Shoes Made To Measure The 21st Century Way
What is it with shoes? Carrie fantasises over them in SATC. Men spending around 800 to buy a pair at Berlutti in London’s Conduit Street automatically join a club whose members meet up in Paris salons at night to spray Champagne onto their purchases before vigorously polishing them off. And for me, one of my happiest memories is standing in a shoe shop with my mum, while Startrites strange, whirring machine sized up (and possibly even x-rayed) my feet.
The newest evidence of our continued obsession is found in Heathrow. Not in the noisy mall, but in a corner of the Virgin Clubhouse Library. And there’s a new whirring machine, this time belonging to the oddly named Left Shoe Company.
Left Shoe Co’s contraption is a matt black dais with a camera mounted on an arm. You pull on geometrically patterned socks, stand on the platform and the camera whirs around your feet, taking millions of images from every angle. Thirty seconds later, there’s a 3D model of your feet rendered on-screen.
The company’s big idea is to bring 21st century technology to the 19th Century craft of bespoken shoes: by computer modelling your foot, they save time and the need for multiple-fittings. Selection is not infinite, but they have over a hundred different styles. With more computer-aided cutting skills at the back-end, they can personalise almost everything: the leather, the colour, the instep. Finally, your name is inscribed in the soles.
For me, the most interesting thing about the process was to be taught how a shoe should fit. The last advice I received, aged 6, was to see if I could wiggle my toes and if I couldn’t, try a bigger pair. Ever since then, every new pair of shoes I’ve had have disappointed. They fitted alright for the ten minutes I was in the shop, then when I tried them on at home, the big toe was fine but the little piggys squealing; or there’s enough room to wriggle all five fellas, but it’s so big on the heel it felt like I was wearing a pair of oversized flippers. Now, with complete 3D modelling, I can be told things about my feet that I never knew: the arch on my foot is particularly pronounced (I take that as a Regal sign) and indeed (its necessary to say this bit in the Scandinavian accent of the company’s owner) your ball is very far back. That would explain a lot.
In particular, it explains why little piggy keeps getting slaughtered. Or if little piggy is given his room to roam by buying a bigger shoe, the fit to the back of the heel is sloppy. And the best way to check whether things are fitting over the top of the foot? Look at the cross-lacing and make sure the two sides of the upper are not meeting.
The Left Shoe Co. can fix all this. They’ll give you a couple of shoes to try to test their assumptions. With me, they got it absolutely right: if I went for a particular range in my size that fits snugly round the heel, it would slaughter little piggy.
This leaves me with about two-thirds of the range still to choose from. I could get a Classic Oxford or a mustardy suede Penzo. I can have a high cut Marco pull-on boot or a Nicola driver’s training pump made in a colour to match my latest car.
I have few quibbles. The prices start at around £400. For a bespoke Berlutti, expect to pay around ten times that. Delivery is quicker too: four weeks compared to more than 4 months with bespoke. Once I’ve been measured, the website is waiting for me. I never need to visit a shoe shop again.
The brand experience is neat and tidy as you would expect from a Scandinavian firm. My only criticism is slight: the brand seems not quite sure whether its funky 21st Century alternative to the High Street shopping experience, in which case the trebling of prices takes a leap of faith. Or is it bringing the bespoke experience to the masses, in which case a few tropes of the luxury experience could be included but hopefully not of the Champagne money-shotting of Berlutti.
All that’s left now is for me to wait and dream about how well my next new pair of shoes will fit. I dreamt about them last night. Our obsession with shoes continues.