April 25, 2016 by Ville Raivio
April 7, 2016 by Ville Raivio
The good folks from The Museum at FIT reminded me of a nice up-coming assembly that is sure to interest Keikari’s numerous American readers. Info and invitation below — be sure to register at your leisure.
March 30, 2016 by Ville Raivio
VR: Your age and occupation?
EM: I was born in 1976, I am a senior shoemaker at Foster & Son.
VR: Your educational background?
EM: I went to Cordwainers’ College to study footwear design & I also did a hand-sewn shoemaking course in ’97.
VR:Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your shoe enthusiasm)?
EM: I have two boys (aged 7 and 2). My husband is also in this trade, we both have a passion for bespoke shoes. My kids love watching us work, especially the oldest, it is a special treat for him to come up to the workshop and explore. I was making lasts up until 2 weeks before giving birth to both boys, so it is natural for them to hear banging noises and the scratching of wood, always being surrounded by shoes and tools!
VR: …and your parent’s and siblings’ reactions back when you decided to become a shoemaker?
EM: My parents have always been supportive, my great grandmother had a Geta (Japanese clog) business, though it came as a little surprise to them when I decided to go into the shoe trade, they were happy about it too.
VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides footwear?
EM: I enjoy cooking, painting and drawing but, above all, I have to say ” shoemaking”. It sounds insane but that’s what I do when I have free time. I love making shoes for myself, to be more precise! I enjoy thinking of what I want to make next and without realising it, my hands are already working. Having said that, I rarely find my own time nowadays, being a mother is hard work!
VR: How did you first become interested in shoes, and when did you turn your eyes towards artisanal shoemaking?
EM: I have relatively large feet for a Japanese girl and always had problems finding shoes that I can wear in Japan, even when finding something I liked they often didn’t have my size. Then I thought about designing and making shoes by myself. So I decided to take a footwear course at Cordwainers’ and moved to London.
They had hand-sewn shoemaking classes that fascinated me so much, seeing the traditional way of making shoes changed my perception completely. That’s when I learnt about bespoke shoemakers for the first time and visited Terry Moore, at Foster’s, with my friend. He was making a pattern by using normal brown wrapping paper and making a last using a shabby bench.
Using beautiful old tools, it was absolutely amazing, I thought this is it. This craft and the hand skill is what I want to gain. From that point I was determined to become a Bespoke Shoemaker.
VR: Why classics instead of fashion?
EM: With fashion, you need to keep creating new designs constantly. That, to me, is very tiring. Even with classics they do have trends but the movement is very slow. That’s what I feel comfortable with. My master always says, in terms of shoe designs, that all were completed around the 1930’s & after that it has been going around in this same circle.
VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of the crafts — from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?
EM: I was apprenticed to Terry Moore at Foster’s, there learning most of my skills from pattern cutting, last making to shoemaking. I had a chance to see lots of good samples and also the shoemakers used to deliver shoes to Terry. I would ask questions about how they did things, little tips here & there constantly & I would take this information home with me, experimenting by trial and error. In terms of fit, being my own guinea pig was the best learning curve. You feel the comfort as well as pains.
VR: How would you describe the House Style of the shoes you make?
EM: With each customer, I simply try to produce the style that would suit him (and his feet), in the most elegant way possible within the accepted look. Never going for extreme. Understatement is the key.
VR: Do you have a favourite shoe model (eg. monk, derby, oxford, balmoral boot) and leather type?
EM: It is hard to choose! I enjoy making any types and wearing them as well. When I started learning, old Freudenburg stocks were the main leather available. I was so lucky that I got to practice with those beautiful leathers. They were like silk. Such soft and fine surfaces yet strong.
VR: There are several bespoke companies in the UK — why should my readers choose Foster&Son?
EM: We are traditional shoemakers, clients come to order their shoes for their life style needs. With the best materials and craftmanship provided, we produce anything from simple business shoes to evening dress shoes, country shoes, golf, riding boots & so on, depending on his life situation and the client’s needs, for different occasions. So, building long-term relationships with our clients is very important, to get to know them, to become trusted shoemakers. Having said that, we are happy to make you just a very special pair of shoes, of course!
VR: Who or what inspires you?
EM: My master, his attitude towards the way he deals with things, and discipline. Also my husband, his devotion to his work is purely exceptional. His knowledge and inspiration always help me get going.
VR: Finally, how can my readers find out if a shoe gives great support for the foot?
EM: Simple. You feel it.
