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

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.

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