I had known about George Cleverley & Co Ltd, the London bespoke shoemaker, for some time. However I had thought that their wares would really be beyond my fiscal means. Last year though I had read some articles about them in a couple of “lifestyle” magazines, piquing my interest. This also coincided with meeting Wei Koh (of The Rake and Revolution magazine fame) and Jeremy Hackett (gents clothing stores) at some watch orientated events. They both advised that I should at least take a further look.
George Cleverly was born in 1898 into a shoe-making family. During WW1 he was stationed in France making soldiers boots. After the war he joined Tuczec, a high society shoemaker in Mayfair. He remained there for some 38 years before a disagreement forced him to leave. So, armed with a loyal bank of clients, he started his own business in 1958. He became more sought after and was known for the Cleverley shape – a graceful chisel-toed shoe. John Lobb, the other prestigious shoemaker, specialised in more round-toed shoes so one may have used two suppliers. Cleverley worked almost until his death in 1991 at 93 years of age. Before this however he had ceded control to two friends – one, George Glasgow, is the current Chairman and his son, George Glasgow junior is CEO. So many Georges!
My usual shoe brands include; Church, Russell & Bromley, Grenson and Barker, so I was not unaccustomed to outlaying a reasonable sum for decent shoes. I also now confess to having a weakness for nice footwear – usually of the Monk variety and also mainly slip-on types. However, maybe it was time for a bit of real class! As such I decided to venture in, dropped some names, and had interesting conversations with both George senior, and Adam Law, the workshop manager.
I ended up leaving with not one but two pairs of shoes. The first, which was a slam dunk, were a lovely pair of darkish brown Monks (called Porter) with a slightly higher cut about the ankle and the Cleverley square cut toe. After I had bought these, my wandering eye alighted on another pair of what appeared to be sleek full Oxford brogue lace-ups in brown, I commented on these, called Winston, and upon further inspection discovered that the leather laces were in fact a ruse. The actual mode of retention were concealed elastic side pieces! Needless to say these too fell into my bag. Prices? Well, Cleverley do totally bespoke shoes and these get going at some £3,800. Expensive – well yes, but for that you get your own lasts and shoes of very high quality that will fit perfectly. However, for the more parsimonious customer (like myself) they do have more than adequate “ready to wear” shoes – still handmade of course. Budget maybe £500 or so for these.
Fast forward six months, and in the interim I felt that a story about the “fake” laces would be fun. As such, I recently returned to the shop to learn more from both George and Adam again.
Before moving ahead with the shoes and their history thereof, it is pertinent to discuss slippers as there is a connection here. So, imagine the situation. Britain was in the midst of war and Churchill was invariably ensconced underground at the War Cabinet under Westminster. His daily routines were at odds with most norms, and as such his attire needed to be comfy and easily accessed – and this extended to footwear too. Churchill’s birthday was looming so Clementine Churchill approached George Cleverly himself and requested a new pair of slippers. At this point it is worth noting that as Churchill bought most of his shoes from Cleverley, they already had his lasts to hand, thereby obviating an actual personal fitting. Anyway, Clementine also asked that to aid her husband’s foot access, the slippers should be made a little larger than usual. The great man was apparently struggling to reach down these days – due to age and probably a degree of portliness!
The slippers – called Alberts, were probably in black velvet with the gold monogram WSC. The soles were made of thin leather so were a kind of shoe/slipper hybrid – at least by today’s conception.
The slippers were duly made, and as usual George Cleverley ventured out to deliver in person. He arrived and was dispatched underground where he met Churchill. Apparently the conversation was brief and went something like this; WSC “Hello Cleverley, what are you doing down here?” GC “Well sir, I have a birthday present from Mrs Churchill” (she was not Lady Churchill as Winston was not knighted until 1953). WSC ”Oh my goodness – how wonderful”. Churchill then tries the slippers on. WSC, looking crestfallen, ”They are very nice Cleverley – but you have made them too big!” Cleverley could not confess that Clementine had specifically requested this, so apologising he rushed off to make amends. Apparently, he altered one shoe, and his father – also a shoemaker, the other. Working as fast as possible the slippers were re-delivered in time, to Churchill’s apparent satisfaction!
Interesting as that story is, further discussion revealed more cunning facts over the shoe I had bought. Probably a little before the slipper incident, Churchill had requested that some black slip-on shoes should be made – presumably for ease of access again. However, in those times most men – and in particular gentlemen, wore lace-ups and moreover black brogues and a slip-on would be viewed as decadent. So the shoes designed for Churchill had the fake laces showing, but with suitably long trousers the real retention system of elastic cunningly covered by some leather “vents” was neatly concealed. So, the overall effect would have fooled the casual observer. After the war, and to this day, the shoes can be had – including brown too. It was this colour that I first saw and took a shine too.
As I have already mentioned, I prefer slip-on shoes too, and alas I suspect for the same reasons as the Great Man!!
Words & images: Karl Dennis