Happy Christmas

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our friends

Our Christmas and New Year Sale starts today. We have a bigger selection than ever of sale shoes. Download our catalogue at http://foster.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Catalogue-Christmas-Final-2013.pdf

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One day only pre-Christmas Sale … Sale

Just for today, 5th December, to celebrate the switching on of the Jermyn Street lights we are having a sale.

All of our shoes, including models that don’t normally go into our sale will be available at a 20% discount. We also have a number of pairs of ex-bespoke shoes and boots that we will be selling for £1000 a pair.

Sale ends tonight at 21.15. Our normal Christmas sale begins on 22nd December.

FC

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Our new ready to wear shoes with added ‘fading’

Our new Fawley ready to wear semi-brogue

Our new Fawley ready to wear semi-brogue with added ‘fading’

We have just launched a new range of ready-to-wear shoes on our new lasts inspired by Terry Moore. These are the first rtw shoes that we have offered with our signature fading, which reproduces the effects of sunlight and age that are a feature of our older bespoke shoes (see the Chaves below)

The 'Chaves' inspiration for our new ready to wear shoes

The ‘Chaves’ inspiration for our new ready to wear shoes

The effect is impressive and attractive. It originally came about when we were at Duke of York Street and the shoes in our south-facing window faded due to exposure to sunlight. We were asked to reproduce that effect in our bespoke shoes – something we have been doing for quite a while now – and felt that it was time to make it available to all of our customers.

The heel looks wonderful

The heel looks wonderful

The process is now without its dangers though, it could damage shoes quite severely if not done carefully, and it takes up to four weeks to complete for each pair. But we’re very pleased with the outcome.

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The pair in the photographs here is currently on display at 82 Jermyn street, you’re welcome to come and have a look for yourself.

The toe

The toe

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Live on Styleforum

We’ve been live on Styleforum at http://www.styleforum.net/t/365214/foster-son-henry-maxwell-official-affiliate-thread for just over a month now and have had nearly 20,000 visitors. Please have a look at our thread we’re really pleased with it.

Andy Murphy, Gerry Holtz and George Wakeford at Foster & Son

Andy Murphy, Gerry Holtz and George Wakeford at Foster & Son

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From A&R man to Shoeman

Justin Fitzpatrick, The Shoe Snob super-blogger, has travelled a long way from music executive to shoe maker. Seattle born and bred, Justin attended the University of Washington where he studied Entrepreneurship, with the intention of going into the music business. Unfortunately for Justin but fortunately for shoe connoisseurs, that didn’t work out and the music business’s loss is the shoe industry’s gain.

Justin is particularly interesting as he is completely self-made. He went from Nordstrom college job in his Washington State hometown, via Italy, where he learned how to make shoes from the great Stefano Bemer, to London where he now has his own shoe line. It is a remarkable story, of passion, determination and ability.

We met up at Starbuck’s to talk shoes. Justin’s approach is refreshing and forthright; he is an advocate for high-quality men’s shoes, writes about them and makes them. His blog has enormous reach and is probably the most-read men’s shoe blog in the world, with over 100,000 visitors each month. That’s a huge number of visits. It is very, very popular and is regularly referenced on Styleforum, probably the most influential style site in the world.

We asked him, why shoes? Justin’s answer was typically to the point,

“Clothes were very important when I was growing up but no-one seemed to care about shoes. They seemed to me to be the foundation of any outfit. A good pair of shoes can ‘make’ an average suit; a bad pair will ruin any suit. So, because I care, I became an advocate for men’s shoes.”

If you visit The Shoe Snob blog you will see the most extensive and eclectic collection of shoe pictures to be found anywhere on the net.  Justin has posted thousands pictures of shoes since his blog started in 2010. He is also opinionated and not afraid to take on the perceived wisdom of the trade – look up his article on gemming for an excellent example. It’s Justin’s unique mixture of visuals and direct, unambiguous prose that makes his blog so compelling. No dissimulation, just the unvarnished opinion of a knowledgeable and direct man, with a good eye for what makes an attractive shoe.

