A Man on a Shoe Mission
Pursuing his passion for the finest men’s shoes has taken Justin FitzPatrick from Seattle to Mayfair via the workshops of Florence
Article by Stuart Husband Photography by Andy Barnham
Justin FitzPatrick is on a mission: to get the men of the world wearing better shoes. Shoes like the ones he’s got on today, for instance, which just happen to be of his own design; a pair of “Stefanos” in black calf with a vivid red saddle, honed to a dazzling sheen. They exemplify Justin’s classic-with-a-twist ethos (other models in his current J. FitzPatrick range include the Wedgwood, a Balmoral boot in antique brown calf with a denim shaft upper). They’re equally at home with a grey flannel suit or a pair of indigo selvedge jeans, and they get their wearers noticed for all the right reasons. “I know women check out each other’s shoes in the street, and I think a lot of men do too,” says Justin. “You can tell a lot about a person from their shoes.”
You may deduce from Justin’s shoes that he’s a dynamic young entrepreneur with an exacting attention to detail, and you’d be right. Still shy of 30, he’s built his burgeoning brand – it currently (as at time of writing in 2015) sells via the Mayfair store of tailor Timothy Everest, as well as online via his Shoe Snob blog – with an evangelist’s tenacity. He hails from Seattle – famously the home of grunge, and ostensibly not the most fertile of locales for a fine footwear prodigy. “But my love of shoes started early, wanting to get the best trainers so I’d be in with the cool crowd,” he grins. With urging from his financier father – “he always said to me, if you’re not progressing, you’re digressing” – Justin formulated a five-year plan after graduating from the University of Washington with a business degree: “I was going to start my own shoe line, but first I was going to learn all the ins and outs of the industry.” And to fully study the art and craft of the dress shoe, there was only destination: “I had to come over to Europe.”
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And so, after two years’ hard labour in the shoe department of Nordstrom in Seattle, Justin, then 24, cashed out his pension, marshalled his savings and embarked on a 10-month apprenticeship in the Florence workshop of the late, legendary bespoke shoemaker Stefano Bemer. “He was a great artist, who opened up my eyes to what shoes could be,” he says (and, indeed, the Stefanos are named in his honour). He also started his Shoe Snob blog, “to further spread the word about great shoes” (recent posts include Bowling Shoes Are Back, and My Favourite Duck Boot), and met his wife, a tailor and costume designer (they have a two-year-old son who, much to his father’s chagrin, loves toddling around in bare feet).
The couple moved to Brighton in the UK (they’ve since separated), and Justin became the in-house shoe-shiner at Gieves & Hawkes, having been taught the three-hour military-grade shine at Stefano Bemer (there’s a YouTube video in which he demonstrates the rigours – and the myriad of creams and cloths – involved in achieving a peerless buff; he now sells his own line of Shoe Snob shoe-care products, including beeswax polish, mink oil renovator, and applicator brushes).
Meanwhile, he was designing shoes on the commute to Savile Row, and settling on a factory in Almansa, near Valencia in Spain, to produce his first collection. “I wanted a mixture of English, French and Italian in the shoes, which no-one had done before,” he says. “French colour, Italian flair and comfort and English construction, with a nice full sole.” And the finished products, like his best-selling Wallingfords (in antique brown calf and snuff suede) boast finessed, subtle details – three rows of stitching on a cap-toe rather than one or two, and closed channels (no visible stitching on the sole) – that make his line a good fit with Everest’s contemporary tailoring: “I think Tim and I are kindred spirits, in that we have a classic base but we inject a bit of modernism and personality into it.”
Justin, now resident in London, has recently broadened his offering, adding penny and tassel loafers to the mix (the Leschis sport hand-stitched aprons, while the Madison is adorned with a textured strap), and producing his own take on the Alpine boot with the Snoqualmie, which would be equally efficacious if deployed among rural peaks or urban canyons.
His prices hover in the £300-£400 range, which makes his vision of shoe-snobbery a pretty egalitarian one, and, not surprisingly, his figures are correspondingly healthy – 120,000 visitors a month on his blog, and over 1,000 pairs of shoes sold in the past year. His battle against foul footwear is firmly joined, though he knows he’s still far from winning the war, railing against “big fat square toes and those cheap leather pointy things that all the City guys wear that turn up at the end like elf-slippers”.
The projected J. FitzPatrick bricks-and-mortar store, nestling somewhere within his five-year plan, should help get the word out further and, in the meantime, there are heartening signs of progress. “I saw a guy in Mayfair recently, and I was like, ‘Wow, where are those shoes from?’ They’re so elegant and refined. Then I looked closer and saw that they were mine.” He laughs. “That’s when I knew for sure that I was on the right track”.