Being a shoemaker’s son gave you the advantage of knowing the difference between an Oxford and Derby shoe from an early age. For whom does your father worked for and how important is the family legacy in bespoke shoemaking?
My father was a shoemaker before me, so it’s in my blood so to speak. He started work as a shoemaker aged 15yrs in 1955 for a small firm called Bowhill & Elliot in his home City of Norwich. This company had 3 shoe shops in Norfolk/Suffolk, and was serving the county squires of Norfolk with fine footwear, they stopped making bespoke shoes, back in the 1970’s I believe and from thereon just sold RTW shoes from Edward Green, Crockett & Jones or Churches and they carried on making the handmade Albert velvet slippers on the premises, which they still do to this day. My Father also had his own workshop at home, which as a child I spent many hours watching him making shoes so this gave me an insight to the trade at a very young age. My father told me I was always interested in what went into making a shoe.
Before starting Gaziano & Girling journey you have worked for several famous shoemakers such as John Lobb and GJ Cleverley. What have you learned from each place you have been?
I learned part of my craft from my father, but after watching my father work hard as a shoemaker for many years for very little pay in those days, I was not sure I wanted to be a shoemaker. So after leaving school at the age of 16 I went into the construction industry working with an uncle doing steel fabrication/welding. But the recession of the late 1980’s set in and work dried up, so one day at the age of 19 I went to see my father for a cup of tea in his workshop. I told him thing’s at work are not too good, work is drying up so he said why don’t you get into my trade, you may not earn as much money you are now, but it’s steady work and people will always need shoes – he had a point I suppose.
So I went off to London to try and get a place at Corwainer’s colleague to learn more about hand sewn bespoke shoes, as I could not learn solely from my father as he was working full time at Bowhill & Elliott still. After finishing my course at Cornwainer’s, I took a pair of shoes I had made to John Lobb’s St James London. They liked what they saw and said they would give me an apprenticeship. I was fortunate enough that they had a shoemaker working for them who lived in the next county to me – Suffolk – so I went and sat with him on a weekly bases for 12 months, which saved me travelling to London. I started making samples for John Lobb and became a fully-fledged shoemaker for John Lobb in around 1991 at the age of 21. Then later I went on to make shoes for Cleverley, Henry Maxwell, and Foster. By now I am a self-employed free-lance shoemaker, working 7 days a week from my father’s workshop. I suppose my father was my main mentor, I also admired all the yesteryear craftsmen of the London bespoke trade as well. When you look at some of the old vintage shoes, the craftsmanship is amazing.
How difficult it was in the first months of your joint-venture not having a behind you a big company especially in terms of security? Perhaps nowadays there are a lot of apprentices or even young employed shoemakers who dream to build their own brand but are afraid to take risks.
No business is easy, Tony and I have grown Gaziano & Girling from a handle full of bespoke orders taken at our first trunk show in the U.S. in 2006. We knew we must outshine our competitors with quality, as we did not have the history behind us like they had, so that’s what we focused on. Setting up any business is risky, but if you work hard enough and stick to what you know, hopefully it will pay off, as it’ has for us, but it’s hard work, I would be lying if I said it’s easy. I would say to any young shoemaker, yes it’s risky going in business on your own. But if you don’t have a go, you will never know, if you fail, well you have at least tried, and you can’t knock a trier.
How did you cope the problems occurred from large volumes required by RTW?
In the early days, when we set our ownready-to-wear factory up, it was just me Tony and 3 employees. Tony and I were working long hours to keep the production rolling, we had order dates to meet, it was tough, we would be working to midnight sometimes, But we managed, we now have a team of 15 craftsmen & women and Tony & I so things are a little easier for us now.
When you have met Tony you got along instantly or you have just become friends later?
I first met Tony when he worked for Cleverley’s in London. I took a pair of shoes along there one day that I had made, this was back in the mid-nineties I believe. I then met him again when he worked for Edward Green when he asked me if I would make some bespoke shoes for Edward Green, which I agreed to do, but I said I can only probably make 1 pair a month as I am busy with the other shops I was working for and there were only 7 days in a week. After working with Tony I liked what he was doing with the bespoke and he liked my making skills, so we used to chat over the phone about shoes and we became friends that way.
Tony confessed in an interview that the idea of break away was yours. What would you have done differently if you have started again Gaziano & Girling?
Well it was my idea when Tony was working at Edward Green. He said one day he was not enjoying it so I said well if you ever wanted to leave I would be interested in doing something with you. So it happened and Gaziano & Girling was born in 2006. Would I do things differently if I started Gaziano & Girling again, probably not, we all learn as we go along, that’s life. We made mistakes along the way of course all as businesses do, but nothing too drastic.
What are your favorite models?
My favourites are the Hayes, Burnham, and Cannes. I wear these 3 styles all the time. I also like styles from the Deco collection.
How difficult was to buy good leathers at the begining?
We are very strict on the quality of leather we buy and it’s becoming very difficult to buy fine leathers. We have a constant battle with the tanneries over this, as we want the finest leather to go into our production. They tell us part of the problem is the far east buying up everything and the big luxury brands buying up tanneries, but we still manage to source the best.
I was told by a Gentleman once that it is hard to believe that Deco line was made by one of the Queen’s subjects. Where did you and Tony found the inspiration for your lines and how were your first models received?
The inspiration for the Deco comes from the 1920’s Art Deco years, when high society would dress up to the nines, at these huge balls in stately homes, and hotels/clubs around London.
You offer a significant number of bespoke details for made-to-order shoes. How is that possible?
Why there are so many bespoke features in our ready-to-wear, is because of Tony’s & mine experience in the bespoke trade. A lot of the Northampton factories don’t have this, we were the first company to introduce the fiddle back bevel waist to a ready-t-wear shoe in 2006. Now we see other Northampton companies trying to replicate this, after they saw our success. As a pretty unknown firm I suppose we should take it as a compliment.
Besides shoemaking what are your passion?
I like watching Boxing and I enjoy country sports.