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Foster & Son Interview

Foster & Son traces its origins to 1840. During the Second World War in 1941 Mr. Foster was killed by a bomb at Waterloo station, but coincidentally another shoemaker Charles Chester lost his premises in a direct hit from another bomb. Their leather merchant put them together and he moved in with Mrs. Foster at her 5 Eagle Place workshop, between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street. The firm soon moved to 5 Duke of York Street St. James’s and then to 83 Jermyn Street in 1966. Today 83 Jermyn Street still has the feel of a family-owned business.


I'm Andy Murphy from Foster and Son. We're the oldest shoemakers in London. We've been traveling to America, the company for over 40 years doing these trunk shows. Dallas we used to come to in the 70s and 80s and we've just introduced it with Kirby last year and this is the second trip into Dallas. What is it that kind of leads a gentleman to bespoke? Well it's a big number of things. It's comfort, maybe the first thing that might lead someone they're having trouble with their feet. Then of course it's style. You can choose a particular style that's unique to you and also it's you look at some of these hand-made shoes and they're just they're so beautiful to look. They're very different to some of the ready to wear, the styling, the line, the white, the lightness of them. And it's a very unique product. So people aspire to it and a lot of customers save up really hard and really cherish the shoes and others they've got a lot more money. They still cherish them but they're ordering all the time. Most customers nowadays will look on line and do a bit of research and they probably do in London do the foot-walk and go to cleverly lobs and because you know and actually go in the store and have a look at the product and see the staff and see what kind of suits them but once they've made their choice of who they want to make the shoe the process starts you know talking to the customer in the stores in the store.

And then once the customer has decided pretty much to commit we get the great big book here and this is what we do. The customer stands on here and then we just pretty much draw around the foot, take measurements across the instep, the bottom of your step across here taking into account any things in the foot that might be a problem. Here this gentleman behind his toes instep. We take as many notes as we can. And from this measurement that's when we take it back to London for our last-maker to make the last. Jon Spencer making last and Mika Matsud in the store making last. Both of those were trained by Terry Moore who's the legendary last-maker at Foster's. Once you got the last, with the last-makers happy with the measurements that you've got. He thinks this is going to be pretty much good. Then the process goes to the next person which is the pattern cutter so they make a paper pattern to fit the last. Then once the pattern makers happy then they actually cut the leather and it's all stitched together so you've got the upper part of the shoe and then it's half made around that last. That's when you have the fitting so the shoes half-made so essentially you've got the shape and the upper. When you turn over you haven't got the finish sole. You can see all the welts and all the work underneath. There's no sole on it.

When you have a fit and you can easily maneuver that part around before you finish the shoe. And then really from there once you are happy with the fit the look the shape and we proceed to finish the shoe. All the sole is made and stitched by hand. All the soles open bark tan leather soles from an English company. And the whole process for measurement to finish shoe with the fitting in between is around six to nine months. Well the heel part again is when you look at any shoe you see is built up in four or five extra layers of leather. You can see the lines. Now on a ready to wear, mostly they're punched out by machine and it's already built. But this handmade you've got: one two three four five pieces of leather which you're cutting out from the same sort of sole piece and you're building it entirely by hand. And when you're doing that you can shape it to a pitched heel small heel narrow heel. So all the heel shapes are very very different on a bespoke shoe. Now pattern you can do all different types of now patterns as well. If you look at all the hundred or all bespoke shoes that are in our store turn them all over. They'll all will be slightly different. Individual people have made these and not in a production line where it's uniform. They're all made over a different period of time. From the top of the heel to the shoe. It's almost streamline. It's very difficult to see a joined.

If you look at the ready to way you've got you can see that you've got that ridge which you can't really get the difference of on a machine can't do that's all done by hand. So there that we will find details that some customers might order a bespoke and want it to look like this and that's no problem. But generally it's this real refined and narrow here. And even now it's getting close to people like it really narrow and close. Hand-working time that's the main cost of where the work goes into; all these fine details here. Also now a lot of the factories in U.K. and even abroad put in lot more handwork into the shoe to get it to that bespoke look that we find narrow bevelled waist, the fiddle back waist really close welts. A lot of factories are doing that on their top end high end you know Gaussian do it and Edward Green do on some of their shoes.

