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Interviews

Richard Edgecliffe – Johnson (Foster & Son)

February 11, 2013

“Founded in 1840, Foster & Son benefits from over 170 years experience and is the oldest established bespoke English shoemaker in London and one of the oldest custom shoe and boot makers in the world. Privately owned by Mr. Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson developed an unique in house style which is often referred to as ‘West End’, a relaxed yet refined look

dasgadgThe company is also well known for its soft chisel toe, which was created for Foster & Son by Terry Moore, the renowned last master, in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Ready to wear line was introduced in 1966, prior to this date all shoes being bespoke. 83 Jermyn Street is also home to the even older established name of Henry Maxwell, founded in 1750.

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In 1999 Foster&Son and Henry Maxwell come together.Favored with Royal Warrants from George IV through to Her Majesty the Queen, Maxwell was originally a prosperous and innovative spur maker, who transitioned over to making hunting and military boots and a range of other footwear.
Foster & Son’s Autumn collection will include a classic new casual shoe and a new range of lace-­‐ups on the company’s new Terry Moore lasts.” – Information provided by Foster&Son.

Foster & Son_Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson
Mr.Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson

The name of Foster & Son is one of the most respected names in shoemaking business. You are now the keeper of an extraordinary shoemaking heritage with the root in Queen Victoria Golden Ages. Could you be so kind to tell my readers how the firm began trade?

When Mr. Foster began his trade in 1840 all shoes were made by hand and there were probably more than 500 shoemakers in London, of whom we are the only one to survive. Mr. Foster quickly developed a reputation for elegant shoes and boots and set up his business close to St. James’s Palace where the Royal family, the Court and its visitors provided the main patronage for top-quality craftsmen.

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Foster & Son and Henry Maxwell come together in 1999. How did Henry Maxwell legacy is preserved today?

In recent decades, Henry Maxwell’s reputation has been built around top-quality bespoke riding boots and shoes and today our Maxwell customers are still served with Maxwell bespoke products made for them to Maxwell designs in the Foster and Son workshop.

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Who are the key figures in Foster & Son? Please describe the role of Terry Moore in the last department and his role in apprentices training.

Presently I am the owner of Foster&Son and I take a personal interest in every aspect of Fosters’ craft.

Foster & Son_Terry Moore workshop
Terry Moore

Our famous last maker, Terry Moore, has trained all of our workshop staff and still involves himself in our staff development and new product design. We currently have 5 craftspeople in our workshop: Emiko Matsuda, Emma Lakin, Jon Spencer, Lucy Smith and our workshop supervisor Kasia Szafraniec. Our retail effort is spearheaded by managing director Gerry Holtz.

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Derby Tie in Chocolate Calf: Designed in the workshop last year.

Being a Foster & Son supplier is a great honor. Could you name your main suppliers for leather and sole?

The very best materials are not always available to everyone and Foster & Son has nurtured long-standing supplier relationships for its key materials. In at least one case the supplier has been with us for more than 110 years. Wherever possible, Foster & Son buys natural products from England. So the oak bark tanned leather used for the soles and internal components of our bespoke shoes is supplied by a famous tannery in Devon that is believed to have been operating since before Roman times. That leather comes from Devon cows and is tanned for 12-15 months.

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You made shoes for very different personalities including members of the Royal Family. Could you please remember some of the extraordinary figures that have lasts in your last room?

One 90 year old customer wanted a pair of shoes to replace the ones that were stolen from him when he was shot down in World War II: he still pilots his own jet to come and meet us.
With members of the House of Lords and many senior figures in politics, industry, the city, the law, the media and academic life visiting 83 Jermyn Street, we meet many interesting figures.

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Last week we had an amusing visit from a well-known comedian who acts in real life just as he does on the stage, so he is being paid for being himself! When a senior public figure comes to the shop, he is often enjoying “time out” and will arrive without any entourage, and will be served without any fuss. If he is busy, we may need to get on a ‘plane at short notice and fly out to meet him and discuss his needs.

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Douglas Fairbanks Jr

Our lasts and historic records include Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin, Paul Newman, Douglas Fairbanks, Erroll Flynn, John Huston, President Roosevelt, Jimmy Goldsmith, John Aspinall, and many others.

1140-CHAa-1024x682Can you describe the most unique Foster & Son shoe that a client has ordered for bespoke in the last year

Every Foster & Son bespoke shoe is unique and we are always coming up with new designs like the “Oxford Blue” Art Deco inspired shoe we have just created. But we also made a huge pair for a customer who had the biggest feet we had ever seen: I think he was more than size 20.

Foster & Son_Oxford Blue
Oxford Blue– Recently designed by Foster & Son’s talented young team, this model was inspired by an Art Deco shoe featured in the Shoe and Bootmaker 90 years ago

And we made 2 matching pairs for another customer who specially wanted them to match the Burgundy and cream upholstery in his Rolls Royce. Many customers want their belt, their wallet or other accessories to be made from the same leather as their shoes.

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Do you notice a change of tastes in shoe preferences lately?

We think there are two things happening. First, younger customers are calling for more conservative styles but secondly amongst the more experienced customers there is an increasing demand for individuality in styling and innovation.

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Henry Maxwell riding boots image: Brunk Auctions

How did the market evolve in the last years with the Crisis being very present?

I think that today’s shoe buyer is looking to invest in long-lasting classic shoes and people are becoming more discerning about their footwear. We are seeing younger customers coming in for top-quality English shoes who might previously have bought a more disposable item. English style is definitely in demand and we are busy despite the bad economic climate.

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What plans do you have for the near future?

In expanding our business it is very important for us to maintain the very high standards of craftsmanship and design for which we are known whilst making the Foster & Son Products known to a wider appreciative audience around the world.

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