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“It’s Mr. Cleverley’s shape that defines us,” says George Glasgow, of the unique chiseled toe designed by the founder of G. J. Cleverley & Co., the company he now owns. “He,” says Glasgow, who apprenticed with Cleverley for ten years before the master shoemaker’s death in 1993, “used to describe it as the suspiciously square toe.” That sleek, ever so slightly elongated shape has become a kind of secret sign, instantly recognizable to people in the know, that the wearer was part of the club. To belong, they had to know to ask for Mr. Cleverley by name and hunt him down for fittings in tiny London workshops and upstairs rooms; then in 1958 he finally set up on his own. The group included more than a few only-one-name-needed members over the years. Valentino, Bogart, and Astaire all tracked him down at one time or another, as did Churchill, who sent his friend Ike (as in I like…) along for a pair. All of them—whether they got a pair or not—were drawn not by the name but by the craftsmanship, the fit, and, of course, that ineffable style. “We feel as if we have only two or three competitors, people who really approach thisas an art,” Glasgow says. It’s true; thelist of companies still making their own lasts and producing truly handmade shoes may be a little longer than three, but not much—London’s Foster and Son, English newcomer Gaziano& Girling, the classic John Lobb, Dimitri Gomez in Paris, and a handful of others around the world.
In recent days it has gotten a little easier to become a member of Club Cleverley. The company has been in its Old Bond Street space for 30 years now, so clients can walk in and make an appointment for a fitting. Glasgow has been going to America for three decades, too, and he still comes every six months, doing hotel-suite trunk shows for the bespoke shoes in ten cities across the country. Even so, the price of admission remains steep—$3,000 to $6,000 per bespoke pair—and for those who want immediate gratification, the six months it takes to complete a pair can be…difficult. The company started offering designs in a ready-to-wear line 20 years ago, but even those required a trip to the London store, the only place they were regularly available.
In November, however, G. J. Cleverley & Co. began a partnership with fellow countryman Duncan Quinn, who has men’s clothing stores in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas. The two met when George Glasgow Jr. went to a party at Quinn’s Los Angeles store. According to Glasgow, Quinn recognized the shoes instantly. According to Quinn, the Cleverley look was a perfect match for his aesthetic, a combination of Savile Row, rock and roll, and Michael Caine circa Get Carter and Alfie. After talking, the two men soon realized they had more than just style in common—they shared a philosophy, the particular commitment to craft and materials that marks the English bespoke trade.
Eventually the stores will offer customized fittings, but to start they are carrying five of Cleverley’s benchmade (the construction is a combination of hand- and machine work) ready-to-wear shoes, at prices ranging from $700 to $1,300. Quinn’s personal favorite is the black “imitation brogue,” a lighter-weight, single-layer update of the wingtip that Alfie would have loved. Among the other styles is a classic wingtip in a burnished brown crafted speciallyfor Quinn, as well as slightly more fashion-forward whole cuts and casual slip-ons, in black and tan, respectively. There is also a black Chelsea boot that wouldn’t look out of place onstage at any rock show. The shoes will be available at Duncan Quinn’s shops. Which means that at long last people in the States can get the suspiciously square toe without transatlantic travel or superhuman patience.
Bespoke Cleverley trunk shows are held twice a year in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Middleburg, Virginia. The next trip, in March, will include all these cities, starting in New York and lasting five weeks. For more information or to schedule an appointment in London, call 44-20/7493- 0443, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org,or visit www.gjcleverley.com. For ready-to-wear Cleverley styles, contact Duncan Quinn at 212-226-7030.