A Fine Man Once Said:

"Part of the 10 million I spent on gambling, part of it on booze, and part of it on women. The rest I spent foolishly."

- George Raft

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What We're Reading: The Last Shall Be First

          The Uptown Dandy was lucky enough to pick up a pristine first edition copy of "The Last Shall Be First - The Colourful Story of John Lobb, The Bootmakers of St. James" by Brian Dobbs. Originally published in 1972, this copy was also signed by the master of the Lobb house at that time, Eric Lobb.

Simon Crompton reviewed the book way back in 2009 on his Permanent Style blog here, and suggested that readers "[j]ust skip the bits on the Lobb family and the lists of customers." Obviously, if you've read any of our previous posts here, you already know that colorful historical anecdotes and contemporary accounts of style-oriented minutiae are right in the Uptown Dandy's proverbial wheelhouse. Consider this little tale on page 94-95:

          "Lobb's attracted other musical talents who, earning huge recordings, were prepared to invest some of their earnings in superior footwear. The first of these was Enrico Caruso, one of the finest tenors of all time. When he first became a customer (and he continued as one for many years), his voice was at its best and his musicianship impeccable. When we remember that he was the first to become a famous recorded voice and that he earned between four and five hundred thousand pounds for his royalties alone, we can well understand that he could afford at least two pairs of Lobb shoes every time he visited London.

          Yet, despite these huge earnings for every time he exercised his larynx, Caruso was prepared to give some recitals free. On one visit to the St. James's Street shop, he held the staff spell-bound with an unaccompanied aria while he waited for his purchases to be wrapped. It was probably the smallest London audience ever to hear the golden voice, but they duly applauded him all the way to the door so they made up in warmth anything they may have lacked in numbers."

Or this passage from page 98:

          "Another famous customer was an American who had trained at the French Officers' School at Fontainebleau. He lived in a luxurious apartment in Paris laying the foundations of his subsequent reputation as one of Europe's and America's wealthiest playboys. He was a Lobb customer before the 'twenties, but it was during the 'twenties that he became the nonconformist sophisticate  whose wit and sybaritic tastes epitomize that decade. This was Cole Porter, whose conspicuous wealth bought him not only hand-made shoes, but a life-style reminiscent of a Scott Fitzgerald character. Not even many Lobb customers could have run up the bills that Porter paid for events like the party entertained by the entire Monte Carlo Ballet, or another at which all the guests were whisked off to the Riviera by motorcade on a sudden impulse. In 1923, he and his wife took over the Venetian palace where Browning had died, hired fifty gondoliers as footmen, and constructed a floating night club with a French chef, a negro jazz band and space for a hundred guests."

          These little vignettes and asides, among other things, are what make "The Last Shall Be First" so enjoyable. In addition to the historical accounts of Lobb's impressive showings at the various shoe and boot expositions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Dobbs' book also provides detailed descriptions regarding the shoe-making process, the division of labor necessary for the construction of the shoes of the Victorian, pre-WWI and interwar periods, as well as the political, cultural, and political issues of the day that confronted the Lobb family business in Australia, London, and Paris.

John Lobb's first London shop located at 296 Regent Street.
Note the royal warrants for the Prince of Wales and Duke of Edinburgh in the semi-circular area above the windows.
In the windows, the round objects are replicas of the medals awarded at the Philadelphia and Paris shoe and boot expositions.

An interesting book, "The Last Shall Be First" is well worth your time.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Walking Tour (Part One): A Stroll Down Madison Avenue


          One of the things that made my trip to Northampton, England so enjoyable was that, while preparing for my trip, I was able to find detailed street maps for the town of Northampton on the Internet that included factory shop locations and hours, as well as suggested routes and recommended modes of transportation. As a result, I was able to utilize my time in Northampton effectively by mapping out an efficient plan of attack.