March 26, 2016 by Ville Raivio
The dressing gown is a loose, light and comfortable layer for pyjamas or leisurewear. Its pedigree reaches back to the court dress of Persia, which was carried all the way to Europe on the journeys of diplomats and the like on the Silk Road. Enthused by them, the banyan, a flashy, long and loose lounging jacket for home use was born in the 1700s. It was cut in the shape of the letter T and preferably made from richly decorated silk as a sign of wealth. At first, the garment had no buttons and it was closed with a belt while the sleeves were rolled back. Often this lounging jacket was worn with a vest underneath, made from the same fabric. Contemporary heavy perukes were usually removed at home and replaced with sack-like turbans, a part of the banyan dress. It was most suitable to lounge, receive close guests or play cards in this costume. As time advanced, the garment was increasingly made to reseble an overcoat, even though the hem was very loose and gentlemen already took to heading outdoors while wearing banyans. Dressing gowns, based on previous banyans, were finally created before the end of the 1800s. These were not baselayer underwear but worn above pyjamas, nightshirts and such.
Before modern insulation- and construction techniques as well as central heating arrived, western appartments were invariably cold or at least draughty places. The inner constructions of suits and ceremonial clothes were likewise stiff, so most gentlemen threw them off at home. For more than a century, the dressing gown was useful so that shivering was avoided, lolling succeeded – and one didn’t shame himself half-nude when a surprise guest arrived. Most dressing gowns were tartan-patterned or plain before the 1920s, and their material was strong, warm wool or cotton flannel. Only later did the banyan-spirited crackling cloths return on men, and the gown’s belt or cords were reworked more ornamental. Pockets as well grew greatly in size.
The most common lapel model for dressing gowns has been the rounded shawl- or roll collar, familiar from some dinner jackets worn by a certain James Bond. The garment’s hem has shortened in time, tender silk cloths have become rare, and these days few men even own a dressing gown. The bathrobe has become much more popular and its plain terry cloth removes moisture after showering, is easy to clean and lasts well with wear. As apartments are warmer still around Europe, the popularity of dressing gowns has plummeted — and neither can they be called essential clothes as one can do without just fine. Still, the dressing gown likely appeals to vintage-inspired dressers and the man who enjoys stylish lounging.
February 28, 2016 by Ville Raivio
February 27, 2016 by Ville Raivio
The tab collar is an eccentric detail that stands out from the rest. A small tab, closed with snaps, a loop or magnets, is sewn between its sides and this bit raises the tie knot upwards. The collar type was born in Great Britain sometime in the 1920s but its inventor has been forgotten by my reference books. The collar gained fame and popularity when the Duke of Windsor (who else?) took a fancy to it. The Duke’s outfits were closely watched by all media and menswear shops grew their selections when the future king was seen wearing something novel. On the shoulders of the young prince, the tab collar travelled across the world on state visits. With him being the most photographed man of the times, tab collars spread to commonwealth and friend state stores in no time, ending up gracing the necks of thousands of others.
The most common tab collar have sharp, fairly long points, but rounded club collars have also been popular. The popularity of the tabbed collar continued to the 1930s, but waned after these times just to wax again in the ’60s. Frank Sinatra particularly favoured keeping tabs as part of his style and men followed his suit. The tab collar has its uppers and downers. The finer points include the fabric piece that nicely raises the tie and keeps it in place well, no matter how the head turns during the day. At the same time it also keeps the collar points close to the body of the shirt, a look that’s always clean. Still, tabs lose their shape and appeal if worn without a tie, the tab usually calls for a tiny knot and the collar has become rare. Like all rare and thus eccentric things, it attracts attention — not always for the better. Signs of the tab collar’s return have been in the media for a while now. James Bond, for one, has chosen it for his use in the latest films as this collar has long been the darling bud of Tom Ford, the latest Bond stylist.
The Mad Men series, as well, gathered great popularity in America, depicting the crazy years in advertising during the 1960s, and tabs were commonplace clothes during the times and thus in the series. Boardwalk Empire told stories about America’s prohibition years and marched numerous criminals onto screens, doing evil things in stylish shirts. Despite the ramifications of Donald Rumsfeld’s political positions, the fervour of his tab collars cannot be denied. Finally, Suitsupply, a popular young adult clothier, has offered the shirt for several years. While the collar type is still rare, it has better stayed alive in the USA than Europe, which it only visited to be born.
February 26, 2016 by Ville Raivio
In historical light, we are living an age of a young shirt type. The current one has buttons from the neck down to the hem, but for centuries before this, men’s shirts were simply dragged on. Closure was handled with cords, strings or with the help of a few buttons – in any case, the shirt could not be opened fully. This shirt cut has later on taken the name of popover. It was originally used for formal shirts and humble work garments, but as stiff detachable collars were left out and buttoning moved lower during the early 1900s, popovers became rarer. Thanks to their peculiar shape, they were worn for leisure almost without excetions.
