Monday, 16 May 2011


I asked Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson, Chairman of shoemakers W S Foster & Son and Henry Maxwell, about how the last maker adjusts the size and shape of each last, from the customer's measurements; because there always needs to be extra length and height, over the actual dimensions of the foot, in the toe box. Here is what he told me:

"This is much more art than science. In making the last, the last maker
takes into account the extra layers of leather so that, in the hands of an
expert maker, the resulting toe shape will be what he wants to achieve.
The bespoke last maker and bespoke shoemaker work together often over many years and know one another's work, so the shoemaker has a good idea of the effect the last maker is looking for and the last maker knows who to give the work to for a particular kind of result.

When Customers say "I'm a size 9" they usually don't know that they are
referring to the shoe, and their foot is actually 1-2 sizes shorter than
the shoe. Different makers have different rules of thumb, but we make
about 2 sizes over the actual foot length to get an elegant look. We have
refused to make shoes that are too long because the toes will eventually
turn up and look ridiculous!

We prefer to make the initial last for a lace-up shoe because that holds
the foot firmly and gives us the most accurate last. We believe that it is
important to make a separate last for a casual shoe, which requires a
different fitting to hold the foot over the instep. We also make a new
last for a different toe shape, for a long boot and often also for a
slipper. So a customer can quite easily have 4 lasts with us.

It takes time to make a decent last and as you might imagine all that is
very expensive to do, but we think it is part of the integrity of our
service compared with the not uncommon alternative of sticking on a bit
of leather or adapting a different customer's last for that pair of shoes."

Above is a bespoke evening pump, from the W S Foster & Son and Henry Maxwell collection.

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