Ask London’s top menswear stylists who their favourite shoes are by, and the answer will most likely be: Edward Green. So, the question is, how has this traditional, Northampton-based, shoemaker placed itself a step ahead of the competition?
Since the company’s namesake, Edward Green, founded its workshop in 1890, the brand has strived to create exceptional footwear for the great men of the 20th and now 21st centuries. Ernest Hemingway wore their boots; Cole Porter owned a selection of the shoes and the fashion-conscious Duke of Windsor was also a fan. Nowadays, devotees include much of the style-set; however, the brand is far too discrete to disclose the names of its high-end clientele.
Northampton is literally the home of English shoe-making and it has been for centuries. It was said that Oliver Cromwell had the boots for the New Model Army made in the town.
As Ettinger is the top leather-working brand in the historical leather craft centre of Walsall, so Edward Green leads the way in the British shoemaking hub of Northampton. And the town’s history is at the centre of this ambitious outfit. “Northampton is the home of English shoemaking and it has been for centuries,” explains photojournalist-turned-Brand and Business Development Manager, Euan Denholm. “The government even purchased 600 boots and 4000 shoes in the town for the army at the time of the English Civil War,” he adds.
“It initially became this centre because of the cattle farming in the area and the abundance of oak trees and water for tanning; leather was easy to produce,” the Northampton-specialist explains. “Over time, a cluster of expert shoemakers developed in the town; and a guild was set up in the fifteenth century,” he adds. Before the Industrial Revolution, shoes were made throughout the town in cottages and these small enterprises were then consolidated into larger workshops and factories during the nineteenthcentury, Euan explains. These days, fewer than twenty workshops remain in the town, but these operators have found their niches catering to a growing global market (international luxury brands recognize their distinct appeal – with Prada buying Church’s and Hermès acquiring John Lobb.)
Edward Green also exports globally, with key markets in the US and Japan. And the company’s journey to make beautifully refined shoes with a distinctively English character begins with the leather. “In our quest for that most handsome of shoes, we’ll not only source the finest calf, mostly from France and Italy” says Euan, “but be exacting about the areas of the skin we use. Our aim is for a shoe which has a tight grain, takes a beautiful polish and will last for years to come.”
And what of the soles? They are also made from leather, but one that has been soaked for nine months in a solution enriched with oak, spruce and mimosa barks. The soles of an Edward Green shoe are also bevelled to ensure a tighter, more refined fit.
Once these top-end building blocks are in place, each shoe is constructed using the traditional English Goodyear welted footwear method, which employs a mixture of antique and more modern machinery; hand stitching is also necessary in most cases. “The Dover, one of our signature styles, is hand sewn with boar bristle. The aprons of each shoe take two hours of sewing per pair, and if you ask many shoe aficionados what their favourite style of ours is many of them will say the Dover,” says Euan of this new cult classic.
Although a traditional house in many ways, Edward Green is also fashion forward, designing new, more modern styles all the time. But Euan assures us that changes are more about evolution than revolution, much like the Ettinger approach: “We don’t tend to have a complete redesign from year to year. Within our own model range we’ll have a look at our shoes and think what subtle changes we can incorporate. It might be a new colour, or changing a particular detail, or the sole,” he explains, adding that one of the most successful introductions in the last few years has been a new ‘Delapre’ leather (‘Utah’ being the patterned variant) that is steeped in oils from the Rhone Valley in France. “It brings a fresher, more casual look to styles we have been making for many years,” explains Euan.
Developing new leathers is clearly high on the agenda: “Just as the perfect white shirt or navy blazer subtly shifts over the years, so the same is true of shoes. Textures are sought after right now with seersuckers, flannels, and tweeds very much at the fore. Our new London Grain calf has a handsome natural texture and makes a beautiful shoe. It’s a tumbled leather and works wonderfully for adding character to more formal shoes.”
Much of the brand’s production revolves around the creation of one-off pairs of shoes – changing the last, leather, welt and sole accordingly for each individual client. So, what makes Edward Green custom so special? “If you’ve got a pair of shoes that has been made perfectly then it gives you an incredible lift. You slip them on and when you walk down the street you walk that little bit taller,” says Euan. Sounds good to us.
The shoes also last incredibly well and can be sent back to the Northampton workshop for repair at any point. “We have twenty or thirty year old pairs coming back for reconditioning,”says Euan.
So, for the ultimate English-crafted, custom-made shoe (try saying that after three gin and tonics), head down to Edward Green and get fitted. Just don’t forget your Ettinger travel shoehorn.
The shoot was taken at The Academy Hotel, London