November 12, 2015 by Ville Raivio
VR: Your age and occupation?
AC: I am 39 years old. I specialize in Bespoke Shoemaking & Bespoke Tailoring, I also trained as a Fashion Designer.
VR: Your educational background?
AC: I started out at London College of Fashion, followed by a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion&Design at The Surrey Institution, and undertook a Master’s Degree at Central Saint Martins.
VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your shoe and tailoring enthusiasm)?
AC: I am married to my loving wife for five years, looking forward to becoming parents soon. My Wife has learned that being a Bespoke Shoemaker/Tailor is no nine to five job, but she totally shares my enthusiasm especially in shoemaking .
V R:…and your parent’s and siblings’ reactions back when you decided to become an artisan?
AC: I come from a family of four siblings, one older brother and two younger sisters. My Father came to the UK after the ‘Idi Amin era’, at a time of aggression. He was a man’s man, a builder by trade. When I went off to Fashion College he raised his eyebrows, as he did not see Fashion as a manly thing to do. He was a champion wrestler in Africa. Idi Amin sent a jeep with his armed solders especially to my Father’s house, as he was known to be one of the strong ones. Later, he played an important part in my shoemaking business as I taught him how to make shoes when he was unable to work due to a very unfortunate heart condition. He sadly left the world in 2006…he joked that he should have become a shoemaker, instead of bricklaying in the cold and rain.
VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides apparel?
AC: Renovating Houses, Building Construction, Designing and Boxing.
VR: How did you first become interested in shoes, and when did you turn your eyes towards artisanal shoemaking? Why classics instead of fashion? The same questions for tailoring, of course.
AC: I started off at London College of Fashion studying Fashion. One day, whilst studying, I went to Berwick Street to buy some fabric and I saw a tailoring shop called Sam Arkus. I asked the owner if I would be allowed to come in as an Apprentice. He said that I was allowed to watch, as long as the toilets were cleaned and the workshop was spotless. I was allowed to watch, but I was not allowed to ask any questions. From there, I was asked to deliver a pair of trousers to Mr. Neilson at Neilson&Nutter, Tommy Nutter’s old shop. This is when I discovered Savile Row.
I got to speaking to the Tailors and I became friends with Malcolm Plews at Welsh&Jefferies, who recommended me to pop into Gieves&Hawkes. They took me under their wing and I learned Coat Making.
I watched the best Pattern Cutter in the world, Ian Fadden, at Kilgour, French&Stanbury, and I met Gordon from Huntsman. With my curiosity and drive to try out new things, I convinced Master Cutter Malcolm Plews, who has clients like Al Fayed and the Royal Family, to show me how to cut patterns. And he did.
I formed a Saturday Club with Malcolm and we would cut patterns from scratch; from smoking jackets to dress coats. During my time at Gieves and Hawkes, I was further exposed to the art of making trousers and coats, working with the Finishers and all the ladies from the Military Department, in a real old school establishment. I bought loads of old Tailor and Cutter magazines to read, and applied all the skills that I was learning continuously every day. I still have all of my book collections from back then and I still hold these valued relationships with my connections on Savile Row today.
Whilst I was learning how to become a Tailor and Coat Maker in Savile Row at Gieves & Hawkes, I finished my first degree. I worked as I studied. As part of my final Fashion Show, I made some metal shoes which were prototypes, not wearable’s but one-off art-pieces that caught the attention of the media, which led me to be head hunted by Foster&Son. They were intrigued by my ideas. I then made a shoe sample from my Granddad’s carpentry tools, which was laughable looking back now, but a couple of weeks later they called me up to offer me a post to become a Last Maker.
Even though my first shoe sample was laughable, made with no supervision using only Carpentry tools rather than shoemaking tools, they must have seen something they liked. Mr. Terry Moore approved my work. He then introduced me to the boss, the late Mr. Adlam. I really like him a lot. He was with the Church of England, a Christian, a really nice man who came from a Timber background. He had bought the business for One Pound as it was going into receivership. A huge backlog of work had built up, of up to 10 years of orders, which I cleared up. I got the business up and running again, got on top of all the orders and made it possible for Mr. Moore to work from home, because it was becoming more and more difficult for Mr. Moore to commute to work with old age.