When asked about his favourite Foster’s shoe Justin came up with two (typically Justin, if you ask us), one each from the ready-to-wear and bespoke collections. His ready-to-wear favourite is the Montrose in black calf and grey suede, a shoe I happened to be wearing when we met.

The Montrose in black calf and grey suede

The Montrose in black calf and grey suede

Justin’s favourite bespoke shoe is this one, made in the Art-Deco tradition.

Oxford Blue

Oxford Blue

Interestingly, both shoes (the Montrose is actually an ankle boot but…) are heritage designs and both hark back to the early years of the 20th Century. We talked about this briefly and agreed that there’s nothing in shoe design that is completely new. Each generation builds on the successes and failures of the past.

Justin’s approach to customer service is refreshing. If he doesn’t stock the shoe you want he’ll point you to someone who does – with a smile on his face. He’s a normal guy, driven to be sure, but normal. His goal in the shoe business is to have shops in London, New York and Tokyo. Given how far Justin has come in such a short time we wouldn’t bet against him.

You can meet Justin at Gieves and Hawkes, No 1 Saville Row, where he has his Shoe Snob concession. If you’re not subscribing to his blog already, you really should, it’s at www.theshoesnobblog.com.

We hope to have a regular post from Justin; he’s a man worth watching. We wish him all the best. The shoes below are our favourites from Justin’s own collection which you can buy either from his online store or in person at Gieves and Hawkes.

The Wallingford in Brown calf and brown suede

The Wallingford in Brown calf and brown suede

 The Stefano saddle shoe

The Stefano saddle shoe

 

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Caroline Groves, Couture shoe and bag maker, or artist?

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Florica by Caroline Groves

Caroline Groves is a remarkable woman. She creates some of the most interesting and beautiful women’s shoes and bags to be found anywhere in the world and, at the same time, is profoundly knowledgeable about leathers, fabrics and bespoke construction.

When I visited her in her West London workshop in Great Western Studios it was full of the things one would expect to find in a couture shoemaker’s studio/atelier. Lasts, tools, leathers, exotic fabrics were all there. Caroline knows and understands – intimately – the process behind her creativity. This is unusual in women’s shoe and bag making. Normally, there’s a clear distinction between designers and leather- or fabric-workers and, whilst they need to have some knowledge of each other’s work, they are rarely able to do each other’s jobs.

I was fascinated by a pair of knee-length boots in the workshop. They are a prototype with a traditional leather toecap and heel counter but the rest was lace; boned, hand embroidered, wonderfully sculpted and clearly designed to fit perfectly. Caroline explained that the challenge was to make them look classically beautiful while using and combining/incorporating so many different materials with the leather. I’m afraid that I simply can’t do justice in prose to the beauty of these boots, not a stitch out of place and not an ounce of vulgarity. In a future post, I hope we can show you them so that you can see for yourselves what a triumph they are.

It is the comparison between Caroline’s creations and fine art that is particularly interesting. Men’s bespoke shoes can be beautiful, interesting and thought-provoking, but they are rarely art (for some wonderful exceptions have a look at the Foster & Son archive and at the current work of the bespoke team). Caroline’s designs transcend the utilitarian purpose of the overwhelming majority of shoes and, to me at any rate, are wonderfully inventive pieces of fine art. She also has the advantage of being able to challenge convention and take risks in ways that the big couture shoe houses cannot. This example “Parakeet shoe with solid walnut and solid silver elements”, could not have been made by anyone else.

Turquoise Parakeet

Turquoise Parakeet

Caroline has an interesting customer list. Lots of British clients have been coming to her for years for a mixture of reasons. Some have hard-to-fit feet, others have been bitten by the couture bug. These regular customers have been joined by new clients from elsewhere in the world, many from Eastern Europe.

Caroline works closely with her clients and the bespoke process takes at least three consultations. It is very similar to the men’s bespoke shoe process. Clients can be very particular, and the relationship between maker and client is very important. Indeed, Caroline has an intensity, a focus about her that I recognised from the bespoke team at Foster & Son and I suppose I was envious to meet someone who’d found her vocation.

