The Human Touch

Riddle’s Editor-in-Chief, undertaking a bespoke experience courtesy of London shoemakers Carréducker, witnesses zany design values come to fruition via traditional artisanal methods 

Article by Nick Scott

The ambient pressure, when anticipating a fitting with Carréducker, is just how much to push the envelope. After all, the eternally amenable eponymous pair behind the London bespoke shoemakers, Deborah Carré & James Ducker, are renowned for their flamboyant, cutting-edge design ethos, and for encouraging customers to be equally outré when it comes to the creative journey of having a pair of shoes made.

“James and I are such a good design team because he tempers my extravagances and I push him outside his comfort zone”, says Carré of the pair’s exemplary working relationship. Ducker, meanwhile, points out that their shoemaking methods are as old-school as their final products are leftfield. “We’re slavishly traditional with the manufacturing,” he says.  “The only machine work is some stitching on the upper;  everything else is by hand, right up to the finishing.”

Equally rooted in tradition, says Ducker, is the shoemaker-customer rapport. “With bespoke shoemaking, people see the benefit of meeting the person who is going to make their shoes; of knowing the provenance of the leathers and so on; of being involved in the design and of wearing wonderful shoes that fit them properly,” he says. “For me, the most rewarding thing about my job is the craft itself – making something beautiful and eminently practical.”

With all the above in mind, I feel a certain responsibility to test the duo’s technical and creative prowess to the max and, after lengthy discussion of options with James – having bespoke shoes made involves far more decisions than the same process with a suit – I settle on what will turn out, some months later, to be an impossibly elegant saddle boot in Madeira blue and warm Whisky box calf, with a light blue kid lining and jockey heel.

When it comes to aesthetics, the pictures surrounding these words do the talking, so perhaps it makes sense to linger more on the meticulous methodology behind Carréducker’s bespoke craft. The boots are made using the centuries-old construction process on which Goodyear welting is based. To sew the welt, an awl is used to make a hole through the insole, upper layers and welt, and then the two ends of the thread are passed through in opposite directions to pull everything together. This process is repeated all of the way around the foremost part of the shoe, creating a truly robust foundation.

The uppers are then hand-lasted, which involves pulling the leather right down onto the last to create that beautifully sinuous profile at the toe. Then, the welt is hand-sewn and the sole is hand-stitched and channelled so that the stitches are not visible on the underside. (The stitching threads are made from twisted, waxed hemp, which form a solid plug in the sole, adding to its durability. The heels, meanwhile, are built from stacked leather).

The insole, sole, welt and heel leathers are pit-tanned in England over the space of a year. Incredibly durable, they need replacing much less frequently than other shoe soles. The leather between the upper and lining, which gives shape and support around the heel and over the toes, is also made from pit-tanned leather, which means it won’t ever break down or crack.

One of the major distinctions between shoes picked off a shelf and bespoke, made-to-measure shoes is that the latter will improve, rather than deteriorate, as time goes by. To that end, the importance of boot trees cannot be underestimated, as these help the shoes keep their shape as they gradually age and patina, as they are worn over many years. It’s apt that the stunning pair of boots produced here come in beautiful, three-section maple with a brass hook for removal – not only are they a tasteful accessory: they enable and therefore represent the enduring exquisiteness of the footwear they keep in shape. riddle_stop 2


Carréducker, Gieves & Hawkes, 1 Savile Row, London W1S 3RJ; +44 (0)20 7432 6428/ cd@Carré

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