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Behind the Wheel
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Visitors to Tom Ford’s eponymous Madison Avenue flagship were greeted with an odd scene a few weeks back. The usual details were all in place—the immense doors that close with a small sigh as you enter, the receptionist behind the bronze crocodile desk, the clubby intimacy—but the clothes in the windows had all been taken apart. In one, the chest pieces on suits had been removed so that the handstitched canvas was exposed. In another, shoes were in various states of completion, with leather stretched around wooden forms that were themselves displayed like sculptures. It was like walking by a Bentley dealership and seeing the cars with their bodies removed and their engines exposed. Like a true aficionado, Ford knows that while a gorgeous exterior is important, the things one can’t see—what’s under the hood—matter even more.
The occasion for celebrating the hidden craft in his clothes, it turns out, was a visit from the men in charge of his made-to-measure programs. Ford has offered custom shirts and suits since opening in 2007. (Walk along Madison and 70th Street and look up to see tailors at work on the second floor.) This year he decided to offer the same level of craftsmanship for footwear through a made-to-measure shoe salon. The idea, says Ford, was to provide his own “response to a market that’s been dominated by fast fashion.”
It’s certainly true that buying something made-to-measure is the antithesis of fashion’s typical craving for immediate gratification. At a time when people are cutting back, having something made, says Ford, becomes a matter of “valuing authenticity, quality, and substance” over the pleasure of a moment. Indeed, more and more places have adopted a similar return to traditional values. British shoemaker George Cleverley points to his in-house workshop with pride. John Lobb has created a bespoke salon open to the public in the heart of Paris, where every stage of fitting and construction is done on site. At the new Girard-Perregaux boutique, just a few blocks down from Ford, a watchmaker will construct custom timepieces in the midst of shoppers browsing the vitrines.
At Ford’s store, clients walk into the little jewel box shoe salon on the second floor, done in the same chocolate tones as the rest of the store and complete with a fireplace with an enormous quartz screen. The selection is classic—everything from Chelsea boots to opera slippers—and there are 28 leathers and exotic skins to choose among. The client is carefully measured in a process that takes about an hour. Then he goes home and waits.
The wait can be up to three months. A long time, but that’s also how long it takes for the Neapolitan workshop Ford uses to make a pair of shoes. And, as he points out, there’s no other way to make shoes of the quality he demands. Everything is done by hand, the leather has to be shaped to the last and then “rested,” and polishing alone can take up to a week.
And waiting is sort of the point anyway. The shoes aren’t meant to be disposable objects; they’re meant to be, says Ford, “owned—and worn—for a lifetime.”
Custom shoes start from $3,970, depending on style and materials (212-359-0300; tomford.com).
Made-to-measure meets ready-to-wear.
Visitors to the New York store can witness a watchmaker hand-enameling dials and fine-tuning timepieces. Dragon Dial limited edition of 20 with cloisonné enamel dial, $49,900; 201-804-1904; girard-perregaux.com
The Italian suitmaker offers a made-to-measure service on the third floor of its Wall Street store. Allow five weeks. From $1,500; 212-842-8700; canali.it
The Hong Kong–based company offers custom shirts in 3,500 different fabrics, with 30 collar choices and 20 cuff styles, in all its U.S. stores. Allow four weeks. $200; 212-759-3333; ascotchang.com