Receive the Permanent Style newsletter
PS email    About us    Contact us   

Emma (Lakin), at Foster & Son in London, is creating the pattern for my first pair of bespoke shoes with them – mid-brown Oxfords. 

Folding paper onto the last and marking it is the most popular method of doing this. One alternative, used in some shoe schools in the UK, is to cover the shoe in masking tape, draw the design on top, and then carefully cut the tape off. This is quite fiddly, however, and also has the problem of squashing that three-dimensional model into a two-dimensional shape. With paper it’s the opposite way round – taking a 2D plane and moulding it around the 3D last. 

The centre line has already been marked on the last – where the centre of the laces will be. This is a judgment call in itself, as it has to find a middle ground between the natural, straight line down the middle of the foot and the angle of the toes. 

The brown paper is folded down this centre line, and the top and bottom of the laces marked on. Then it is folded round to the heel, and folded at the heel line which has also been marked on earlier. 

The pattern is cut down, and refined, before marking on the laces and the top edge of the shoe. I particularly love the old, flexi-ruler that Emma uses to create a curve for that last step. As with many improvised tools, it was cheap and functional, but is now irreplaceable. They don’t make quite the same rulers any more. 

foster and son pattern making bespoke shoe

In the images above and below you can see later steps in the pattern-making process. Above, Emma is using a template to give a rough idea of the angle of the brogue line. This is used to create the pattern for the front of the shoe, which is being combined with the two back halves of the shoe, below. 

I am using this process of having my shoes made at Foster & Son to highlight areas not covered in my original series on shoemaking, at Cleverley. Next step in a couple of weeks. 

foster and son pattern making

Galsworthy bootmaker copy

I was recently sent this beautiful little story by John Galsworthy. Although written back in 1911, it has many echoes in the shoemaking of today: an industry everyone thinks is dying; the dignity of those dedicated to their craft; even the ‘gold-brown leather’ of Russian reindeer. 

“He was a little as if made from leather, with his yellow crinkly face…and his guttural and one-toned voice; for leather is a sardonic substance, and stiff and slow of purpose.”

You can read the whole story, short as it is, by enlarging the images above and below. 

Galsworthy copy

Galsworthy2 copy

by John Galsworthy3 copy





Qualityby John Galsworthy4 copy









Bruce Boyer is my style icon, my favourite writer and, I’m honoured to say, a reader. We recently had a conversation – following the coverage of Pitti on Permanent Style – about experimentation, classic dress and personal style.

In order to try and illustrate that conversation, I asked Bruce to comment on a few of my favourite photos of himself, in typical combinations. 

bruce boyer6

“It’s funny when I think about it, but I still experiment a bit with my clothes, albeit in small ways. My general style, I find, was formed by the time I was 15 – the great American novelist Willa Cather said that most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired by that age anyway – and I really haven’t deviated much from a conservative Anglo-American approach in all the intervening years. 

My feeling has always been that a man should get to know himself, set his style, and then work at perfecting it. My other feelings about this are that he shouldn’t have to sacrifice comfort to look well dressed and groomed, that simplicity is indeed a virtue (Diana Vreeland famously said that real style is refusal), mixing town and country clothes can be fun, and that a person should dress his age and have a concern for quality (which means I have a veneration for old clothes).

So my experiments take the form of small details: a two-button jacket instead of a three-button perhaps, a bow tie in place of a four-in-hand, a brightly colored scarf or pocket square, maybe a pair of pink socks or cordovan tassel slip-ons. I will probably never try cowboy boots, bowling shirts, tight black jeans, or a knit cap with a pom-pom. Although I shouldn’t say never.

Some people are very good at imagining spatial relationships in their minds (interior designers for example), or food tastes (all good chefs can do this). I just happen to be able to put together outfits in my mind. I don’t take any credit for this, it seems to be a natural ability. So I can be in bed at night and put together an outfit in my mind for the next day, get up in the morning and simply grab the various components from my closet and get dressed. But sometimes I lay out clothes on the bed the night before simply to try combinations I haven’t previously worn. Would this orange pocket square go with the brown herringbone jacket and grass green tie? Or the small check shirt with the chalk-striped suit? Do I dare?

And of course you learn from others. I’m not particularly adventurous, so I rely on getting new ideas from watching what others wear, and I find I’m particularly impressed by young guys who have high taste levels, I mean guys who have a respect for tradition but put things together in new ways. I’m bored to tears with the guys who are more into costume and following some ancient rules. I’ve seen all of that and it’s soul-smotheringly predictable.”