          With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to do something similar for travelers looking to spend a day visiting some of New York's many dens of sartorial pleasure, with a particular emphasis on some of the better places to shop for men's shoes in the city. To the extent that our route will take us by any other points of interest, the Uptown Dandy will try to point them out. Since spring is beckoning, we'll take advantage of the nice weather and walk the city streets - but I'll also try to note the best public transportation routes as well. Keep in mind that, when all else fails, you can always hail a yellow cab . . .

          In keeping with the title of this blog, let's begin uptown, where there are certainly fewer high-end men's shoe shops, and work our way south to midtown Manhattan. Begin by taking the M1, M2, M3, or M4 buses on Madison Avenue to 72nd street. You can also take the Lexington Avenue 6 train to the 68th street or 77th street stations and walk west towards Madison Avenue (direction Central Park).


          Ralph Lauren's Rhinelander Mansion is located at 867 Madison Avenue (at 72nd street). An old New York mansion converted to house all things Ralph Lauren, there's quite a decent selection of shoes here.

Ralph Lauren's Rhinelander Mansion (72nd & Madison)

          Proceed directly up the main stairway to the second floor. Make a right at the top of the stairs and walk to the room at the end to get a glimpse of some of the offerings available from Edward Green via Ralph Lauren's Purple Label Made to Order program. Make a left at the staircase and walk to the room at the far end of that hallway and you'll find Ralph Lauren's Purple Label Ready to Wear offerings. A combination of English & Italian-made shoes, prices range from $700-1300. Keep an eye out for seasonal sales that, in some cases, will offer up to 40% off on models made by Edward Green, Crockett & Jones, and Gaziano & Girling for Ralph Lauren.

          Take a walk up the flight of stairs to the right of the RTW shoe display to the Polo Ralph Lauren floor, and you'll see English-made shoes from Crockett & Jones, priced between $700-800. These include the ever-popular Polo Ralph Lauren Darlton & Marlow models in shell cordovan.

Darlton Wingtip in Shell Cordovan
(this almost looks like a two-tone shoe in person)

Darlton Wingtip in Shell Cordovan

Marlow Plain Toe Blucher in Shell Cordovan


          Our next stop will be John Lobb, so exit the Rhinelander Mansion and walk left (or South) down Madison Avenue (the street numbers should be getting lower). Before you get there, though, keep an eye out for these shops. They're not exactly shoe-oriented but they're worth popping your head in if you have the time:

Etro (720 Madison Avenue, 63rd/64th Street)

Beretta (718 Madison Avenue, 63rd/64th Street)

Domenico Vacca (702 Madison Avenue - 62nd/63rd Street)

Brunello Cucinelli (683 Madison Avenue - 61st/62nd Street)

          Directly across the street from Cucinelli, under more of New York's ubiquitous construction scaffolding, is the John Lobb shop. A small boutique, the shop has several models on display in a variety of leathers, including museum calf. Shoes from the classic line, such as the City II, are in the $1200 range. Prestige models, such as the Tudor boot, are closer to $1600-1700.

John Lobb (680 Madison Avenue (61st/62nd Street)

          At this point, take a brief detour off of Madison Avenue and walk west one block to Central Park South near Fifth Avenue. In Part Two of the walking tour, we'll take a peek at some of the shoes available at Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, and the Crockett & Jones shop.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Consider the Spectator: The Hutton for Ralph Lauren's Purple Label

Rita Hayworth & Fred Astaire on the set of You Were Never Lovelier (1941) (photo by John Florea)
Rita Hayworth & Fred Astaire on the set of You Were Never Lovelier (1941)

          As the spring thaw commences, its time to unpack and air out the linen, poplin, and seersucker. As far as footwear goes, shoes in lighter shades of brown or tan are always a good bet for this time of year. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, consider adding the spectator shoe to your wardrobe. Long considered to be firmly within the province of the well-heeled dandy (see Fred Astaire, pictured above), a nice pair of spectators can serve to effectively punctuate your sartorial statement.


