Thursday, May 24, 2012

What's the Point?

On Wednesdays Perry travels to New York City to meet new clients and take measurements. For the last couple weeks I've stayed and tended the shop (Pavlo doesn't speak good English). Yesterday, I got into a conversation about craftsmanship with someone who came in to the shop. One of the things I told him was that even after spending countless hours online and in books researching the topic of bespoke shoemaking, I didn't realize the amount of work that went into a pair of custom-made shoes until I got down here and into the shop on a daily basis. 

I remember watching the movie "The Game" with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, about a wealthy investment banker who gets caught up in some adventure gone awry.  In one scene, Michael Douglas's character is climbing the side of a building, trying to evade some people who are pursuing him. In the process, he loses one of his shoes.  He says to the woman who is with him, "There goes $1000."  She says, "Your shoes cost $1000?" And he responds, "That one did!" At the time I remember thinking, "Who in their right mind would spend that kind of money on a pair of shoes?" Obviously, I've changed my mind since then.

I certainly don't expect most people to slog through every moment of some of the videos I am posting. But, if nothing else they might give you a taste of how much work is involved in each stage of the process, and what kind of quality and value are involved. For the first pair of shoes, I believe Perry is now charging in the neighborhood of $4,000 (the reason it goes down for subsequent pairs is that the measurements have already been taken and the last has been formed).  $4,000 seems like a lot! I certainly don't currently have that much money to spend on a pair of shoes.  But is it worth it?  Consider this: It typically takes 40-60 hours for a pair of custom-made shoes from start to finish.  Ask a good lawyer to spend that much time on your behalf and see what the bill is! 

So why buy a pair of shoes from a craftsman if it takes so long to make?  First of all, the materials which are used are typically far superior to what you get in a store-bought pair of shoes.  You'd be surprised to see some of the materials that are used in brands of shoes which used to be well-known for making quality footwear.  Just the other day I tossed a pair of my own shoes from one of these makers in the trash that I initially thought were easily repairable.  The more I tore off from the heel, I realized that the whole thing was essentially particle board.  If you buy a pair of custom-made shoes, you are almost certain to have a shoe entirely made from fine leathers.  And the parts that aren't likely are an improvement in some way over leather.

Secondly, the design.  How many times have you had an idea in your head about what kind of shoes you wanted, or any other product for that matter, only to realize that it isn't available anywhere?  When you buy shoes at the store, you get what they make for you and that's it!  It kind of reminds of what Henry Ford said about the Model T.  Something along the lines of, "It's available in any color as long as it's black."  That might not be a bad thing.  If what you want is available, that's great.  But when you go through the experience of buying a pair of bespoke shoes, you join in the creation of the shoe.  I believe Frank Gehry, the famous architect, said that when people work with him, they feel as if they are the ones designing it.  That's the difference you get with a bespoke shoemaker.  You can bring a photo, a drawing, a nebulous concept, and they can translate that into a shoe just for you.  You can choose what color, what type of leather, the particular  style, or any variation thereof. You are joining in the process of creating something truly unique.  And don't think I'm merely talking about shoes for formal occasions.  Many shoemakers are now making shoes that are more appropriate for wearing with jeans and in more casual circumstances.

And finally, the fit.  There's not much of a comparison to getting a pair of shoes made exactly to the size and shape of your own feet.  If you have bunions, flat feet, one foot significantly larger, a high instep, it's not a problem.  Most of us have become so accustomed to wearing ill-fitting shoes that we take for granted the accompanying discomfort.  But when you finally put on the shoes from a master shoemaker, you won't want to go back.

So, maybe you don't currently have the money to spend on a pair of custom-made shoes.  If that's the case, you may want to consider it at some point in the future.  It's not for everyone, but if you do decide to do it, you won't be disappointed.  One more thing about cost:  Perry tends to be on the higher side of the bespoke spectrum.  And I do think Perry is well worth his fee.  If you do a search online you'll see that most of the people who have commented about purchasing from  him have thoroughly appreciated his professionalism, his willingness to work with them and do all the work on the front end to make sure they end up with a pair of shoes they love.  I can personally attest to his attention to the customer's needs and to his attention to detail. But even if you can't spend $4,000, there are other makers who charge less.  So, you may want to reconsider bespoke.

Anyway, I hope through this, and some of the videos I am posting that you will recognize that even if it's not for you, there certainly is great value in a pair of custom shoes. 

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