Outfit #1


“This cashmere balmacaan topcoat is almost old enough to go out at night by itself. A couple of years ago I had it shortened a bit. It’s fairly lightweight but warm, roomy and comfortable as an old bathrobe, and I love its’ slightly rough-looking finish and neutral but vaguely military olive drab color. I think a coat like this needs a bit of accompanying color, so I tend to wear it with scarves that are brighter and have a smoother finish for a bit of contrast. My odd trousers are almost always either gray or tan because those colors can be worn with any jacket. I like brown suede shoes for the same reason, they can be worn with anything (even a navy blue suit).

Outfit #2


“I have to confess that I don’t pay much attention to what colors might suit me, I simply wear colors I like. And I happen to like browns and greens, particularly in sports jackets. It’s simply that those colors are capable of so many shades of variation – from ash, fawn, and ecru to lovat, emerald, and teak – and can be intermixed so easily. As I’ve done here. I suppose this outfit looks a bit studied, but I really just randomly combined brighter and drabber greens with neutral tans, perhaps getting some variety from the textures of the rough tweed coat, semi-smooth cavalry twill trousers, to the smooth cotton raincoat and slightly lustrous silk repp tie.

Outfit #3


“I’m addicted to tweed sports jackets – there are so many wonderful patterns, the colors are so subtle, sports jackets are so easy to wear – and this is one of my favorites because it combines unique colors – lovat green and burnt orange – in a subtle, muted, almost patinated way. The shirt, pencil-striped blue and white – is a default garment that I wear with anything, here I’ve tried to punch it up a bit with the blue striped tie, chosen because the orange stripe echoes the orange windowpane overcheck in the jacket.

Outfit #4


“This is me at my wildest, which is still pretty staid because everything is  traditional country wear: corduroys, tweed jacket, wool tie, checked shirt. The yellow trousers are unusual for me, as is the tartan checked shirt because I find I have to think a bit more when I wear something like that than I really want to. The solution for me here was to use only one boldly patterned garment and keep the others plain. Blending patterns takes time and reflection, or you can end up looking like a Mardi Gras parade. But an idiocyncratic touch of boldness here and there can do wonders.

Outfit #5


“This is a decidedly basic, simple, and trad outfit. Since it’s a summer outfit, the d-b navy blazer is a polished cotton; I always use plain black buttons on my blazers because I like the simplicity of them and don’t like any sort of jewelry except my wedding ring and discreet wristwatch. The shirt is white oxford cloth, the tie tobacco brown silk knit; knit ties always seem more casual to me, and provide a nice dressed-down effect. The trousers are light gray cords (jeans cut, with no turn-ups). I remember I wanted to wear yellow socks with this outfit, but I couldn’t find them in my sock drawer in time. The slip-ons are simple and unadorned in keeping with the rest of the outfit. I’m a big fan of the blue-brown color combination, which I learned long ago from the Milanese.”

With thanks to Rose Callahan and Zach Jobé for two of the images

Cifonelli bespoke overcoat

For the reader who commented that my pieces on Cifonelli tend towards the emotional, I apologise in advance. This is a beautiful, beautiful coat, and one of the finest things I have ever worn.

Right, that’s over. Down to details. This is the navy cashmere overcoat I commissioned from Cifonelli at the end of the 2013. When it became clear that we were not going to finish it before the end of the winter, the project was put on hold until September 2014. It was finished in October, and I have been wearing in regularly every since.

Readers will be familiar by now with the peerless work of Cifonelli, one of the finest bespoke tailors in the world. The fit, of course, is always spot on, and the bespoke make – hand-padded canvas, hand-made rope – we now take for granted. But the thing that always separates Cifonelli (and one or two other makers, such as Camps de Luca) is the hand-finishing. The Milanese buttonholes (below); the endless, pointless top stitching. 

Cifonelli bespoke overcoat milanese buttonhole

That finishing deserves a post all of its own. And if readers will indulge me, perhaps I will write one (with some detailed photos).

For the moment, however, I wanted to focus on the functionality of a double-breasted overcoat. Because let’s face it, most of us wear the collars of our overcoats up. And a DB, with peaked lapels, often doesn’t work well with a popped collar – the peaks poke us in the chin, and certainly won’t button closed.

From the start, therefore, I made it clear to Lorenzo Cifonelli that this DB must work as well buttoned as un-. It must sit elegantly, smartly, with only the central two of the six buttons fastened. This is the normal, formal arrangement, with collar down.

