Meanwhile, over in West London, luxury shoemaker Caroline Groves attracts elite clients who like the fact that she will experiment with different materials in order to customise her client’s shoes. Her elaborate creations take an average of six months to produce, with prices starting at around £1,500, and feature an exotic mix of materials such as feathers and walnut wood. The Parakeet sandals were made using real parakeet wings. The turquoise plumes then became the main feature on a pair of sandals, set on a walnut wood sole. The sandals took five months to create and cost £5,000. You could, of course, take things a step further and customise your own footwear at one of the many private shoemaking lessons, weekend workshops and intensive courses that are cropping up all over the capital. Teaching the centuries-old craft of hand-sewn shoes comes naturally to James Ducker and Deborah Carré – aka Carréducker. When they’re not making bespoke shoes for Gieves & Hawkes’ customers on Savile Row, this highly skilled pair run their own 12-day intensive shoemaking classes at a studio in Bloomsbury.
As to what is driving the trend for customising shoes and other accessories, Ducker says: “There's a huge sense of achievement in making your own shoes. People have realised that as we’ve gone through the 1980s and 1990s, happiness isn’t always based on ‘quick fix fashion’. They now want items that are really special to them.” Getting a beautifully made object personalised is, of course, something luxury fashion and lifestyle brands would like more of us to invest in. At the Louis Vuitton Maison on Bond Street, for example, shoppers can work with experts in a new dedicated private salon to choose a handbag style, colour, leather and finish, which will allow for more than 80,000 creations.
COMMISION A ONE OFF
Fashion aside, when The New Craftsmen opens its first permanent Mayfair store in June, it will feature the first dedicated area for commissioning bespoke work from a clutch of artisans handpicked from across the British Isles. Customers will be able to choose from a selection of materials, finishes and themes from a range of New Craftsmen makers working in silverware, ceramics, glassware and beyond.“ I think all consumers are increasingly looking for purchases with special meaning or personal significance to them and so the rise of one-off, bespoke or customised pieces will continue to grow and grow,” says The New Craftsmen co-founder Natalie Melton. ”It’s another level of discernment – the elite do not want to define themselves by recognisable brands. Instead, they seek out the unknown, the finely crafted and the personalised,” she adds.
Finally to Bermondsey, South London, where product designer Simon Hasan makes furniture to order using an unusual technique known as ‘cuir bouilli’. It involves stiffening cow leather by boiling it in water – a process that can be traced back to medieval times where it was the stuff of battle field armour. Today, Hasan uses it to sculpt furniture. A roster of private clients commission drum-tight tables, chairs and stools. Hasan also uses more conventional materials such as wood, glass and yarns. Recently, he designed a five-piece collection of furniture – named Graft – for British bespoke furniture makers, Linley. His collection of ‘production’ pieces includes console tables and coffee tables, but Linley being Linley, just about anything can be customised.