I was at the right place at the right time and, although I appreciated having the honor and privilege of learning Last Making, Pattern cutting, fitting and all aspects of high-end shoes, I was even more grateful for getting to know Mr. Adlam, and of the relationship I had built with him. He was a drinker, but we had a connection. It was he who gave me the opportunity. He said to me “learn everything from Mr. Moore, learn the business, make it your own, and own it”.
He left me to it and I took on every word of advice. I worked extremely hard and took the opportunity with both hands. Five years later, he sadly passed away. I parted from Foster & Sons and became independent, working for elite international world-class clientele from senior members of the Rothschild family to Famous Horse Breeders, Authors, Private Bankers and CEOs around the world, who have allowed me to manage their wardrobes.
Whilst I was at Saint Martin’s, I wrote in my dossier that fashion was becoming redundant and the modus operandi of the way designers were beginning to create collections, season upon season, had no value. Designers were using fashion for attention mixed with their personal lives, or simply to be accepted rather than what was more important, like creating good design work. Designers working from mood boards that were merely a collection of the conscious mind would end up just becoming eclectic borrowers. This proved that a new paradigm in design was needed and that R&D is what would lead to the vintage of tomorrow. All of this was confirmed to me when McQueen committed suicide. I have great admiration for Haute Couture for its theatrics, design and craftsmanship. Haute Couture will always have a role to play, as it brings together a sea of unique ideas and desirable artistic creativity. A copy of my dossier was given by hand to Hussein Chalayan, it can be found in Central Saint Martin’s library today.
VR:How have you gathered your knowledge of the crafts — from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?
AC: See my words above. If you have enthusiasm, drive and determination with the passion and curiosity to learn like I have, then it just happens. The reality is that I was destined for this journey, to become an artist and a craftsman, and to show the world the art of shoemaking
VR: How would you describe the styling of the shoes you make? How about the clothes?
AC: The shoes I make are handcrafted to absolute perfection and there is more to come. I learned the proper way of crafting handmade shoes from start to finish. There are customers of bespoke and there are connoisseurs of bespoke. I have a very sophisticated and unique eye, and a ritual way of working. I believe one can only be as good as the last pair of shoes made. I take orders for all traditional bespoke styles and create modern lines in the Last. I make all styles, from pumps, slippers, riding boots, to casuals, Derbys and Oxfords. The same signature applies to Tailoring. I handcraft and cut my jackets with sharp clean lines, razor sharp lapels with the best new, fine cloths available from English Mills. When a customer invests in me, I work with the intention that the shoes and suits I make will take the client to successful places.
Soon I will be releasing products that are collector’s pieces and limited editions made from luxurious materials combined with unique elements of design. These products are targeted for people who desire and appreciate luxury. These products will be made from only the best materials and the best leathers. I am fortunate to hear existing customers say to me “make me what you want to make me…” evidently the trust has been built and my work has already landed on such feet. This is my bespoke ethos and I can work continuously with this drive and desire, sometimes days on end without any sleep.
VR: Do you have a favourite shoe model (eg. monk, derby, oxford, balmoral boot) and leather type? How about for tailored garments?
AC: Correspondents, Red Adelaides, Square Toe Half-brogues and I also enjoy making pumps and velvet slippers. Be it shoes or suits, it is all about the fit that matters. The study of anatomy combined with manipulation to the foot come together to bring a quality of life for the customer.
VR: There are dozens of cordwainers in the UK — why should my readers choose you?
AC: 1 – I am the compulsive disordered gatekeeper of refined quality craftsmanship. I handcraft to absolute time stopping perfection, using only the very best leather.
2 – I pride myself that I can travel all corners of the world, I am a mobile craftsman and can bring convenience to my clients who are mostly extremely busy leaders, CEOs, elite global businessmen.
3 – I give my clients a piece of a museum rather than charging them for walking into one.
4 – I am young. Just because a shoemaking company has been around for 100 years does not mean that a craftsman is still making those shoes. When I am making shoes, I am making them end-to-end with my own hands. I do not farm out my work to other makers.
In summary, my view is that modernism will become post-modernism, the new world order will become post-world order, some men will have a tendency to be feminine and some women will always attempt to de-throne a man, London will always have a traffic jam, the blessed Queen will always love her Corgis and Amrik Chaggar will always handcraft the finest bespoke shoes in the world.
