The Fashion Folk S01 ep15 : John Lobb, Lobb Fashion, [London]
Interview with John Lobb
One of the first things he was able to do, we are not quite sure how, we think from a footprint, he made the Prince of Wales a pair of boots. And the Prince of Wales was pleased with them and granted him the royal warrant. So he had an enormously great royal warrant to put over his shop.
KD – What exactly does this firm do?
This firm makes shoes by hand, to measure - bespoke. I am always asked what
is so special about it? Compared to a ready-made shoe it is about as different as
chalk and cheese. If you can’t get shoes that fit properly, if they are made by
hand made to measure chances are they will?
My great grandfather was an ambitious Cornishman. He would have been a
farmer but he fell off a donkey, hurt himself and was crippled, in fact. So he was
apprenticed to the local boot maker down in Cornwall, and in those days, every
little village had its local cobbler or shoemaker and he learnt the craft, and
obviously was very good at it and he was also very ambitious. So he took his
walking stick and walked to London and in those days most people went by boat if
they came from Cornwall to London.
He had to struggle through the rough lanes and avoid the highwaymen and
everything else and come to London and try to find a job. I was told he came to
this part of London, maybe, walked into one of the best boot makers at the time,
and in those days there were masses of boot makers in London and he went in to
try and get a job. The owner took one look at this country bumpkin and kicked him
out so he shook his fits at him and said ‘I will come back and knock you for 6’.
This is what we were told.
And he then went to Australia; he followed his brother, because it was the time of
the gold rush in Australia. He went first apparently to the gold mines, and rather
than look for gold, he found it more profitable to make boots for the miners, which
he did. Then he found his way to Sydney and there he put up a shop in Sydney
and successfully made boots and shoes, for no doubt, miners and for anyone who
could afford it, and even married the harbour master’s daughter, which seemed to
be a good move at that time. After a few years, of course, he hankered to come
back to England.
One of the first things he was able to do, we are not quite sure how, we think from
a footprint, he made the Prince of Wales a pair of boots. And the Prince of Wales
was pleased with them and granted him the royal warrant. So he had an
enormously great royal warrant put over his shop.
He was a very strict Victorian kind of boss, running his shop, but at the same time
he was very ambitious and this is shown by the numerous medals he won in the
next 20 – 30 years, while he was successfully running his shop. Obviously he
must have been a craftsman, most Lobbs down through our generations have
actually been fairly practical with their hands and actually worked at the business -
so he must have stuck to his last.
The West End of London of course at this time was finding itself to produce
beautiful shoes, beautiful clothes. You had a few people who were "Dons". And
they be employed, if you wanted to win a competition, they would be employed
perhaps for 3 weeks if you wanted to make a beautiful pair of shoes, whereas
they would actually make 3 pair a week. They would put that extra bit of time, a
lot of time, to produce something that was absolutely immaculate. There were not
many of them but there were a few. Even today we have some that would
compare very favourably with the Don’s of old.
When I first was coming near to join the firm, they had a celebration for three
members of the firm who had been with them for 60 years.
KD – 60 years!!
Yes, I went through this procedure that most Lobbs have done, which is to spend
time with a craftsman. So I spent three months with a closer.
KD – What is a closer?
One who makes the uppers, and closing the top part of the shoe, and later on
spent six months with a maker who puts the soles on and I became involved with
customers and seeing them.
KD – Did you actually make shoes yourself?
Fortunately, and that is why we are carrying on, is that there are people who want
to do the work. If there weren’t we would simply have to stop and think again. But
there are people who actually like working with their hands, cutting leather,
shaping it, and at the end of the day producing something that they have made
with their hands and which they are proud of.
I have two sons who work with me and they already take a very keen interest in
the craft side of the work. They are both working in making lasts, and working with
leather and doing that kind of work which is what I have done most of my life.
I have been brought up with a certain pride in this business, and keeping it in a
sort of state, of almost, anachronism you know, where it was done 100,000 years
ago and are not changing it at all but, personally, I am not wedded to that.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: John Lobb, Lobb Fashion, London