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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

8 Days in Scotland - The Johnstons of Elgin Factory: The Dyehouse

The original mill building at the Johnstons of Elgin Factory.

During my trip to Scotland way back in April, I took a trip a bit further north to Elgin, to tour the Johnstons of Elgin factory. The facility is one of the oldest factories in Scotland - some of the buildings date back to the 19th century. It was actually quite interesting to walk around the complex and see the evolution of the factory right before your eyes. Most of the buildings had a plaque on the outside which indicated the year it was built, so one can literally see how the process of making clothing and fabrics was refined and improved throughout the years, as buildings housing more and more advanced functions were added to the factory.

Tours are available periodically throughout the day from the Cashmere Heritage Center. As we were visiting midweek, we were fortunate enough to (1) have a tour guide to ourselves; and (2) arrive at the factory when it was closed - this sounds like a bad thing, but you're actually able to see and hear a bit more (and stray a bit from the yellow tour line) because the loud machines aren't going and so any potential safety concerns are mitigated somewhat.

It was also quite interesting to see very large Chinese trees in the yards as you walked around the grounds. Apparently, seeds are often trapped amongst the wools and cashmeres delivered to the factory. As the seeds escape, they can sometimes take root. In the above image, a Chinese pistachio tree has taken root in the north of Scotland.

Another Chinese tree taking root in Elgin.

Tours are available periodically throughout the day from the Cashmere Heritage Center. As we were visiting midweek, we were fortunate enough to (1) have a tour guide to ourselves; and (2) arrive at the factory when it was closed - this sounds like a bad thing, but you're actually able to see and hear a bit more (and stray a bit from the yellow tour line) because the loud machines aren't going and so any potential safety concerns are mitigated somewhat.

In most cases, each building had a plaque describing the part of the process that was taking place on the premises. In this case, you can see a brief description of the dyeing or coloring process.

As the plaque indicates, in the first step of production batches of fibers are dyed in large vats. Below, you can see just how large those vats actually are.

From here, the tour continued to the winding and yarnstore.

To be continued . . .

Sunday, August 25, 2013

All Things Edward Green: An Interview with Managing Director Hilary Freeman (Part Two)

As promised, here is part two of An Uptown Dandy's Q&A on all things EG with Hilary Freeman, Managing Director of Edward Green.

My understanding is that, via the MTO and Top Drawer programs, the customer can choose a last that may no longer be available via ready-to-wear offerings. Is there a particular last (or lasts) that is currently unavailable via RTW that is frequently requested via MTO or Top Drawer?

It's important to be confident that the last will work for your foot so we have a very good range of shoes, lasts, and widths available to try-on at Jermyn Street - including the 808 or the 32. Sometimes a customer will want to remake a pair that fit well before on a legacy last but broadly we believe it works best when people order on the lasts that they can try on from the ready-to-wear range.

The Japanese really seem to have taken their passion for shoes to another level when compared to their American and English counterparts. Perusing Japanese magazines such as Last and Men's Ex gives the reader the sense that there is more of an appreciation for less conservative or more "modern" designs. Would you agree with that interpretation? In your experience, do you see a big difference in terms of the types of models that are popular in the US/UK versus the Far East?

You're right - the Japanese shoe magazine are fantastic and a window into a culture with such attention to detail, whether this applies to heritage or more recently to contemporary designs. We've found the orders coming in from Japan really inspirational. But there is a growing appetite in other countries - at least amongst the customers who come to Edward Green - for shoes with a little difference. The choice at Jermyn Street changes much more frequently than it would have five years ago -for example, we have a Westminster double monk in country calf with a dainite sole for next season. Last year it was in 'Flannel suede and 'Nightshade' - but three years ago it would have only been in Dark oak and Black. Its still a classic Edward Green shoe.

How would you describe the state of the shoe-making industry in Northampton today? Is there a next generation or students/apprentices with an interest and a willingness to carry on the tradition?