          The spectator or correspondent shoe's most famous iteration is that of the oxford, semi-brogue, or full brogue style constructed from two contrasting colors, typically having the toe, heel cap and lace panels in a darker color than the main body of the shoe. Said to have first been designed by John Lobb as a cricket shoe in the nineteenth century, common color combinations generally include a white shoe body with either black, brown or tan toe and heel caps, but other colors can be used. The spectator can be made entirely of calf leather, but in an Uptown Dandy's opinion, the classic spectator will be brown leather on the toe box and back quarters and along the lace panels, with the body of the shoe being white suede.

          Many companies produce a spectator or some type of two-tone shoe; however, finding a well-balanced pair of spectators in the once ubiquitous brown or tan calf leather with white suede can slowly devolve into a search much like Sir Percival's forlorn quest for the Holy Grail. Crockett & Jones make a lovely spectator shoe for Ben Silver, named the Hampton, but the upper on the shoe is made entirely from calf leather -there's no suede.

C&J Spectators


          With all of this in mind, any dandy who is a stickler for the classic brown and white spectator with the calf and suede leather combination should look no further than the Hutton, an offering from Ralph Lauren's Purple Label. Purchased a few seasons ago at Ralph Lauren's Rhinelander Mansion on Madison Avenue a few seasons ago, it is definitely one of my favorite pairs of shoes.

Ralph Lauren's Purple Label Hutton.

A lovely patina on the dark oak calf leather.

Already a broguing addict, the white suede beautifully accents the punching on the dark oak leather.

Baring my sole: Edward Green's channeled soles.

          Made by Edward Green in Dark Oak calf leather and white suede on the 89 last, the shoe has a lovely silhouette by virtue of its somewhat slender shape and slightly square-toed appearance.
Unfortunately, its hard to make out due to my terrible photography skills,
but there is broguing along the white suede portion of the shoe as well.

Your inner Gatsby is calling to you . . .
or I just thought I'd throw in another picture . . .

          I'm not sure if its the suede or just the full brogue but the Hutton just does it for the Uptown Dandy - literally the perfect shoe for loitering on a bench by the pond across from the Canfield Casino in Congress Park whilst you pick your winners from the Daily Racing Form before making your way down Union Avenue to the Racetrack on a lovely August morning at Saratoga.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mecca & The Sole Brother (Part II): A Trip to Northampton (The Shoe Museum)

           As I mentioned in Part One, many other bloggers have posted excellent tours of the actual work spaces at places like Gaziano & Girling or Edward Green. As I don't think I can add much to what is already out there in the blogosphere regarding the actual shoe-making process, I thought I'd focus on the factory shops and the shoe museum if only because (1) no one ever minds seeing more photos of the shoes for sale at the factories and (2) I have yet to see anyone actually post recommendations of and photos from the shoe exhibit.


          As I learned while touring the shoe exhibit, prior to World War II the town of Northampton was home to over 200 shoe factories. By the 1950's it was down to around 100. Today, there are less than 10 shoe factories remaining in Northampton - including John Lobb, Edward Green, Crockett &Jones, Tricker's, and Church's.

          To put it simply, The Northampton Museum & Art Gallery does a magnificent job of preserving and presenting the town's illustrious history as the shoe-making capital of the world. Yes, I know what you're thinking: an entire exhibit dedicated to the history of shoe making in Northampton? This would scare the bejeezus out of most sane folk. But really, its a phenomenal experience and well-worth putting time aside on your trip to stop in. There isn't much more to say about it, so I'll just let the pics do the talking . . .

A flag with an emblem representing the shoemakers' local:

One of the displays highlighting the variety of shoes produced in Northampton:

Full Brogue by John Mudd (?)

