On her blog, Cathy Horyn recently expressed a distaste for 'turning craft into some fetishistic pile of stuff' and also referenced to a round table discussion that I took part in for the latest issue of Bon Magazine along with editor-in-chief of Bon, Madelaine Levy, Tim Blanks, Jo-Ann Furniss, Imran Amed of Business of Fashion and Valentine Fillol Cordier.  I'll be republishing some choice bits from the LOOOOOOONG discussion but for now, I wanted to pick up on something that Levy said…

'All the talk about the "petits mains," the seamstresses.  I can't really decide whether I think that's great or even more fluff.  Just another way of adding a few more hundred dollars to the price by saying "Oh look, there's amazing craft behind all this."'

We were on the topic of discussing whether the exposure of 'craft' behind a garment or product was PR fluff or genuinely interesting and we were somewhat divided.  Levy also said that she felt she knew too much about what is out there in terms of product, and I suppose it is there that I disagree.  Knowing too much is far better than knowing too little, especially in fashion, when we so often tow the line and get fed information that doesn't really investigate or probe.  Yes, showcasing the making of something and delving into craftsmanship or even inventing 'craft' where there is none, is an exploitative tool for the PR machine, but at the same time, don't we feel fortunate to be privy to this mountain of information, through the internet, where before these doors often felt closed?  I, as a consumer certainly feel like being informed about the 'process' of things isn't a bad thing and what if promoting craftsmanship will also ultimately impact on people's livelihoods?


I said there'd be a second part to my Dr. Martens Bespoke shoe experience where I had my gnarly feet measured for all to see in the basement of Dover Street Market and last week, I went up to Northampton to Dr. Marten's Wollaston Cobb Lane factory to see my shoe finished up.  This one factory is the sole survivor after a dramatic cull back in 2002, with over 1,000 jobs lost, when Dr. Martens were making huge profit losses and were forced to source production to China where a majority of their boots are made today.  Therefore, the significance of Dr. Martens making some of their shoes (their 'Made in England' collection and now, their bespoke and premium line products) in England again, cannot be OVER emphasised.  It's the difference between fifty or so people having something to do and not.  Now the future is looking even brighter with the factory about to expand and take on new members of staff.  They're looking to train a new generation of shoe makers to revive what is an ebbing industry in Northampton, an area that was once rife with shoe manufacture.


Of course, if the product wasn't a great one, no amount of economic do-gooding would convince me to buy into it.  Fortunately, at the end of this factory tour, a pair of shiny shiny gold shoes would be glinting into my eyes and I was lucky enough to not just see the workings of the factory, guided by factory manager Brian Clayton but to also see my own pair of shoes being finished off‚Ķ

If this is the fetishisation of craft that Horyn speaks of, then I'm sorry to say that I must be a hardcore factory/craft fetishist because it seems every time I am exposed to any process of making, my eyes bulge and I start to fire off a million questions a minute.  I think I slowed the tour down with my incessant photographing and probing of both workers and Brian.

We start with the leather which as I said before, for the bespoke shoes, will be vastly superior to the leathers used on the normal DMs… 


I never knew that hides of leather actually come in vaguely recognisable cow-shape… this is from ONE side of a cow…


Then comes the cutting of the pieces which make up the shoe on a machine called the clicker, ensuring that the right part of the leather corresponds with the more prominent pieces in the shoe such as the 'vamp', which is the part which goes over your toes at the front…


What I would call sewing, in the shoe biz, they call 'closing'…



…which is incidentally mostly done by women…


I had no idea that the three row of stitches that you see here are what distinguishes a real Dr. Martens boot/shoe from the fakes.  Apparently the 'Puritan' machine (there are quite a few odd machine names at the factory… one of them is called 'Skiving'… and it has nothing to do with skiving off…) has three needles which is rare thing and so the fakes normally have just two rows of stitching or three unevenly spaced rows of stitching. 




The toe of the shoe/boot is formed here…


Then came my 1461 shoes, which had been sitting in their lasts to take shape for a few days, ready to be finished.  I actually had forgotten what it was that I had chosen but was pleasantly surprised to see this gleaming leather shining back at me along with the cream eyelets…


Staples, locks the upper to the insole and the err…. 'prime rib'… there are a lot of opportunities for double entendres in the factory…



Then the signature Dr. Martens 'Goodyear Welt' is stitched on to the shoe.  I did ask why the signature colour of the stitching was that recognisable shae of yellow but nobody seemed to know…


The rubber sole is ironed on…


The grooved rubber soles are another distinctive Dr. Martens feature… here they come out of head moulds and are inspected over light to check for air pockets and disfigurations…


This is the bit where i got particularly excited as the sole and upper are welded together around a 700-degree hot blade.  That's a temperature that I can't really get my head around…



Once the edges are trimmed and the sole is given its DM groove, it's ready to be polished, checked, laced-up and boxed.  I love that there was one person there to do the lacing, one person there to do the polishing and another to wrap them up in tissue paper.  It was a little bit Elf-ish.  All the better to feed my romantic ideals of a small factory where it's the man that controls the machinery and that ultimately it is man that ensures the product is a good one…  




As I said before, the shoe comes kitted in a lovely burgandy box (also made in England…) and all the accessories to ensure they'll be lovely and shiny for a long time…

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Each process on my shoe was signed off on this work ticket…


Here are the remnants from the finishing proces…


My first pair of GOOOOOOLD shoes will take a while for me to find some outfit homes for them but the thing I love is that they fit on my feet with pure ease as they are true to my feet size.  All that gross feet exposure back at Dover Street Market was not a wasted effort.  No shoe-horning or yanking required.  They literally ooze onto my feet and it'll prove quite difficult to pry them away when harsh winters come and all I crave are properly cushioned tootsies. 

Worn with Fancy Shit paisley blazer (yes that is indeed the name of the label… ), Roland Mouret dress


Plus, how could I not want to wear shoes that have been name-stamped?