Mr. Cooper you were trained at a footwear Collage in Wellingborough and then began your journey in Northampton at the heart of good English shoemaking. Although the English are seen as very conservative people you make very vibrant shoes full of distinctive color. Why this kind of approach?
I think you can argue that on the whole the English are quite conservative in some ways but I think that there is a long tradition now for distinctive design, creativity, and innovation. Just look at the fashion industry. For a long time it has been very flamboyant and often outlandish in its trends. Within a conservative backdrop it is very easy to make your designs stand out by going against the grain. I guess that is why I chose such vibrant color in my designs, to stand out. But ultimately the shoes reflect myself and how I feel about life.
Please be so kind to tell me about how things began and how you founded the business.
It began with the ideas for the design of the shoes themselves and I figured that the best way to create them was to set up my own workshop an do it myself. I wanted to perfect the skills that I had learned, to develop them, and refine them. Originally I went into shoemaking wanting to learn a craft, something meditative, so I always envisaged having my own workshop at some stage along the journey. I found a place within an innovation center at Northampton University, bought some kit, searched for old tools, and set to work. I wanted to keep my trade in Northampton. There is so much expertise still here, most of the leather merchants are here, it makes sense to stay here.
Each of your designs is named after a street within the old shoe quarter of Northampton. Northampton is full of shoemaking knowledge. How did all the “old masters” influence your work and in what areas can you make changes (to a shoe) and what things are unchangeable.
Well, I learned my hand-lasting techniques from a local master-craftsman. To create the finest long-lasting form I think that shoes really do need to be hand-lasted. I don’t however normally make welted footwear, I choose a modern cemented construction instead. There were rational benefits to welted footwear at one time in history, notably that they could be re-soled, but I think this has become less relevant over time. With all due respect to welted making I think that the main benefit of welted shoes is emotional more than anything else. I use a cemented construction but in a way that allows me to successfully re-sole a shoe time and again. Overall it makes bespoke a little more affordable …Also I certainly take influence from all the classic styles that have come out of Northampton over the years but I always like to add my own twist – if that doesn’t sound too clichéd. I think that it is important to always respect the past while also doing something new.
Describe briefly the process of production. Where do you source the materials, and what kind of leather do you use?
The production is as follows:- I produce a design based on a collaboration of the client’s ideas and mine, the lasts are made, the patterns are cut, then the clicking (cutting out the leather pieces), then the closing, lasting, and finishing. I always use top quality vegetable tanned calfskin for the linings and the soling. Until I tried this combination myself I never had any idea just how luxurious and hygienic this combination feels on the feet. The upper is made from top grade calfskin sourced from local merchants.
More and more shoemakers shift to RTW. Why do you do bespoke from the start?
I nearly did RTW from the start and then realized that I wouldn’t have the finances to get the necessary momentum. But if I only ever intended to do bespoke I would have just called my brand “Nicholas Cooper”. RTW may still be a possibility so watch this space. I won’t be doing it alone though.
Do you work alone?
Oh yes, and for now anyway. It is both necessary for me but also difficult at times. I don’t like complex team environments so it’s great but not so good for when I need help with problems. I stay in contact with a few great shoemaking veterans so it’s OK.
How does a shoemaker relax after work?
I love cycling and if I had the time I would race again like I did in my youth. I like chilling out with friends, reading, and if I’m stressed I watch some comedy, normally American.
I can never decide on a favorite independent maker and honestly I don’t only like English makers but locally I admire Edward Green the most. They’ve always just had something about them for me and they keep moving forward unlike some. I actually really like George Cox too because they are an example of a truly niche corner of the market. Anything that can find a permanent place in Japanese youth culture is very clever in my opinion. A lot of my tools and my sewing machine is from Cox’s old factory just round the corner from my college so I like to be inspired by them just a bit.
Austin (the unashamedly colorful polka dot shoe). I spent my youth trying to fit in and then one day I found a greater satisfaction in not fitting in. I love how when I wear them out, even in London, I hear both “wow” and “OMG” from different whispers – both reactions give me great satisfaction.
When the leather soles wear out you send the shoes back and I put new soles on, perfectly balanced and finished like new.
Hmm, build up my bespoke collection much more, RTW slippers maybe, and then bench-grade RTW.