Continuing the shoe theme of recent posts, above are my Gaziano & Girling bespoke adelaides after repatination from Thomas at the Savile Row store. (Adelaide refers to the U-shaped section around the laces. The G&G model is the St James II.)
The colour was meant to be brown originally (vintage oak), but was made up in tan (vintage cedar) by mistake – you can see the original post on the shoes here.
Mistakes happen, and it gave me an opportunity to try out the patination service on a pair of G&G shoes. The results are great, creating a pair of shoes that will be incredibly versatile – applicable for everything from smart chinos to navy suits.
There is quite a lot of variation in the colour, with the toe cap and heel almost black in colour, and significant darkening along the lines of broguing. I hadn’t anticipated that, asking for merely a copy of the G&G vintage-oak colour. However, it is both difficult to get that same effect through patination, and a shame. Difficult because the painting will never replicate the uniform finish of a dyed skin, with some burnishing, and a shame because patination can offer so much more in terms of variation and personality.
So my lesson for those considering a patinated finish is to expect it to be significantly different from a normal shoe finish – it will always look a little more ‘European’, a little flashier. But also that the patina will soften over time (my adelaides already have) with new layers of polish. If I continue to polish these with mid-brown polish, rather than black, the edges of the black areas will fade, and chips or scuffs will also take the brown colour. There’s still a lot you can control.
Tailors have lower margins than other retailers. Customers of bespoke accept that, and appreciate it. But how much lower are they?
In order to answer that question as much as I could, I got four London tailors – two on Savile Row, one off Savile Row and one in the City – to give me their costs anonymously. By comparing that to the retail price, we were able to come up with a basic production cost, as a percentage.
I focused on the cost of production because it is the most important, transparent and – crucially – consistent aspect. With tailoring, it is simply the total of cloth, trimmings, coat maker, trouser maker and cutter. This does vary between tailors, and certainly varies between countries, but it can be sensibly examined.
The full costs of a suit vary much more. Rent, most notably, from zero to three floors on Savile Row. Plus sales staff, travel, marketing, insurance, administration and so on.
So what is this production cost of a suit? For a house on or around Savile Row it breaks down as (on average):
Coat making: £700-£800
- This is just the cost of the labour, but includes making, finishing and pressing, which might be done by three different people
- This is an average of houses, coat makers they use, and difficulties of job
Trouser making: £220-£260
- For simplicity, we get it to a two-piece suit
- This can go up very fast, but we looked at fairly standard suiting bunches
- This is canvas, lining, silk thread, horn buttons etc
- This is the hardest to calculate, as it is based on annual salaries, divided by the number of suits cut (and fitted, re-cut and so on)
- A cutter that is seeing customers might be earning £30k-£40k. An experienced cutter perhaps 40k-50k; a bigger name something over £60k. But then that has to be averaged with the under-cutter, or anyone re-cutting for fittings
- One of those people might be responsible for, on average, 180 to 300 suits a year. There’s a lot of variation here. The figure above is an average wage divided by an average volume
- We also reduced the number slightly to account for the time spent by a cutter selling rather than just ‘making’ the suit
So the total is £1420 to £1710, average £1565. If an average Savile Row suit costs £4800, then the production cost is 33% of the retail price you pay.
Compare that to the average production cost in retail, which is 13% to 20%, and you can see the basic value of bespoke tailoring. (Numbers based on three different retail sources). A lot more of your money – twice as much in fact – goes into making the goods than with most things you buy elsewhere.
Interestingly, I also asked some City tailors about similar numbers, and their costs were lower as compound result of lower salaries, bulk deals on cloth, and particularly cheaper making. But as a percentage their production costs were also 30%-80% higher than Savile Row tailors. A precarious business to be in.
All the numbers above obviously contain potential for variation. You can see that even in the final cost, which varies by 20%. I also only focused on Savile Row, and only on the UK. But there is actually more transparency in bespoke tailoring than many other businesses, given the known costs of cloth and coat/trouser-makers. So we can get a better idea than in most industries.
Photo: Andy Barnham
A reader recently asked for my advice on bespoke shoemakers, making me realise I hadn’t done an equivalent to ‘The tailors I have known’ for shoes. This is the first part of the response to his question, summarising experiences so far and linking to details in old posts.
I have had two pairs of bespoke shoes from Cleverley – brown cap-toes and black imitation brogues (left). I covered the process of making the first pair in detail, over 13 posts, so there is no lack of detail on them.
Surprisingly, Cleverley might be the most distinct shoemaker on this list, as their standard shoe is lighter in construction than anyone else. This makes them comfortable slightly quicker in the morning, but less comfortable s towards the end of the day, in my experience. If Cleverley lacks anything, it is around finishing, as they don’t do burnishing or patina work.
Foster & Son
I am in the middle of the process of having my first bespoke shoes with Foster’s. I like Emma, Jon and the team, but can’t reflect much on the quality thus far, except that the measuring and last-making process was very thorough.
I will report back and fill in this profile once the shoes are complete, so the post acts as an up-to-date record.
I have had two pairs of bespoke from Tony, Dean, Daniel, Thomas and Co – a seamless slip-on in hatchgrain leather, and an oxford Adelaide (pictured left). The latter were made in the wrong colour originally, and have since been patinated by Thomas (pics coming soon).
The Adelaide shoes from G&G are my best-fitting pair of bespoke shoes. Daniel made a new last after the slip-ons, and the fit is superb. Great look, style and finish – with the recent addition of patina a welcome string to their bow. (All three are rather different from Cleverley, which is one reason I carry on using both.)