But when the collar is raised, the lapels (or revers) reversed, it must button at the top row of the six, and then again under the chin, creating a perfect, smooth shield against the elements (below). This style is not new, but it is hard to execute effectively, and it is to Lorenzo’s eternal credit that he managed to cut the front edge so that it encompassed all six buttons with collar raised, yet looked equally elegant with collar lowered.

cifonelli bespoke tailor overcoat

In fact, I realise now that I was so keen to demonstrate this point that I forgot to take any pictures of the coat with the collar down. One more reason for another post I suppose.

The back of the coat has a fixed half belt, with pleats above and below – topped with the distinctive Cifonelli arrowhead, painstakingly hand-stitched. The smaller pleats to left and right frame the central cuts nicely.


cifonelli overcoat back

As with many overcoats, there is a compromise between cutting the shoulders to fit everything from a Chittleborough & Morgan suit to a sweater underneath. Lorenzo and I pitched this one right in the middle, and I elected to photograph it only wearing knitwear to show the effects of that compromise (above). You can see how the lack of suit shoulders causes the back to collapse slightly at the sides – but the compromise cut mitigates the effect. If it had been cut purely for a suit, the effect would have been much greater. 

Elsewhere, I went for patch, postbox pockets. I like the casual look of patch pockets and the flap is cut to slip inside easily, allowing the pockets to be used for warming the hands without having to lift up the flap each time.

Cifonelli bespoke overcoat cashmere pocket

The buttonholes are finely but very tightly stitched – necessary when all of them might be in regular use. And I am consistently impressed with how the Milanese buttonholes on the lapel retain their long, straight line, even when used to button under the chin. The dusted, dark-brown horn buttons are, naturally, Lorenzo’s particular design.

Finally, a word must go to the fabulous cloth: 22oz cashmere from Harrison’s. Few people do decent weight cashmere overcoating any more – and most in the market are Loro Piana and a lot more expensive.

Cifonelli bespoke overcoat horn button

Photos: Jack Lawson

J Adler shoes review close-up
In Autumn last year, John from J Adler Shoes asked if I would review his bespoke shoes in return for a review. I don’t normally take up such offers, particularly for lower-end shoes such as these, but I was interested in Adler’s unusual fit process: sending plaster socks that you mould around your feet, and then return to them. 
That moulding process largely worked. You remove the socks from a plastic packing, rinse briefly in water, and then put onto your foot. The sock hardens after a few minutes, and you cut yourself out of it using scissors. You can see the process here
It’s not quite as easy as it looks – you can only rinse the sock for a few seconds, otherwise it starts to harden and won’t go onto the foot. I failed with sock, and had to ask John for another. Although the instructions could have been clearer on that point, the final result was a pretty satisfying set of moulds. 
J Adler shoes review
Unfortunately, when the shoes arrived a few weeks later, the result was not good – in terms of fit, style or make. 
I don’t like writing negative reviews, but I feel in this case it is worth recording, given that one or two readers have asked for my thoughts on Adler. It also doesn’t seem transparent if a maker asks for a review, but it is only published if the conclusions are positive. 
Let’s start with the fit, given that’s the biggest argument for buying  a service like this, and is the least subjective area. 
Unfortunately, the shoes were too big pretty much everywhere. With both laced as tightly as possible, the back halves of my feet rattled around. There was too much room above the joints as well, causing the leather to buckle. The arch support was very pronounced, but that didn’t help fill the shoe. And overall it was pitched forward, rather oddly, with a wedge section in the heel. 
The quality of the make was also not great, particularly for this price point (£440). The leather was thin and polished poorly. John assured me there was the normal reinforcement in the heel and toe, but I couldn’t feel it: the toe was soft and unstructured and the top of the heel cup collapsed easily. The heel and sole were almost brutally large and chunky – though this is arguably more of a style point. 
J Adler shoes review2
Moving onto style (which is obviously the most subjective area), it’s hard to think of anything I liked. The toe shape was rounder and bulkier than anything I’ve seen outside working boots. The ‘antique’ finish I chose appears cheap and synthetic. The heel and sole, as mentioned, lacked any style. 
This all sounds rather harsh, but I also think it’s fair. I have communicated my thoughts to John, who offered to make me another pair – but given how far off the fit was, it seems impossible I would ever be able to recommend this service to readers. 
I emphasise again that this is just one experience, and I have been told others are more positive. But given how far this was from the quality normally discussed on this blog, I don’t feel I can recommend them in any way.