- Photography by Mr Benjamin McMahon
- Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher, Features Editor, MR PORTER
While tailoring aficionados are often to be found vigorously debating the relative merits of Savile Row suits vis-à-vis Neapolitan suits and Parisian suits, it's uncontroversial to say that the best men's shoes are made in England. Among the British brands there remains a handful of bespoke shoemakers still producing handmade shoes in the traditional manner. Of these firms, it's George Cleverley that stands pre-eminent, and this week MR PORTER is proud to present a selection of the firm's bench-made shoes.
More than 90 years ago, the late Mr George Cleverley dedicated himself to the creation of the finest shoes in the world, and he continued to work until his death at the age of 92. He had spent his childhood selling bootlaces and shoe polish before working in a British Army boot factory during WWI. In 1920 he joined Tuczek, a famous Mayfair shoemaker, before setting up on his own as a bespoke maker in 1958. In the same year Mr Cleverley's nephew, Mr Anthony Cleverley, also left Tuczek and separately set up on his own as a bespoke shoemaker.
The author Mr Tom Wolfe and Rolling Stone
Mr Charlie Watts are devoted customers - in
case you're wondering, Mr Watts' latest
order is for a pair of unusual ghillie brogues
After the death of Mr George Cleverley in 1991, Mr George Glasgow and last maker Mr John Carnera, who had been working alongside Mr Cleverley since 1978, were asked to carry on the business. Mr Glasgow has been the managing director ever since, and he opened the current shop in London's Royal Arcade on Old Bond Street. When Mr Anthony Cleverley died, his niece asked Mr Glasgow and Mr Carnera to take on his mantle and combine the designs and history of these two great shoemakers. Our selection, above, is taken from styles by both Mr George Cleverley and Mr Anthony Cleverley.
"George [Cleverley] told me that his nephew was a wonderful shoemaker, but that he couldn't get on with him at all, so they never spoke," explains Mr Glasgow. As a result, the two Mr Cleverleys worked in parallel, but separately; Mr George Cleverley was a society shoemaker with a shop in Mayfair, and his nephew worked from home in north London's Edmonton area for a small, but very exclusive, group of clients.
According to Mr Glasgow, Mr Anthony Cleverley only accepted new customers if they were introduced by an existing customer, a policy that produced a list of names including Baron Alexis de Redé, Mr Mark Birley, a few Rothschilds and a Forte or two. To that illustrious group, Mr George Cleverley added Mr Rudolph Valentino, Mr Gary Cooper, Mr Clark Gable, a couple of English dukes and a member of the British royal family. Today the author Mr Tom Wolfe and Rolling Stone Mr Charlie Watts are devoted customers - in case you're wondering, Mr Watts' latest order is for a pair of unusual ghillie brogues.
Mr Ben Hunt is a last maker and clicker. He works on producing the wooden lasts on which each shoe is formed, as well as cutting the pieces of leather that make up each shoe ("clicking")
The classic style of George Cleverley shoes reflects the company's extraordinary roll call of clients, past and present. The company makes elegant but masculine English shoes designed for strolling across the pavements of Mayfair, the polished floors of gentleman's clubs (White's for the seniors, 5 Hertford Street for younger customers) and the antique rugs of country houses. Of course they're also to be found on New York's Upper East Side, and in Tokyo's better restaurants. The dress shoes are made to be worn with beautifully tailored suits, English shirts and hand-stitched silk ties - although the brown suede shoes, inspired by the casual nature of British country life, work just as well with cords and blue jeans. The shoes represent a sophisticated expression of Britain's traditionally understated approach to style.
George Cleverley continues to produce bespoke shoes in its Mayfair shop for a select clientele, but with a production that only intermittently achieves 10 pairs a week, it also creates bench-made shoes for men reluctant to wait the year that it takes between first fitting and delivery. "I had one customer recently," recalls Mr Glasgow, "who ordered a pair of shoes when his wife was newly pregnant. When I next saw him for a fitting, he said, 'She's had the baby, but when am I going to get the shoes?'" The company's bench-made shoes are an opportunity for men to become well heeled rather more quickly than that.