Forty years ago the town had plenty of shoe-makers making average shoes for the mass-market. Those companies which remain today are those which have developed their global niche. Around the world Northampton is recognized for the quality of shoe-making and we see the market continuing to grow. So the attention switches to skills. Once the local college trained generations of shoe-makers. Today, companies need to invest the time in developing those skills themselves and there's always a balance to strike between that and production today. But strike it we must because we all want to ensure that there's a thriving industry in a generation's time.

Along those lines, I'm always curious as to the relationship that exists between the various Northampton shoe companies. Is it more typical for a skilled craftsman to remain at one company for an extended period of time, or is there more lateral movement whereby different skills and techniques are disseminated between companies?

At our end of the market the individual processes are quite different from what goes on in factories with larger production, so whilst there can be some movement, we try to retain good employees.

As someone who works in the industry and (presumably) is also an admirer of English-made shoes, is there a fine line between the competitive nature of the business versus each company's position as a steward of Northampton's proud shoe-making tradition?

I don't see that there need be a contradiction there. Ensuring that skills are passed on is in the best interests of both the industry but also the company.

Finally, I have to ask because it remains my favorite shoe: What exactly is the medallion on the Windsor model?  have always thought it looked like cross golf clubs with an arrow resting across the center. But I've also heard it described as everything from a family crest to the Papal coat of arms. Care to set the record straight?

We believe it was a model that we originally made for Peal & Co. - and it's golf clubs.

Well, I for one am glad to get the definitive word on this! Once again, many thanks for your time and consideration.

Monday, August 19, 2013

All Things Edward Green: An Interview with Managing Director Hilary Freeman (Part One)

Most readers of An Uptown Dandy know that I'm a big fan of Edward Green shoes. So I considered myself very lucky to meet Hilary Freeman in person at the MRket show in New York City back in January (I was there to interview the folks from Grenfeld, and Edward Green happened to be located in the next booth). I was pleasantly surprised to find that they remembered the Windsors that I sent back to the factory for refurbishment, and its always a treat to talk talk shoes with such knowledgeable individuals. Here, then, is part one of a brief Q&A on all things EG with Hilary Freeman, Managing Director of Edward Green.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to play such a prominent role at one of Northampton's most respected shoemakers?

I worked for many years in Paris: it was surely this which inspired my total appreciation of quality. When I returned to London, I asked friends to recommend a good dry cleaner and shoe repairer and was told to my horror, "We throw them away!" I worked in areas as diverse as Cosmetics with Revlon International and in New Product Development with Sainsbury's. So then I came back to work at Edward Green having met John, who owned the business.

How did you first meet John Hlustik?

We met in London at the wedding of a mutual friend.

What was the company like when Mr. Hlustik first arrived?

Edward Green, under the ownership since 1979 of an American who lived in New York, was failing. John Hlustik, a renowned shoe designer with offices in Kilmarnoch, Savile Row, London and Florence, visited the Edward Green factory at the behest of the American and fell in love with it. In 1982 when the company was virtually bankrupt, John flew to JFK and bought Edward Green for GBP 1.00 (plus the debts!). He wanted to design for himself rather than, as he had designed before, for others. Rather than compete with the larger Northampton shoe manufacturers making typically black Goodyear Welted city shoes, as John Church told me: John Hlustik made Brown shoes and later slip-on shoes, acceptable. He developed the process of 'antiquing shoes.': thereby countering advice which traditionally stipulated 'not Brown for Town'.

Edward Green's Windsor, 201 Last.

As you know, I'm a big fan of some of Edward Green's models from the 1980s, particularly the Windsor and Braemar models with their distinctive, unique broguing patterns. I've always associated these shoes with the creativity and imagination of Mr. Hlustik. Can you shed any light on whether these designs were inspired from styles found in the Edward Green archives?

There are certainly shoes very similar to these from the archive. Over the years shoes are re-made in subtly different ways, on different lasts or in different skins changing the character a little. So for instance recently we remade the Windsor but with slightly less ornate broguing. Broguing became more popular in the 1920s - one theory is that war machinery led to a degree of mechanization in brogue punching and this led to increasingly intricate patterns being used. Certainly we think that the thistles and decorative patterning goes back to that period - and John reintroduced it on particular models in the 1980s.

