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

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!

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