VR:What is your definition of a good shoe?
AC: Firstly, the foot needs to be supported throughout. This is normally constructed within the Last Making process. This art can only be achieved by an exceptional Last Maker who has dedicated his life to strive for perfection in craftsmanship like I have. To achieve this, one must have the unique ability to hold a customer’s foot in one hand and to create a rotating three dimensional image in their mind, taking the customer’s actual foot measurements and then finding a fine balance between maximising the support required to improve the longevity of the anatomy, as well as being able to create an extremely elegant object of desire, right the way through to the final execution of the product.
I made a conscious decision to concede my life, obsess my self, to strive for perfection. This is only one part in the process because when a client inserts his/her feet into shoes made by me, something magical happens. The client suddenly finds himself standing transcendent at the centre of gravity; the planets align and begin to revolve around him, rather than the other way round. This in my opinion is just the beginning of style and if you don’t get that..? Then forever chase your tail.
The genius Albert Einstein once said in his paper on relativity “matter and energy tells space and time where to go”. And in Martin Scorsese’s epic movie Taxi Driver to the sounds of Bernard Herrmann, the great Robert De Niro said, “Damn, days go on and on, they do not end. All my life, I needed a sense of some place to go. I don’t believe that one should devote life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people. I first saw her at Palantine campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress; she appeared like an angel out of this filthy mess. she is alone…They…cannot…touch…her…“
Although the character Travis is referring to a woman, the same applies for a man in the form of a beacon of light, a glimmer of hope. Be it a dress, or a pair of bespoke shoes the ‘Becoming’ process of a man ends when a man takes his last breath. Until then, it is not the destination that matters it’s the journey. So whatever steps one makes…make your carbon footprint ‘Bespoke’.
I sometimes wish I could walk on to the film set of life and say, “Cut…cut…cut! What are you doing?” I am sick of this obsession people have with their name tags wrapped around their necks whilst unveiling products that create billions to the world. This detachment between new money and the art of clothing concerns me. Go and buy a pure silk tie from Salvatore Ferragamo or Hermès, get yourself a decent business card, and place an order for a pair of bespoke shoes and suit by yours truly. Invest in yourself and update your wardrobe like you do your software.
VR: Who or what inspires you?
AC: I grew up in a family of builders so I developed my hand co-ordination skills for using tools and having a genetically gifted sharp eye without even knowing. The very first day after I finished high school, I travelled alone to Rostock, Germany, when the Germans had gone on strike to join my Grandfather, Father and Uncle who had gone out to build.
My Grandfather was my everything. He came to England in 1962 from Africa. He woke up at 4am every morning, did his prayers, went to the local temple daily to cook food for a community of an average of two hundred people. He owned many properties in England and abroad, paid for 16 weddings for people who could not afford to get married and let them borrow his house during the weddings. He installed and plumbed baths and boilers in most houses in and around Plumstead and Woolwich, in South-East London, for free, when baths were first installed. He was a Master Builder and had hands that could do anything. He was a smart man who had a super sharp brain.
He could sum up his week’s shopping faster then the women could scan the items on the tills. If an electrical appliance or a drill or clock stopped working, he would figure out a way to make it work. He built his own house from scratch. He climbed four-story scaffolding buildings with a walking stick until the age of eighty-two.
He had always been with me whether it was building extensions, renovating homes or little projects that I had took on. He also used to sit with me when I made shoes in my workshop. My Granddad was my biggest inspiration in my life and although he did not speak much English and probably did not realise his philanthropy, he certainly instilled it in me. Although I do a small bit now for those who need it, I look forward to a day when I am in a position to help make a real change. I also have tremendous respect for Mrs. Melinda and Mr. Bill Gates for their foundation in Seattle, which I have visited, and find inspiring.
VR: Finally, how can my readers find out if a shoe has a truly good fit? Not too loose or tight is a very vague tip often bandied around.
AC: After the design consultancy has been finalised, all shoes are made halfway and double-checked with a fitting, leaving no room for error. To experience the feeling of truly good fitting shoes or suits, email me by appointment only at firstname.lastname@example.org and do not worry about the fitting, I have already mentioned that I have dedicated my life to bespoke craftsmanship.
Photos: Amrik Chaggar