When comparing vintage Edward Green shoes to more recent offerings, the most notable different, after the subtle evolution of the lasts, seems to be the introduction of the burnished calf leather "look," particularly at the toe cap and the rear quarters. Is that due to technological improvements/ advancements over the years, or simply a response to customer demand/preference? I love it, by the way.

Well, John developed our antiquing years ago having studied shoe design in Italy. He wanted to create a deep patina - an antiqued look embodying the cared for appearance of the shoes his grandfather would have worn. This gave the company a niche away from the seas of black shoes made by the other Northampton businesses at the time. Whether for the classic 'Edwardian' or 'Chestnut', the same technique can be used on our more recent 'Cloud' to create a striking and modern look. Either way, it's the signature of Edward Green, gives real depth to the shoe and requires the very finest calf leather and meticulous hand-finishing as the base tan is light and the character of the skin is so evident.

Most admirers of Edward Green will be familiar with the wonderful variety of models available via the ready-to-wear. Can you tell us a bit more about the "Made-to-Order" and "Top Drawer" programs? How would you describe your target customer for these programs?

Men who buy Edward Green are men with a real appreciation for quality and attention to detail. They want something special. It may be that they want to have a particular shoe created in a particular colour - or it may be that they've found a last that particularly suits their foot and want want to buy their shoes based on that. So there is a combination of different variables - leather, pattern, last, sole, welt, lining, etc., which can be specified. Top Drawer shoes have a different level of finish - exquisite, with a tightly bevelled waist, a London heel tapered a little like a classic bespoke shoe. Most of the making is done by a single experienced cordwainer. The waist of the shoe can be monogrammed with fine nails. And there's an even greater degree of customization, which allows for pattern changes, for example.

To Be Continued . . .

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Places We Like To Stay: The Batcheller Mansion Inn, Saratoga Springs, New York

The Inn and Grounds at the Batcheller Mansion

Last weekend's trip to Saratoga was a truly memorable experience. Most of that had to do with our amazing accommodations at the Batcheller Mansion Inn, a 19th century Victorian that has been lovingly restored and maintained. 

The library.

Conveniently located near Broadway, the old Canfield Casino, and the Saratoga Racetrack on Union Avenue, you really couldn't ask for a better location to enjoy the town of Saratoga Springs.

The front foyer.

Many thanks to the wonderful owner and staff - the coffee and pastries were great, and breakfast was amazing!

The heavy wood double doors at the front of the mansion.

I'm definitely looking forward to a return engagement . . .

[You can view the Inn's website here]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wildsmith: An Interview with Chay Cooper


Chay Cooper was kind enough to respond via email to a few questions that I sent to him regarding the new Wildsmith venture. Here, then, is a brief Q&A on all things Wildsmith.

Chay, can you tell readers of An Uptown Dandy a little about the history behind the original Wildsmith company?

Wildsmith was founded in 1847 by Matthew and Rebecca Wildsmith in London's Piccadilly. The company began by making and repairing boots for the Household Cavalry. They quickly gained a large and loyal following which included many famous people such as John F Kennedy and David Niven, as well as many royals - including King George VI, for whom the company designed the first ever slip on shoe seen in London, the Wildsmith loafer. More recent royals include the Duke of York and Prince Charles.
Matthew & Rebecca Wildsmith

Tell us about the new Wildsmith. How did the venture come about? Is there a linear/familial connection to the legacy of John Wildsmith and his original company?

John Wildsmith has reached an age in his life where, to be fair, he ought to be able to enjoy the fruits of his labour and perhaps take life a little easier. With no family members keen to carry the mantle of the business forward, John was very keen for the Wildsmith name to continue on for the enjoyment of future generations. The new co-owners - myself, James (Sleater) & Ian (Meiers) - were introduced to John via a friend who is also the head cutter at James and Ian’s London-based tailoring company, Cad & the Dandy. Discussion between us all soon turned to Wildsmith and progressed from there really. Having a huge passion for English shoes and working in the industry myself as a shoemaker for over 20 years now, it seemed a perfect fit for me personally - although the challenge of ensuring that Wildsmith's future is as impressive as its illustrious past is a bit daunting. Fortunately, John is still involved and on hand for me to chat shoes and to learn from his vast experience. I think he is pleased with the collection that we have put together and he remains an important part of Wildsmith.