The factories have to do that because they want to get this bespoke look and customers are willing to pay for it. On the whole once you've gone bespoke it's very very difficult to go back to ready to wear because the fit is so much better. You get support, natural support under your arch. Your foot's held you know kind of in a supportive position all day long. You don't realize that until you've got a pair made and then you think gosh this you can wear this shoe all day long every day day after day without any discomfort. Which on the ready to wear shoe sometimes you have a breaking in process and they don't quite work and after a few hours of wearing the shoe you have to take him off change shoes. But with bespoke it's that the key is the fit really. Once you've have it it's very difficult to go back to ready to wear. You pick up a ready to wear shoe and a bespoke shoe the weight is quite different. The bespoke is lighter in weight. Not a great deal but you can feel the difference and that's because there's not the excess. With the ready to wear, like this one is here, you've got to make it to fit like 90 percent of the people who try it on so you've got quite a bit of room in there. With bespoke it's just cut much closer to your foot. There's less materials involved as opposed and that's why the people love the shoe.

In this day and age when everything seems to be really sort of a fast buckle or a throw away satchel showbiz razzmatazz a lot of people love all that. But most of our customers shy away from that they come to us because we're fairly you know low-key. We're not shouting from the rooftops that we got tons of movie stars on our books and that's actually a lot of people come to us say is I'm coming to you primarily because you're not going to tell big stories about me as a customer. Famous people who want to be private. Nowadays people will do the research and they'll make a decision based on what you just said it's more personal. They realize that they're going to have a personal relationship with the company but more importantly the guys that they see on a regular basis and a lot of our customers have two or three tailors as well in London. And they may have started with Huntsman's and followed him onto this company another company set up on the run and so it's a personal relationship and the customer chooses I guess based on that sometimes rather than just the product. So if I'm to go for something with Fosters I mean I really want something that represents kind of the DNA you know the estos of Fosters.

I mean not something that you're going to find anywhere else and something that's pretty unmistakable so what would you recommend? Well the to start the elastic side of the shoe has many styles, quite plain, bit of broguing more broguing and more sort of dressy. And before I start that fosters I've not noticed there was a difference but most stores always used to sell it that the line is cut kind of all the way straight around here. So all the Cleverley ones will cut like this some of the V cut all the Edward Green shoes all the New and Lingwood shoes were all exactly like this here. And when I started working at Fosters I actually noticed that a massive archive of elastic sided shoes and they were all cut mostly slightly different. You see here you've got the elastic side little lift or higher tongue here. And on this one here the brogue one, it's a littlr higher still. So this is a really different feature that I've not noticed any shoe prior to joining fosters. So this is kind of unique styling with this slightly lower vamp and the little lip on top. You can really tell that it's different to an Edward Green, or Cleverley or Jones type of shoe. We've now managed to incorporate that cut into the ready to wear.

This is a new ready to wear shoes that's coming out this spring and it's got that slight lip on the top. But even then if you compare that to the bespoke equivalent I would say this kind of shows you the limitations of what you can achieve in bespoke versus ready to wear. It's still quite different. We try to keep it the same when you look at bespoke. It's a whole different that we've seen. I mean that's that would be the iconic shoe. I'd like to be more kind of London shoe and so formal something I can wear in the city. You've got a few options. That's the Wing Tip you get a picture of it there in black with the Foster fading. The other option is if you go plain it can be almost maybe too dressy. But this is this would be really nice in a brown. A medium to dark brown. All the other options to go with something with a little bit of broguing. You got two options here. Broguing around the vamp line stitching or a big of broguing on the toe.

