Built to Last
14 December 2015
When a man visits George Cleverley for a pair of custom-made shoes, the first step is the last. The measurements of his feet are taken, and two models are carved out of wood to form a sort of three-dimensional blueprint for his shoes. When the shoes are complete, these wooden models – known as lasts – are archived for future use in a room above the workshop in London’s Royal Arcade. This last room is a peculiar place; cramped, dark and heady with the scent of cedarwood and leather. Everywhere you look, wooden replicas of the feet of customers past and present dangle from the walls like strange fruit. Each pair is carefully labelled, and as you push deeper into the room you might bump into one of the brand’s illustrious roll-call of former clients.
The reputation of Mr George Cleverley as a shoemaker to the great and the good is well documented. Having learnt his craft at the renowned Mayfair shoemaker Tuczek of Clifford Street, Mr Cleverley opened his own business in 1958, working until his death in 1991. Many a star of stage and screen has passed through these doors over the past half a century, not to mention politicians and even royalty. If you were so inclined, you could probably find the footprints of many of the same men in the cement outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. But this room is no museum, and its contents are treated with little veneration. As Mr George Glasgow, 64, the managing director of George Cleverley puts it, “These are practical objects. They’re made to serve a purpose.” In reality, though, the practical purpose of many of these lasts expired a long time ago – often along with the customers themselves. Mr Glasgow admits that many of them even pre-date him, and he joined the company in the 1970s.
With space in central London at a premium, many of the older, disused lasts are currently being shipped out of the city. With no archival process to speak of, they face the likely prospect of slipping into obscurity or being lost altogether. According to Mr Glasgow, the lasts of men such as Sir Winston Churchill have already been placed in storage. With that in mind, we thought it might be an excellent time to have a look around and see what we could find. We’re not sentimental at MR PORTER; we just like a good story. As luck would have it, Mr Glasgow has a few of those up his sleeve.
13, The Royal Arcade
Tel: 0207 493 1058