George Cleverly is London’s Jet-Set Shoemaker
The co-owner of George Cleverley, the world’s premier custom shoe shop, knows famous feet.
When George Glasgow Jr. says, “Jason Statham’s a good friend of mine,” he’s not really dropping names. If he wanted to do that, he could mention the even more prominent men (members of the royal family, a notable Beckham, legendary designers) he’s made shoes for. What he’s actually doing is providing context for a story about arriving at a party in Hollywood and realizing that all the famous people were wearing shoes made at George Cleverley, the London institution he co-owns. That might also sound boastful, but it’s the nature of Glasgow Jr.’s business, which has been attracting the rich and powerful since the man who bestowed his name on it opened the doors as the stodgy fifties came to an end and the city started swinging.
George Cleverley’s shoes were initially distinguished by their “suspiciously square toe shape” and later renowned for their craftsmanship. After his death in 1991, George Cleverley’s pupils John Carnera and George Glasgow, Glasgow Jr.’s father, took over the business. The shop still avoids pointed toes, favoring a subtler rounded shape that makes its products both good for all season and difficult to imitate. Like George Cleverley, this generation of cobblers takes a creative approach, modernizing silhouettes and experimenting with different shapes.
“To my knowledge, we are the last independently owned and operated shoemaking business.” Says Glasgow Jr., who is talking on the phone from a yacht in Monte Carlo’s Fontvieille Harbor. That’s an indication of the rarefied company the Cleverley boys keep.
The price of Cleverley shoes, which can run to tens of thousands of dollars, is a result of the meticulous personalization the staff offers. The process of making each shoe by hand takes eight to twelve months, longer when demand is high (and demand is always high). The Cleverley experience begins when a highly skilled cobbler models his customer’s foot and starts a discussion about cut, shape, and style. Once the details have been hashed out, the craftsman takes an array of foot measurements according to a precise paper pattern and turns it into a mold called a “last.” A specialist called a clicker then chooses the hide, which is handed off to the closer, leather design expert, who sews the top of the shoe. The shoe is completed during a fitting where the customer preview the fit before the sole is even sewn on.
This last step happens either in the London shop or in one of the dozens of cities on Cleverley’s six-month trunk show, which travels around the world annually.
Travelling serves to increase the brand’s already significant profile. As stated above, the company has worked with everyone from Winston Churchill and the Rolling Stones to Alexander McQueen to A-Rod to the Lakers and Clippers to Jason Statham, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Samuel L. Jackson. “We’re attracting the most elite men around the world of literally all ages, whether it’s Daniel Radcliffe or a CEO of a major corporation of 70 years of age,” says Glasgow Jr. “And they just keep coming through the door.”
Glasgow Jr., who joined forces with his father eight years ago, attributes their success to the indestructible product, the value of word-of-mouth, and unwavering standards. “The most common question we’re asked is where do we see the company in 20 years. And we say the same place it is today. We don’t want to be sold. We want to keep it to the people who appreciate it and really understand quality and construction and want something unique.” That makes even more sense when you consider that Cleverley’s unique spot in the market insulates it from economic turmoil.
“From the start of the recession in 07’ or 08’ to the end of the recession, our business literally doubled, maybe even doubled and went up more,” says Glasgow Jr.. “The dollar amount the customer is spending on the shoe is going into the shoe whereas with household brands it’s also going into their advertising budget or their twenty flagship stores.” This is, by the way, the pitch Glasgow Jr. makes to customers in Los Angeles, where he now spends half the year.
“From the beginning he (his father) always told me, ‘In every part of your life you should always remember to put your money in your shoes or your bed.’” Glasgow Jr. laughs, “’Because if you’re not in one you’re in the other.’” From nine to six Monday through Friday, Glasgow Jr. puts people’s money in their shoes. Any contact he has with their mattresses is purely recreational.