To continue on a theme, The Holborn has another feature on artisan shoemaking today. It’s a real pleasure to finally feature an English shoemaker, we’ve always made a point of highlighting our appreciation for English (and in particular, Northamptonshire) shoemaking, simply because we consider the results to be the very finest shoes in the world. And make no mistake it is not just The Holborn that thinks so, handmade English shoes have been the footwear of choice for the worlds most quality-consciousand stylish individuals for decades. Given the recent surge in interest for heritage brands and handmade garments, UK shoemaking has seen a rise in new customers and businesses opportunities (take Prada’s controversial takeover of Church’s). One such example is the recent revival of Wildsmith’s, which had remained a relatively small, family run operation for many years. Now revitalised with a new website, shoe range and CEO, Wildsmith’s seeks to maintain its heritage whilst bringing its own classically styled take on English footwear to a new audience. We got in touch with Chay Cooper, Wildsmith’s new hand’s on chief to find out more:
Can you tell us a little of the history behind Wildsmiths?
Wildsmith was founded in 1847 by Rebecca & Matthew Wildsmith in Piccadilly, London. Initially they were serving and repairing boots for the Household Cavalry but as their reputation spread they quickly gained a clientele who wanted fine shoes also. Wildsmith have made shoes for Kings, Princes and Presidents, most notably King George VI, Prince Charles and John F Kennedy as well as acting legends such as David Niven, Cary Grant and Adam Faith.
How did you yourself come to Wildsmiths?
Working as a shoemaker for the last twenty-three years, I have always been fascinated by the heritage and styling of classic English shoes. John Wildsmith, having reached his eighties, was understandably looking forward to enjoying his overdue retirement but at the same time was very keen for the Wildsmith name to continue. It seemed a perfect fit for both of us and an opportunity to keep a great English company producing shoes, having John still on hand for advice and help is greatly appreciated as he has tremendous knowledge of the industry.
What would you say is Wildsmith’s identity is amongst other British shoemakers?
I think Wildsmith has the identity as one of England’s finest. Wildsmith introduced the very first slip on shoe in the form of the Wildsmith loafer to London, that’s some claim and something to remain proud of definitely. We try to embrace this illustrious past and marry it with a future that will hopefully enjoy equal success.
In what kind of condition does the British shoemaking industry seem to you in 2013?
There is an absolute resurgence in English shoemaking.I think people are looking for that classic styling but also value for money; admittedly the shoes are not cheap, but by using the finest materials available and being Goodyear Welted constructed (which allows the soles to be replaced when worn) means that English shoes can last for many years.
Where do you source the leather and fabrics for your shoes? What have been some of your favourite materials to use?
Wildsmith use only the very best calf leathers and suede’s. The leather is mainly from Italy, although some German and French calf is also used. Suede is from Steads in England and the leather soles are also tanned in England.
What kind of production techniques goes into making a pair of your shoes?
Wildsmith shoes are Goodyear Welted constructed and involve upwards of 200 separate procedures in the making of each pair. The process takes between 6 to 8 weeks depending on styles and incorporates a vast amount of skill in the making.
What can we look forward to from Wildsmiths in the future?
We have a few plans in the pipeline with some heritage styles but the main objective is to keep making high quality English shoes that our customers enjoy.
You can find out more about Wildsmith’s online at: