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Interviews

Deborah Carré & James Ducker (Carreducker)

July 28, 2013

Deborah & James in the studio

How did Carreducker story begin and where did you learn to make the first shoe?

Deborah: My shoemaking story begins on the Channel Island of Sark. I remember watching and helping my father to polish our shoes before church on a Sunday; we were always drawing and making things; we always had leather soled shoes ‘for best’ as children. I loved the smell, the companionship and the concentration of polishing.

Many years later, in England I studied fashion design and marketing at university and worked with R.E. Tricker of Jermyn street to create my final collection – four boots handsewn by their maker. I thought it was a wonderful craft. I went into marketing but studied pattern cutting and then handsewn shoemaking at evening classes. The woman teaching me was a QEST scholar and she recommended I apply so I could do an apprenticeship. I did and was fortunate to train with Paul Wilson a maker for John Lobb and GJ Cleverly. That is where I met James.

James was drawn to shoemaking in Barcelona, Spain where he was teaching English. One of his students’ their family were shoemakers and he went to spend time with them learning to craft shoes. He fell in love with the craft. Determined to continue, he returned to the UK, was successful in persuading John Lobb to take him on as an apprentice and trained with Paul Wilson.

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First orders are like first love. What memories do you have of your first order?

Deborah: I was very very excited. My first order was a pair of thigh boots from my degree collection for Jaye Davidson, the young actor in The Crying Game. He was quoted in the press saying he did the film so that he could buy the boots! I delivered his boots to him on set and it all felt very exciting and glamorous!

James: When you are apprenticed it is one thing, but when you finally make a pair of shoes for a client it is a huge step… that was when I truly felt I was a shoemaker. The order was for a beautiful pair of brogue Oxfords with a standard heel height and quarter inch sole with a natural finish. Very classic and a very happy client!

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Now Savile Row no.1 is your home. Tell me more about how the partnership with Gieves&Hawkes started.

The partnership with Gieves is a privilege for us; to have a workshop on the shop floor at such a prestigious address is unprecedented. We were introduced to the creative director of Gieves&Hawkes by a client in Christmas 2008 and we then went in to talk to the design team a couple of times, but the timing was not right. When we were accepted onto Walpole’s mentoring program  Crafted, we were fortunate to have Mark Henderson, Chairman of Gieves & Hawkes, as our mentor. He reintroduced us to Gieves and we again met with their new Managing Director and Creative Director. The timing was serendipitous as they were transforming no. 1 into a men’s emporium and we fitted in with the new concept. We designed a selection of 5 styles exclusively for Gieves inspired by the military archive and bespoke tailoring and moved in that winter. We have now been their for three years and have enjoyed the special opportunity of shoemaking in their shop windows to celebrate St Crispins Day and at Christmas time.

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What is your favorite Carreducker model?

Deborah :  The extreme brogue boot. It is tall, sculpted to the lower leg and each piece of the boot pattern has brogue punching on it. The boots look fabulous under a suit or jeans.
James :  Our monk shoe – it is in luxurious Cordovan, one of my favorite leathers, and is a very simple, round toed design fastened with an English, brass saddlery buckle.

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What is the connexion between podology and shoemaking?

The connection between podology and bespoke shoemaking is intrinsic. But It seems to have been almost entirely forgotten in mass production. For the general public, bespoke means being able to specify the color or materials of an item, whereas commissioning bespoke shoes starts with the fit first and foremost and then the design, color and style.

A shoe, whether manufactured or handsewn, should bear its wearer in comfort. Many fashion shoes are poorly designed on lasts that have everything to do with fashion and nothing to do with function. Styles where the heel is placed so far back that it bends backwards from the shoe, where the joint is too far forward/back or too narrow; where there is insufficient toe spring; or where there is too much room or cushioning.

Every client challenges our podiatry knowledge, but we aim to deliver style and comfort by working closely with our expert and knowledgeable lastmakers. We have fittings with our clients to ensure that they are happy with the fit before completing their shoes. Just like with clothes, fit is both a professional assessment and personal taste…some clients prefer their shoes tighter or loose than others.

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The key elements of a good shoe would be…

One and one eighth of an inch heel height

Oak bark tanned English leather for soles, insoles, heels and internal components.

Polish, French or Italian box calf leather uppers.

Five hole lacing for an Oxford, three holes for a Derby (Gibson).

Natural veg tan leather lining.

A hand sewn welt and hand stitched, channelled sole.

Polished, burnished toes.

Colored beading and subtle details such as trace stitching or broguing.

A higher inside quarter than outside quarter to accommodate the ankle bones.

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How can you both manage to keep the egos out of the workplace?

Neither of us have particularly big egos… but we do both have strong and different opinions about shoes and shoemaking. We are both quite confident and self-assured and generally pick our fights carefully… the most important thing is what is best for our customers and our brand.. .and keeping a sense of humor!

When we started the business, we soon realized how important it was for us to work together and how much stronger the business and how much better our designs are when we do. That said, creative tensions are essential to ensure that we keep pushing ourselves to achieve the very best for each client. We bring different strengths to the business and having separate lives and families outside of work help us to maintain a sense of perspective.
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In bespoke shoemaking is customer always right?

The customer is paying for our expertise and opinion and it would be wrong for us not to give it. The customer knows their own taste and style and we know about leather, so it is our job to advise them how we can best achieve their wishes in a shoe.

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How can we tell the difference between a good quality shoe and poor quality shoe?

 It is increasingly difficult until you have worn it for a few weeks. Cheaper shoes are made with composite materials which break down over time so the rule is to buy the best that you can afford and to buy shoes that fit. This may seem obvious, but men too are seduced by fashion and will squeeze their feet into shoes too small or have their feet swimming in shoes too large. Both will damage feet longer term.

Our best advice is to buy from a shoe brand not a fashion retailer who also does shoes.  Don’t be seduced by a designer name; a great tailor or t-shirt brand is not necessarily great at designing or producing shoes.

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Fit – A good quality shoe has a good fit between the instep (the top of the foot), the heel and the joint (the widest part of the foot). Your heel should not slip up and down when you walk and the joint of your foot and the shoe should correspond; there is enough room at your toes (in front, above and to the sides; the outside quarter of the shoe is lower than the inside (to correspond with your ankle bones) and the toe of the shoe is not so elongated that it bends up!!!!

Leather – Poorer quality leather is disguised with coatings such as patent and fake textures; avoid shoes with an overly shiny surface – once the surface cracks or is scratched it will never look as good again; choose a leather you can polish.

Style – Choose a toe shape that compliments your build and height. If you are short, long shoes will not make you look tall; if you are stocky a pointed toe will not make you look thinner; and if you are slim, a wide shoe will look disproportionate (unless you like the Japanese skinny leg/chunky shoe mix).

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Nowadays good leathers tanned in traditional way are hard to find. What is the origin of the leathers that you use for Carreducker shoes?

The leather for our uppers in mainly box calf which is tanned in Poland, Italy or France. Other leathers we use for uppers are suede, UK; Cordovan, USA; Exotics from around the world. The leather we use for the insoles, soles, heels etc is tanned in England using oak bark pit tanning, a very traditional method which uses natural materials. It is of an extremely high quality.

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Northampton shoe industry had better days once… Is British shoemaking industry affected by Asian and European newcomers? 

British shoemaking has been decimated by cheap overseas production in the past. Slowly production costs overseas are increasing and there is now a resurgence in European and UK manufacturing. Good news for Northampton if it can maintain production and quality. We are bringing our expertise in fit and quality to bear, working with a number of Northampton manufacturers as design consultants on collections for certain brands and retailers.

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Is there a life after-work for you? What are your favorite London places to spend your evenings?

Deborah: I’m a wife and mum so life is as important to me as work. That said, it’s rare for me to get out in the evening during the week unless it is for work. But regardless whether for work or socially it is always good fun, and when I do it is a real treat.  Favorite evenings out are late nights at the V&A or Design Museum, drinks and a good Honest burger with friends or cocktails at Skylon on the Southbank. At the weekend it’s bike rides, pub lunches, walks along the river and visits to National Trust properties for inspiration.

James: Weekends are family time for me too, but I do enjoy dinner and drinks out with my partner and friends during the week. I cycle everywhere, so it is easy for me to get about in central London. Favorite areas are around The Barbican, Shoreditch and Hoxton.

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Do you have a favorite tailor?

Deborah: I love well tailored garments for women…particularly the style of the 40s and 50s which suit my curves…fitted jackets and pencil skirts. If I could commission anyone to tailor for me it would be Stella McCartney or Sarah Bruton at Alexander McQueen for glamorous evening wear and one of the cutters at Gieves for day wear, as they really understand form and fabric. Until that dream comes true, I wear jackets that I have had for years by Westwood, Comme des Garçons and Jean Luc de Castlebac – and I have a couple of Gieves military jackets. But at work,  I live in jeans and have just discovered Hiut denim from Wales…a jeans brand that really harks back to the garment’s origins of workwear.

James: I don’t have one favorite tailor but Gieves Bespoke and Made-to-order, Timothy Everest and Heidi Slimane are on my radar. I admire a well-cut, well-fitted suit and beautiful cloth. I am having a coat made by Gieves military at the moment, which I am very excited about.

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What is the most important thing that you have learned about shoemaking since starting your business?

Deborah: Patience!

James: How important it is that we keep educating people about what we do; how important it is to our craft to encourage people to try it for themselves through our courses; and what a small and supportive world shoemaking is.

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What golden advice you both have for a apprentice dreaming of becoming a bespoke shoemaker? 

Our golden advice to aspiring shoemakers is to be determined; practice a lot; and try to find a master shoemaker who is willing to help. Doing one of our courses is always a good way to learn the basics. The hardest thing we found was finding someone to help us and being able to fund this help.

 CDMASTER