I am having a pair of tan Chelsea boots made by Tim, with the measuring and pattern-making being done by Tony Botterill. Not much to report on so far, except that the value (£1950 for the first pair, £900 thereafter) is very good.
Antonio pio Mele
Antonio is making me a pair of dark-brown oxfords, and we had one fitting in Milan back in the summer. The first fitting wasn’t great, but I do like many of his final products so fingers crossed.
I am rather emotional about my Bemers, given they were ordered from Stefano before he passed away. I finally collected them in July this year – tan oxfords with a lengthened cap toe.
The fit that Masako achieved was very good – better than any other first pair of bespoke – although there are still obvious places they could be improved, such as the in-step. The make is absolutely superb, with a beautiful waist. If Bemer shoes lack anything, it is again in finish (no burnish or patina) and perhaps style. Stefano’s lasts are great, but the soles tend to be a little thick and the house styles won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Norman is one of my favourite people in the world – a great character and a great craftsman. He is in the middle of making me a pair of riding-inspired boots. The height is undecided, as is the position of the straps, but I’m hugely enjoying the creative process with him. It’s all about channelling his eccentricity into little small areas, such as the shape of the strap and little points of decoration.
I’m not a particular fan of the Santoni style of shoe, but as with many things this commission was a case of personality over preconception. I like the Santoni factory, people and set-up, and we’re making a simple brown shoe through the Harrod’s concession. Post on that process coming in a week or so.
There are many other shoemakers I would like to try, though not English ones interestingly (Lobb St James’s has never attracted me, for the square-waisted style, the price, and arrogance experienced on one or two occasions). On that list are Corthay, Lobb Paris and Hidetaka Fukaya, among others.
(Bobby, let me know if this starts to answer your question…)
Images: Luke Carby
A few months ago, I got to know Tim Little – the owner of the Grenson factory in Northampton and of his own eponymous shoe brand (pictured above, on the left). Not only has Tim been a modernising influence in Northampton ever since he took over Grenson, but the range of shoes he now offers covers pretty much every potential customer, from hand-made bespoke to Indian-made RTW.
Tim is open and honest about every part of this offering, but it can still be hard to get your head round it all. As the first part of a few posts on Tim (and particularly his bespoke), I therefore thought it would be good to start by explaining the full range – how it’s made, where it’s made, and what it offers.
First off, Grenson v Tim Little.
Both offer bespoke to some extent, and different types of RTW, but the biggest difference is the style. “At Tim Little the customers tend to be a little older and more formal. The standard last is chiselled and we make far more black shoes. Grenson, on the other hand, is known for tan brogues, with chunky soles. There are many other styles, of course, but that’s the overall aesthetic – more casual shoes for younger guys,” says Tim. (Albert, £375, below)
Second, the two bespoke offerings.
Tim Little offers full bespoke. Measurements are taken by Tony Botterill (below), a mainstay of Northampton shoemaking and a patternmaker by trade. He works with Springline to have a bespoke last made – explaining the measurements in person and checking it afterwards, before making the patterns himself and then sending it all to an outworker (who also does bespoke for some of the London houses). It is all handsewn.
Bespoke is £1950 for the first shoe, and £900 for every subsequent one. There is a direct and clear cost for making the last, which is then the customer’s to keep. The first shoe should take 12 weeks, others 8 weeks. Tim makes around 50 pairs a year.
You may well question how good the fit can be with the last being made externally. We’ll test that soon enough, with a pair of boots I’m having made.
Grenson, on the other hand, offers ‘factory bespoke’ (£1100). A last is made for the customer, again at Springline, and then made in the Grenson factory to the same standards as RTW shoes. So you get a factory shoe with something approaching bespoke fit. This is similar to what Tricker’s offers, for example.
Third, the RTW options.
Grenson shoes vary from £190 to £460, and divide into three categories: G: Zero, G:One and G:Two. The first two categories are entirely made in the Grenson factory, with the difference between them being materials and finishing. G:One has an open-channel sole, for example, while G:Zero is closed, and the latter also uses chestnut- or oak-tanned soles, lining leather that is the same quality as the upper, hand-painted waists and so on.
G:Two is made in India. The design, pattern-making and most leather sourcing is done at Grenson, and then it is sent to a Goodyear-welting factory in India. “Although the shoe is almost more handmade than in a Northampton factory, simply because they don’t have the machinery,” comments Tim. (Marcus, £190, below.)
The distinction between G:Two and the other G: brands is important to Tim. So G:One and G:Zero are made entirely in Northampton – ‘skin to box’, as the phrase goes. There are a few low-end brands that half-make a shoe in India, put the sole on here and then call it ‘Made in England’ (they are perfectly allowed to do so). I won’t say which those brands are without having it confirmed by them, but in any case they are not ones ever featured on this site.
“You can spot them fairly easily if you tour their factory – they will have almost no one doing any closing, where at a high-end producer that’s almost half the factory,” says Tim. “It’s also pretty easy to tell from the price of the shoes. The higher the price, the more that’s made in England.”
Grenson also has G:Lab, which is essentially made-to-order, which Tim Little also offers (both around 30% more than retail price for the model). All the Tim Little shoes are made at Grenson, except for things they can’t do, such as moccasins, which are made in Italy.
I think that’s it. Hopefully a useful guide to a big brand – and more on the bespoke side, which is great value for money, soon.
My latest column for How to Spend It is on the innovative Bram Frankel, creator of sock brand William Abraham. I continue to be impressed by Bram ever since I first helped launch the brand back in February. He is doing something truly original in menswear – and how many brands can you say that about?