Chay Cooper, Ian Meiers, and James Sleater

Do you have access to the Wildsmith archives? If so, do you anticipate a revival of some of the company's vintage designs, with perhaps a modern "tweak," so to speak? Will there be different lines available?

Yes, we do and there are plenty of archives to look through for inspiration!

Wildsmith was undeniably innovative and needs to remain that way. Some styles shall be revived or tweaked slightly. At the same time, we feel it is important to also create new styles that still retain that classic English masculine look but are also attractive to today's customers. It was a conscious decision, for instance, to launch with a new interpretation of the 582 model unlined loafer - called the Bloomsbury -  although we may add a version of the 582 design on the original Last at some point in the future.


The Bloomsbury Loafer

What are the anticipated price points? Do you have a target customer in mind?

Pricing is all between £345 and £400 including tax.

We don’t really have a target customer in mind, to be honest. Ideally, someone who invests in a pair of Wildsmith shoes will appreciate the time, detail, skill, and craftsmanship that goes into making English Goodyear Welted shoes. Above all, they'll feel good wearing them and appreciate that they're getting great shoes at a great price. Value is very important to me and I’m sure our potential clients think likewise.

I believe Wildsmith was well-known for its bespoke shoe-making as well as its ready-to-wear offerings. Are you also planning on offering bespoke services in addition to a ready-to-wear line?

No, not at this moment. There are some great bespoke makers in London who have vast expertise in what they offer. So, unless we could improve on or, at the very least, compete with what is already on the market, I think it would be the wrong decision for us to do so.

Where will the shoes be made?

All of Wildsmith shoes and accessories are made in England. As one would expect, the shoes are all made in Northamptonshire.

Where and when do you anticipate the shoes will be available for sale? Are there plans for a brick and mortar shop, or will the initial emphasis be on establishing a presence via the internet and independent retailers?

Shoes and accessories are available to pre-order now on our website www.wildsmith.com.  We go fully live and start shipping on the 21st of August.

We also have a concession at No. 13 Savile Row, London where people can come, view and purchase. We are also very fortunate to have some stockists in the US, namely Leffot and Leather Soul, and shall be adding additional stockists later this year in Asia.

Many thanks, Chay, and best of luck!

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Saratoga during the racing season is a majestic place. The races are a lot of fun to watch - even if you don't get any bets down. I spent most of my time on the first day around the grounds, trying the lobster rolls, and watching a few races. After all that, I got caught in a downpour along Union Avenue, stopped to admire the beauty of Richard Canfield's Casino - which is a museum now - and then made my way back to my room to unpack.

Anyway, the room has a nice vintage art deco armoire that I stuffed with some things to wear to dinner and perhaps the Turf Terrace restaurant at the track if it doesn't pour again today.

Blue/Red Drake's unicorn pocket square.
Borrelli brown/white print tie
Drake's blue/red/white Englishprint tie.

Isaia navy blue linen suit.
Holland&holland tan linen sports jacket
Brooks Brothers creme linen trousers.
Kiton blue gingham shirt.
Drake's blue dress shirt.
Turnbull&Asser Argyle Socks in Navy Blue and Peach

Gaziano & Girling Rothschild in Antique Chestnut.
RLPL Whitaker spectators in suede and dark oak calf leather.

Borsalino linen cap
Borsalino straw fedora

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Return of Wildsmith

Well, I apologize for the long stretches between posts but I've been busy at "work"  and some other projects. Anyway, I was excited to see that the new Wildsmith venture is up and running! Chay Cooper has a hand in the new venture, so I think it goes without saying that we can expect to see quality shoes with some interesting designs and elegant lasts on the horizon.

You can view the newest offerings here and keep abreast of the latest developments at Facebook here.

There are some fantastic designs, although obviously what caught my eye was this Windsor-inspired design, called the Covent Derby (here).

I hope to be able to interview Chay on the new endeavor soon on what must be an exciting time - stay tuned!