Black & White Buckskin Derby, Padmore & Kent, 1934

Another exhibit with a variety of shoes being displayed:

Intricate artwork on the sole of the shoe:

McAfee Golf Shoes, Pollard & Son, 1900-1920

Tan Loafer, Lotus, 1936

The "demobilisation shoe" issued to British troops upon discharge from the British army at the end of WWII.

I could go on and on, but I'll leave something for like-minded pilgrims who decide to make the journey. Whenever you go, be sure to set aside some time to experience the history of Northampton.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mecca & the Sole Brother (Part I): A Trip to Northampton

Inside the John Lobb Factory Store

           Any self-respecting shoe connoisseur simply must make the pilgrimage to Northampton, England at least once in his (or her) lifetime. The town is literally brimming with evidence of its rich tradition in shoe-making. Home to venerable institutions such as Edward Green, John Lobb, Crockett & Jones, Church's and Tricker's, it is definitely worth a day trip in order to see the history of the town in person, and, of course, to stop in to some of the factory shops. The blogosphere is replete with informative and insightful summaries of visits to the actual work spaces at Edward Green or Gaziano & Girling, so I'll focus primarily on the factory shops.


          As I was staying in Oxford, I decided to take the bus north to Northampton. After passing through the lovely towns of Bicester and Towcester, I eventually arrived in Northampton (to make a very long story short, I would recommend taking the train from London if at all possible). As my sense of excitement intensified, I scurried to get a cab from the bus station (which made me feel right at home due to its eerily uncanny resemblance to New York City's Port Authority - and I'm not referring to the architecture) to take me to my first stop: the John Lobb factory store.

Side-Note 1: One thing that struck me as strange as I made my way through the town was that nobody in Northampton seemed to know anything about these companies. The cab drivers and passersby in the street didn't know what C&J or Lobbs were - but they did know the streets where they were located, which was good enough for me. In hindsight, this was probably my fault for babbling incoherently while asking total strangers, in my excitement, where Lobb or Tricker's was located.

          Anyway, I eventually arrived at John Lobb on Oliver Street. A lovely lady buzzes you in and, finally, you have arrived. You are then led up a flight of stairs and into a small room with a few displays and shelf upon shelf of boxed Lobbs. You find your size and dig in. I could try to describe the slender rivulets of joy that cascade upon you as you open each box to peek at the pleasures hidden within, but you just have to experience it for yourself.

Boxes and Boxes of Lobbs

          After picking out a few winners, Jean, the manager of the shop, suggested that I walk down Kettering Road, down to St. Michaels, which would lead me back to the bus stop. As Tricker's is along the way on St. Michaels, that sounded like a plan.


          Crockett & Jones is on Perry Street, a few blocks south of Lobb and in the general direction I was going, so a stop was certainly in order.

At the Crockett & Jones Factory Store

Side-Note 2: Another thing that stood out in Northampton was that, as you walked, you are literally walking right by old defunct shoe factories. For instance, on the corner of St. Michaels as you approach Tricker's from the bus station, I came across the abandoned, boarded-up remains of the G.T. Hawkins factory. I don't know much about this company, but several examples of their shoes were on display at the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery.

G.T. Hawkins Factory

          The Tricker's factory shop was, in a word, awesome. The store is actually located in the back of the shop, and I only saw an entrance to the sales office and show room. A woman there was kind enough to give me a brief tour of the factory on the way to the shop (which is, strangely enough, located in the rear of the premises). Inside the store, there was a kind old gentleman who proceeded to tell me quite a bit about their shoes. He pointed out the black patent leather wingtip ankle boots made specifically for the Japanese yakuza market, as well as white suede chukka boots for Thom Brown and big clunky double-soled chelsea boots that the German farmer market apparently goes ga-ga for. A great shop with even better conversation. I understand that the Tricker shop has a presence on eBay, but I'd recommend a stop in at the shop even if Tricker's are not your thing.

Tricker's Factory Shop

          I was pretty much all shopped out at this point. I'll continue my ramblings in Part II with my stop at the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery.