The master shoemakers who shod Churchill: ‘Demand is through the roof, but it takes six to eight months to make a pair’

The co-owners of bespoke shoe shop George Cleverley, father and son George Glasgow Snr and George Glasgow Jnr, talk to Hetty Lintell.

Small, but perfectly formed, Cleverley’s shoe shop is tucked down The Royal Arcade, off Bond Street, London W1, and discretion is key — the company’s list of loyal customers reads like a Who’s Who of royalty, film stars, and the rest.

‘We are one of a small handful of independently owned, bespoke shoemakers in the world,’ says George Glasgow Jnr, co-owner and CEO alongside his father George Glasgow Snr. If in doubt, call them George — the only exception to the naming convention is master shoemaker John Carnera, who has been chiselling lasts since he was a boy and was alongside George Cleverley and Mr Glasgow Snr in 1978, when the three formed the company.

Bespoke shoemaking at Cleverley

The clatter from above the shop has been accused of being a tape recording, but no, the workshop is real. If you ask very nicely, you might be shown up to see it — a rare treat. It is in this space that the magic happens — from first last-making through to pattern-cutting, making and finishing.

Cleverley shoes are works of art, known for their elegant silhouette, and worth waiting for. ‘Demand for bespoke is through the roof, but it takes six to eight months to make a pair, so this is a long game,’ says Mr Glasgow Jnr.

Shoemaking hasn’t changed since Cleverley opened his first shop (on Cork Street), in 1958. ‘Our approach to bespoke work is that the fewer people between the customer and craftsman, the better,’ insists Mr Glasgow Snr, who has seen many luminaries through his doors.

Humphrey Bogart used to let Lauren Bacall choose his shoes, then call the shop and order his choice later; Sylvester Stallone remarked: ‘I wish I’d met you years ago, I’ve wasted so much money on brands that I thought were good.’

I am allowed a peek in their room of lasts, with illustrious names scrawled on each: Ralph Lauren, Bryan Ferry, Sir Winston Churchill (surprisingly dinky), The Prince of Wales. This is a small operation, but gentlemen flock from all over the world to sample the experience of being measured for a bespoke pair of Cleverleys.

‘Experiencing how a pair of shoes is made changes the appreciation of putting them on,’ explains Mr Glasgow Snr. Customers feel they are part of something, a piece of history – they don’t mind walking out the door empty handed, as they know something beautiful is to be delivered later.

Shoe lasts at Cleverley

‘Very few only order one pair,’ notes Mr Glasgow Jnr. ‘It’s tough to go back once you’ve had a bespoke shoe made.’

One client disclosed to Mr Glasgow Snr that their relationship had lasted longer than all three of his marriages. Such is the loyalty when you find true comfort.

Bespoke shoes start from £3,950 — call 020 7493 0443 or visit www.georgecleverley.com

Did you know…

  • The first shoes are said to have been made in the Middle Paleolithic era, but became everyday wear in the late Paleolithic era (about 40,000 years ago)
  • In medieval times, the fashion for absurdly long, pointed toes (poulaines) showed wealth, status, and masculinity—an indicator that physical labour was not undertaken. The lengths became so ridiculous that they were banned by Edward IV’s Court in 1463
  • It wasn’t until the early 1800s that women’s and men’s shoes finally began to differ from one another in style, colour, heel and toe shape
  • Until 1850, shoes were made straight, with no differentiation between left and right.