John Lobb – Royal Shoes

Ever wanted to spend a day in Prince William’s shoes? How about a bit longer? A pair of handmade shoes from John Lobb may not make your blood any bluer, but they’ll certainly make your feet feel a little bit more royally privileged.

While it’s a given that women love their shoes, the truth is that men do too. What Manolos is for the women’s footwear world, John Lobbs is for the gentleman – with one important difference: absolutely each and every pair of hand-sewn Lobbs shoes wear as comfortably as a pair of gloves, and last the lifetime of their owner. Significantly less ostentatious than their female counterparts, these are neither glamorous nor groundbreaking, holding instead true to the time-honored tradition of fine British understatement.

Beginning with the tanning of the leather all the way to the finished shoes, a classic pair of Lobb Derbies take more than 190 steps to complete. This means that the maximum production quota for the expert staff at the Northampton workshop rarely makes it above 100 pairs per day. While that may sound like a respectable number for a small specialty manufacturer, the twenty John Lobb boutiques and over one hundred dealer partners worldwide mean that supply is always in demand – especially considering that there are more than 32 different models available, all of which come in ten different lengths and various widths.

Ambitious beginnings

As often happens, firm founder John Lobb’s choice of profession arose out of an emergency. The son of a hardworking farmer, a repeatedly broken leg made him unfit for work in the fields, leading him to learn the cobbler’s trade in London. An adventurer, the young Lobb strove for more, and left for Australia to mine for gold, where he stumbled upon a brilliant idea: he made shoes for miners with raised heels that featured secret compartments for the safe storage of precious nuggets. The ambitious Englander then took it upon himself to send a pair of his new riding boots un-requested to the British royal family – a gesture that was unheard of at the time. His cheekiness was rewarded though, and King Edward VII appointed John Lobb the position of official court cobbler. This privilege won him the title of ‘Shoemaker for The King, and The King of Shoemakers’.

Who’s who

In the mid 1970s, the company John Lobbs had founded sold its Paris shop and parts of the production center along with rights to the name to Hermès, a move that remains a bit confusing even today. While the shoemaker’s shop in London’s St. James Street (and its Royal Warrant) remains family owned and operated, Hermès also produces shoes with exactly the same name for the world market. In addition to ready-to-wear shoes and an upon request collection (where the customer can choose color, leather type, and model), Hermès also takes orders for bespoke pieces in their shops and several other department shops such as Harrods, which are then crafted in the British workshop.

Prices start at 2400 pounds for a basic pair with practically no upper limit for the price of a special bespoke shoe. In comparison, shoes from the ready-to-wear collection range from 900-1200 euro, can be adapted to the foot of the customer upon purchase and fit at least as perfectly as their bespoke counterparts. Considering the exceptional long life of such shoes, their purchase should be seen as more of an investment than an indulgence.

Paul Smith and bootmaker John Lobb have collaborated on three special edition shoes for autumn/winter 2012
The collaboration combines the tradition and exceptional quality of a handmade John Lobb shoe with the style, British sense of humour and optimism that Paul Smith is known for.
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