All of Caroline’s shoes are bespoke i.e. made on a last crafted specifically for the individual and ‘bespoken’ (made to the client’s specification). Some are hand welted, some not. The difference comes with very high-heeled shoes that have super-thin soles. These cannot be made using welted soles but, given that they are unlikely to be walked-in very much, this doesn’t matter. All of Caroline’s ‘standard’ collection (this is a misnomer really, all of her shoes are extraordinary) are hand-welted and made in the same way as a man’s bespoke shoe.

Caroline has recently launched a handbag collection. As with her shoes her handbags are glorious. So clearly better made than anything you’ll see from anyone else. The personality of the client is clearly seen in her work. We will write more about Caroline’s handbags soon.

Dovers Bag

Dovers Bag

We asked Caroline about her favourite Foster & Son shoes. She said:

“My favourite Foster shoe has to come from the Bespoke range. I am torn between the Oxford Blue and the McAfee. I love the sweep of the lines of the McAfee but perhaps it is the combination of the materials and exquisite workmanship in the Oxford Blue that appeal to me most. Wonderful flat suede, quality calf and an archive style given a treatment that gives it a contemporary feel.”

Oxford Blue

Oxford Blue

Please visit Caroline’s website at http://www.carolinegroves.co.uk/.

Given that most readers of this blog are men, we challenge you to introduce the women in your life to Caroline’s work. They won’t be disappointed.

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Foster & Son – Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson

Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson:

What is your background and what brought you to Fosters?

I started my career in a small branch of Barclays Bank, literally adding up the figures by hand, making the tea and stoking the coal fired boiler, and then joined Citigroup, where I helped grow their London business from an entrepreneurial 240 people to an organisation which by the time I left in 2000 employed over 10,000 in the UK.

Over the years I developed an interest in design and craft work of all kinds, including furniture and jewellery, but Foster & Son is my first venture into footwear and leather craft.

I came to Foster & Son through playing backgammon! One of my most feared opponents was a friend who owned the business and asked me to help her after the very sad and sudden death of her Husband, and when I saw the amazing shoes they made and the wonderful craft skills in our Jermyn Street workshop, I decided I had to get involved.

What is your role at Fosters?

I am the proprietor and Chairman, so my first responsibility is to set the highest standards for our business, keeping faith with the generations of shoemakers who have handed down the Foster ethos, including our famous Terry Moore, who has not only designed and made wonderful shoes, but has given much of his time to teaching and helping younger colleagues.

I also have to help create the team that will provide the impetus for the business to expand beyond its traditional home in London’s Jermyn Street, to decide on the design and structure of our collection, lead the company in its expansion plans, and build happy and successful relationships with the many people and firms who form part of our Fosters extended family of suppliers, craftspeople, customers and well-wishers. I must say I have been very lucky to inherit a warm and supportive circle of people who love our craft and what we stand for.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I think firstly, our craftsmen and women are talented and dedicated, and so they are continually growing their skills much more quickly than in the old days, so it’s very satisfying to see the new work they are able to create and the progress they are making.

It’s also uniquely rewarding to feel you are building a world-class team, and that your people get on well and enjoy their work.

I also love talking about our shoes, exchanging ideas about what we do and how the Fosters team can do it better. You would be amazed at the enthusiasm we attract and I never tire of that.

Then, in contrast to finance, where you rarely see a tangible result from your efforts, it is wonderful to admire the beautiful things that we make, and see the pleasure they bring to our customers.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

We are quite a complicated business, because we design, make and retail a wide range of leather and related goods, and we are expanding, so just keeping momentum under all our initiatives can be quite a challenge. Foster & Son is a relatively small business but we try to run it professionally, and that is altogether more challenging than running a major bank because you don’t have its H.R., premises, legal and other specialist departments to help you.

Finally what is your favourite Fosters’ shoe?

I went on record a few months ago with our “Saturday Boot”, which I guess was made about 40 years ago and I stand by that. I was recently also thrilled to hold in my hand a Foster shoe dating back more than half a century with our classic chisel toe, a design much copied since but, I think, rarely matched for elegance and refinement.

Bespoke Saturday Boot

Bespoke Saturday Boot

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