‘We ran across town the other day with a few pairs of skull and black tassel slippers for Idris Elba, but they were too small – he’s got massive feet.’ Duke + Dexter’s sweatshirt-clad Business Development Manager, Wij Travers, laughs off this modern-day Cinderella tale with ease. High-profile clients are clearly now the norm for this young British brand, with Ryan Reynolds and Jonah Hill sporting Duke + Dexter’s signature slippers in the Hollywood Hills, and a ‘Storm Trooper Camo’ design collaboration with Tyson Beckford sitting on the shelf in front of us. Oh, and Eddie Redmayne picked up his Oscar in a pair (and his mum often calls to request certain designs). The Duke + Dexter star is riding high – and the secret to its success? In a phrase: traditional British craftsmanship, but with a twist.
The first thing you notice upon entering Duke + Dexter’s Covent Garden store is the young hipster blonde in paint-splattered jeans painting at her desk. This is Morgan – the brand’s Resident Artist. Her job is to paint the shoes of the rich and famous. ‘The slippers are my canvas and my work is very detailed and illustrative,’ explains the former embroidery specialist as she sits with a shoe in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. ‘You can have whatever you want on them, and we are asked for all sorts. Just now, someone asked for "screw" on one shoe and "you" on the other,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve had Lawrence of Arabia, snakes, roses, pandas and everything in between.’
Morgan works closely with the client to create each design, before painting it on to the shoes with special leather paint (a process that can take days). ‘Once it’s sealed, it will stay put – it won't chip or fade,’ she promises.
The bespoke service is a recent development for the fledgling brand, which was founded by Archie Hewlett three years ago. The story goes that Hewlett wanted to sport an unusual style of slipper to a smart party and, unable to find what he wanted in the shops, had his perfect pair made. This style became the blueprint for Duke + Dexter’s signature shoe. The slipper is now available in a huge range of styles and the shop is an Aladdin’s cave of quirky men’s party options. Around us perch hand-painted one-offs, camouflage prints, paint-splattered styles, and slippers with popular embellishments and motifs such as tassels, initialling, skulls and, interestingly, more pandas. Block colour styles are available, too – in tones ranging from the quiet to the bold and playful.
Duke + Dexter is all about range. ‘We’ve got the Duke side of the brand and we’ve got the Dexter side,’ explains Travers. ‘The Duke part is smart – a real modern gent. And then the Dexter is the slightly younger and subversive brother. They are brothers rather than opposites.’
Travers believes that this yin-and-yang approach to style appeals to the British gent: ‘The cheeky-chappie dapper gent has always had that playful aspect to him,’ he twinkles, his public-school vowels suddenly seeming more pronounced.
Furthermore, Duke + Dexter’s varied offerings also work well for the Instagram generation. People have a much more personal style now. ‘You don’t just get mods and rockers and real "types" any more,’ Travers explains. ‘People get their style inspiration from all over the place – online and Instagram particularly. Blurring the line between different sorts of styles is becoming more and more common.’
And ‘personal style’ seems to be what these slipper makers do best. The team plan to extend the range to six or seven different types of shoe (they have recently released a Chelsea boot range) by this time next year. And there are some exciting collaborations afoot (excuse the pun). Travers is clearly already excited about one ‘top-secret’ project, which he can’t help but spill the beans on: ‘Next year, we’ll be doing a jacquard weave – with a small British silk goods manufacturer. They hand-draw all their designs – you should be able to guess who it is.’ The team are clearly in a playful mood. And why shouldn’t they be? Duke + Dexter is a British luxury success story in the making.