to Foster & Son, of which I was fortunate enough to be able to take some photographs of the amazing shoes that are presented in their archive of old bespoke shoes. It’s something that I have been wanting to do for awhile, for all of you that might not ever get the chance to come to London, but just have been too lazy (if I must tell the truth) to do so until last week. But having this opportunity gave me the chance to inspect bespoke shoes that were at least 50-80 years old (and maybe older), in order to see and appreciate the level of craftsmanship that went into them. While it might be hard to tell from the pictures, the things that set them apart are definitely not far and few between. The closing of the upper leather (stitching it together) was beautiful. Every line was damn near perfect. The stitching of the welt to the sole was superb. I think that you might find that these days, a standard procedure is 10-12 to the inch, where they commonly did 14-16 to the inch (if not more). It may be hard for you to fathom that, having never done it, but let me tell you that getting 16 stitches to the inch is very hard, as each hole created by the awl must be very close together, and done so without breaking the welt. But probably the most impressive thing to me, is the way in which the upper leather is connected to the welt. Usually you will find that there is a little gap here, but if you look closely it’s as if they are one piece, flowing from upper to welt without any space in between. To me, that’s simply amazing!
Another reason that I write this post, is that I feel that Foster & Son is tremendously underrated in the shoe industry, yet has amongst the richest history out of all of the makers to this day. From Henry Maxwell, to Peal & Co., to the legendary Terry Moore (lastmaker), Foster & Son has been associated with great names for over 50 years and remain to this day one of the oldest bespoke shoe firms still standing. And considering their history, with their shoemaker Mr. Foster having been killed by a bomb during World War II in 1940, I would say that it is quite impressive that they are still around. Not taking into account their rich history, they make beautiful shoes nonetheless, yet I feel as if one were to think about bespoke shoemakers, the Foster & Son name might not even get mentioned, for reasons unbeknownst to me. But tell me if you have ever seen a full brogue in suede that is nicer than the one above? I sure haven’t! And the illustrious saddle loafer that is making a nice come back…..this too I believe stems from the archives of one of those greats mentioned above. But aside from all of that, it’s not often that you are able to see shoes whose age might triple yours, and I figured that it would be lovely to share this with all of you that have never been to London. But I must say, that if you ever manage to get over here, seeing these in person is ten times (if not more) better than doing so on my blog…..
Happy Monday to all!
-Justin, “The Shoe Snob”