But if we did this in black then this would be the nice thing about this shoe. You got the classic Foster shape of the elastic side and the lip at top and then doing this in black. Foster fading here. You go this oldest this area here which I think would make it really nice shoe. So it's kind of quite smart in terms of for business but with the elastic sides with the fading it's not overly black overly business you could wear it with jeans, jacket, blazer it's a bit you can dress it down as well. Yeah. What other options are there in terms of kind of finishing detailing. So we went for something like this. We did it in black with the Fosters fade. I mean I've heard of the invisible welt. Well yeah. You don't really need, you can do it invisible or blind welt but it's mostly you'd have a welt like it is here. You can go a little bit closer. This particular shoe we're looking at was made in the 70s and then the styling was to have the welt underneath the waist on show and on this side on the asset on show. So a lot of the customers like it like this. The more slightly modern way which is very popular at the moment is when you get to here, have it closed. I don't have an example right here. It's like is on the heel. Totally closed you haven't got that ridge.

It gives me kind of a visual sensory feel of the foot. I guess relates back to Jon Spencer or Mika who were making the last and it's just when we make the notes and how Jon Spencer makes most of them. He makes all the lasts that I measure from so me and Jon work really closely together. So that's the key to it. I'm not a lastmaker. I need to getting that lastmaker to interpret my measures because everybody measures differently. When I first started at Fosters me and Jon just sat and worked together really closely for a good six months working through the measurements because the way I was actually taught measuring by John Canera and old man Cleverley was a little bit different to the measurements that Jonn was taught by Terry Moore. So my measures kind of amalgamate both ways of measuring from Canera and Cleverley and Terry Moore of Foster's. So what I'm doing now, these two measures are going to cross here is how I was taught at Cleverley and Canera. This measurement here is something that Terry always done and we'd never done.

Never done before so I just wanted across here and across here and then this measure across here so it's kind of just giving you more measurements for the dimensions of the foot. It's just different ways of measuring. Both tailors will do the same, essentially you're doing exactly the same thing but you got one or two different ways of measuring. Once all the measures are here, Jon gets a block of wood sits it on here and then starts to measure it and then works that wood where he needs to add leather to build up or where he needs to shave it off to get it to these exact measurements. Again the here I've got the two instep measures standing up. I was always taught I've only ever done this short instep measure. Terry always just did here and then here. So there's two extra measures how I was taught to measure. Suppose gives you more understanding of the foot. Wouldn't say which one is wrong or wrong both measures tend to get the correct results in the end. Once you sit down I'm going to take similar measures again and these measurements will sit this side so then we got the whole measurements just around the hand over your foot again and do visuals. Maybe a slight hand on toe here. Top of your toe maybe over here. So what we do when we're making the last we call sync the toe. So in the actual. Instead of making the toe box higher we might have a bump on the shoe. The last little piece underneath so once your on the insole your tie sits down so it's a level top.

Always bothers me is like right here you know is a tremendous kind of pressure point towards the end of the day. Yeah. Well this is it here for most people you've got sensitivity here. So it's not apparent sometimes you can feel the bone really pronounced or you feel sort of a blood vessel that goes through here is quite pronounced. So it's not apparent so obviously you pointed that out so we'll take that into consideration. You mentioned you have a bit of pressure on your instep so I've noted that down here. And it's really just the sort of formation of your foot it comes if you like this way. Yeah. Some people go straight down this way but it's normal. Nothing wrong, it just helps make the pattern how we work the shoe. And then really I said you can see the big toes got it slightly raised big toe there. Just sitting down measurements you don't need to stand on here or do anything. Just rest your foot as you would normally seated or seated. Okay just one right in there. So this gives us an idea of how your feet change when you obviously stand into sitting. So you know what the sort of difference is. What about back here? Checking here it's quite slim. Yeah very slim heel.

So again that you got here a slim heel which tell us straight away that it's going to be very tough to get a loafer style. But we always we always start with a non loafer anyway so you know elastic side of the shoe or lace shoe as I say s we get you know progressing into the relationship and you become more confident with us we become more confident with you as a customer then we might say hey, you want a loafer we'll go for a loafer but you understand the problems that I encountered it may mean that we have two or three fittings along the way and the process would be much longer. But eventually you'd get a loafer that would fit but we wouldn't do that for two or three years really. And that's it pretty much. We've got everything we need now. We got the measurements. Jon will interpret this he'll we'll have conversations about it. We know the style and then the next step is the all important fitting.