During the 1960s, the American company GANT became known for shirts whose buttons ran out at the middle of the torso. To dress into them, the shirts had to be popped over the head — and this act gave its name to the shirts. Since then, the company has manufactured or has had made popovers from one year to another, but in random amounts and as part of varying lineups. Ralph Lauren’s company has done likewise, but theirs have popped up so randomly that fans of these shirts have been forced to hunt things down or have them made. Italy’s greatest style icon Gianni Agnelli was a fan of the popover in his off-time and style mavens followed suit, but for some peculiar reason the masses have not taken to popovers. Whatever was left of the shirt’s popularity after the Victorian times was cut off by World War part I and Redux. Afterwards the shirt was most popular in America as part of the Ivy League uniform, in Europe it has mostly died off.
The popover’s buttoning is shorter, so these models must be cut looser to allow ease of dressing and stripping. If they’re worn loose and over the trousers, however, the hem should be fairly form-fitting, and this adds difficulty for the maker. The length of the placket has been a matter of taste, but most companies have favoured 2-4 buttons. While regular shirts allow buttons to be moved a few cms to make room for changing guts, popovers are intolerant for such manoeuvres. Despite a few limitations, the popover offers any man an eccentric look that has been able to appeal for a few centuries now. Few garments achieve the same.
February 24, 2016 by Ville Raivio
“If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.”
— Albert Einstein
February 23, 2016 by Ville Raivio
Crownhill Shoes is a Spanish company plying its trade in the budget and value-for-money segments of Goodyear-welted full-leather footwear. According to CEO Fernando Lopez, the company uses 13 artisanal factories to fabricate the models, each one specialized in one type of shoe. Crownhill has its own pattern and last makers. Models are designed, hides selected, leathers cut, uppers lasted and shoes finished in-house in Spain. As for materials, Crownhill uses leathers by Weinheimer from Germany, Haas from France, Degermann from France, D’Annonay from France, ILCEA from Italy, Zonta from Italy, Roux from France, Italhide from Italy and Du Puy from France. Finally, I asked Mr Lopez why a customer should choose his company over others: “We created a super comfortable shoe of the best quality and priced down from other brands that double or triple our retail price. We have channel-stitched soles and a Goodyear-welted construction, competing with more expensive brands.”
With thousands of factories and companies already battling for customers, reaching for great price-quality deals is a welcome strategy among others. Crownhill’s Premium Grade uses Joh. Rendenbach‘s famed oak-bark tanned leather soles and calfskins from the tanneries mentioned above, but the pairs are priced at 250 euros and come with free courier shipping inside EU borders. They also have double-shanks built from leather and steel inside. As far as lasts go, the Premium Grade’s Faraday is a semi-squared chiseled last, Nelson is a semi-pointed last (between the typical French and English) and Lennon is an English last, semi-rounded and somewhat chiseled at the tip.
As for values between premium and regular lines, says Mr Lopez: “The difference between the Premium Grade and the Classic Line are plenty of different types of lasts, different patterns, many types of skins and soles, better finishing and we are very exigent about the materials used. The packaging is improved, with the PR’s own green box, including a pair of Italian cotton bags, a shoehorn and a pair of laces. Ensuring the best quality possible.” The company, set up in 2010 to offer Spanish-made value footwear, wanted to hear my thoughts on their make and sent the Montgomery pair made on the Nelson last from the Premium Grade range for Keikari’s anatomical segment.
The first thing I noted in this Montgomery model was the upper leather. The calfskin is smooth and lustrous even before any polish, with noticeable but small pores, and it springs back quickly after bending. The last feels both higher and wider than average, and the toe is round and high. The welt is trimmed very close and its stitching looks sparse. The heel and toe stiffeners feel sturdy. Upper stitching is tight and straight. In stead of the usual bouncy tassel, this Norwegian loafer has laced leather strips. The lacing quickly came loose but was easily fixed as the strips are not sewn shut.
The leather lining feels soft enough and sturdy as well. Crownhill’s sock liner is loosely attached, but comes with a full foam insert, something I haven’t found from any other shoemaker tried so far, and they feel cushioned while worn. It’s up to the reader if this bit is pro or con. The Rendenbach soles are not very common in shoes retailing for less than 300 euros, and this nice add comes with a channelled finish along with the JR stamp. The waist is square but trimmed. The shoe trees are generic in finish and material, but fit the last well. Same goes for the shoehorn and bags attached.
As a whole, I feel Crownhill’s Premium Range is well-made and the materials look and feel swell for the price. If I’d have the power to make changes, I would opt for a more chiseled and close-fitting last as well as remove the foam insert from the sock liner. As such, Crownhill competes with all value-for-money makers over men who appreciate solid construction, the better-made materials as well as value.
Copyright © 2013 Ville Raivio