Apologies for the warped chronology here as I contemplate The American Dream instead of racing through the blizzard of shows in Paris. Normality will resume fairly soon but first, let's stand still and escape for a little bit back to what was a brilliantly enlightening trip.
I don't think I ever totally understood the possibilities encapsulated in that phrase "The American Dream", until I went to Los Angeles earlier in the summer and felt all that space – sea, sand, desert, disjointed metropolis – spread out before me. It seemed appropriate that the one of the premier kings of Americana in fashion Tommy Hilfiger, should facilitate this journey. But not to connect with their own sprawling mass of fashion corporation and dominance. Instead, we were driving to a fairly anonymous part of Orange County to meet George Esquivel, to discover that in amidst suburbia, palm trees and surroundings that I'd liken to gritty Chino (err‚Ä¶ sorry, O.C. references will perpetually pop up in this post), there's unique craftsmanship to be found on such a singular level that you wonder whether you imagined it all.
Esquivel's tale is one that needs to be scripted up and directed as a biopic (he could probably call on his celebrity clients for help in that aspect). A childhood hampered by homelessness. A father who went to prison for murder. Drug dealing in and out of his life. Then Esquivel was in the thick of California's rockabilly/ska scene, yearning for shoes that fit his vintage-inspired lifestyle and happen upon Emigdio Canales, a retired shoe cobbler who helped realise Esquivel's shoe dreams, starting a small scale production in a garage. Canales' skill combined with Esquivel's ideas and endless questions of "What about we do this?" led to Esquivel's name being bandied about the local LA band scene. That was the early early to mid 1990s. Since then his specific approach to shoemaking, combining European craftsmanship with Americana vibes has led to a starry celebrity and sportsperson clientele. What is that if not the American Dream sprung into action?
A quick look around his studio and Esquivel would point out an alligator doctor's bag given to him by Sylvester Stallone to see if he could cobble a pair of shoes out of them. We saw massive lasts belonging to basketball players such as LeBron James, whose feet would require Esquivel's expertise. There were sketches for a pair of patent brogues for Hamish Bowles for the Met Ball, a custom order waiting to be delivered to Taylor Swift and Emma Stone. The list is endless as Los Angeles' custom made and bespoke shoe crown now belongs to Esquivel and Esquivel only.
One glance at Esquivel's signature brogues and there's immediately a difference between the countless versions by European brands. Esquivel likes to see wear and tear in his shoes as well as choosing colour combinations that aren't necessarily orthodox for his shoe shapes. He deliberately rejects the uber polished in favour of a impeccably well-crafted shoe that looks like it could get roughed up at a gig or a party – the sort of places his shoes have frequented over the years. That rough n' tumble attitude that is also rooted to California is exactly what attracted Tommy Hilfiger to Esquivel, when they met at a CFDA in 2009 at the Americans in Paris showcase. Likeminded, but still inherently different in their design approach, Hilfiger thought it a perfect fit to collaborate with Esquivel on some twisted classics and vice versa, Esquivel was ecstatic over collaborating with one of his compatriot design heroes. "There wasn't a brief. The styles just evolved out of our conversations. We looked at what Tommy does, he does preppy Americana and we explored what we liked and it reduced down to a brogue and a loafer. It was then about making preppy but adding the soul of rock and roll, a little bit rebellious," explained Esquivel. Details such as the perforated toe mimicking the Tommy Hilfiger plaid is Esquivel being a little bit playful.
At the heart of it though, this collaboration is very much an equal coming of minds. Esquivel's personality seeping into the hand-stained leather of the two styles of brogues and loafers and Hilfiger's shades of Americana-tinged navy and burgundy.
As shoe operations go, I've not come across one that felt so bizarre and yet completely natural. Such a workshop and production facility shouldn't really exist in Orange County but it does. Esquivel has worked hard to gather up a group of cobblers who are now de facto craftsmen, and is looking to train people all the time. The lack of shoe making tradition in the area only serves to highlight how amazing it is that a business like George Esquivel operates here. And that these humble hands are creating shoes destined for the most upper echelons of Hollywood (Esquivel's shoes on a bespoke basis aren't cheap as pairs range from $650 upwards). Esquivel's customers treat his shoes like old friends though, knowing that they've all gotten the seal of approval from the man himself.
When Steve and I finally got our pairs of the Tommy Hilfiger x George Esquivel shoes (hence why this post is popping up now in the midst of fashion weeks), we both did a collective "Ahhhh‚Ä¶" as we slipped them on. They felt good and look like they are the sort of shoes that we'll kick on and off regularly. I went for the loafer shape because I've pretty much knackered my G.H. Bass ones (also a Hilfiger collaboration), from all the slipping on and off action. Pairing them up with the other things I bought from L.A. – a cosy RTH tie dye poloneck and a skirt I got on sale in Opening Ceremony – only serve to remind me what a trip that was. The first of many, I hope. Not that we'll ever experience jaunts like going to spots like The Spare Room at the Roosevelt Hotel, with its exclusive two lane bowling alley (Brad and Angelina go there, don't ya know‚Ä¶). That was an Esquivel tip-off as he supplies the bowling shoes. Every pair is different. Much like most of his shoes. Even the same style will be worn in a very different way by different people. And they'll bear the marks of that specific journey.