Stepping out: John Lobb’s Levah gets an update

Paula Gerbase, artistic director of the British footwear brand, reveals the inspiration behind her latest take on a classic style


The Levah was the first style I launched at John Lobb. It was named after a place in Cornwall called St Levan; the product manager thought the "n" was an "h", so the name was actually a mistake, but I liked it and I love the way these things happen by chance.

It was immediately a good seller and the customer was just craving it – it's a very pure, simple and non-flashy plimsoll, which I think is what appealed to people. It's inspired by the casual shoes that I found in the archive, including a tennis shoe from the 1920s – it's beautiful, all white with a rubber sole. I had expected to find formal shoes and "City guy" styles in the archive, and then I looked into the history of the brand and thought: "Hang on, this is a company founded by a country guy who started doing walking boots". This changed my perception completely.

Another discovery was museum calf, which John Lobb has done since beginning to produce ready-to-wear shoes. It's a mottled effect that has been re-done in the tanning stage. It's really ingrained in the leather and gives it a beautiful transparency. It's always been used in the most classic, formal styles, so I wanted to clash these two perspectives into this new Levah.

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For the first attempt, we used normal museum calf but it was too heavy, so we went to the tannery and said we needed exactly the same feeling and visual effect but in a lighter and suppler quality, so that someone would put the shoe on and never want to take it off. So, we created a new museum calf that was appropriate – it's the most formal leather we have in the most casual model we've ever created.

The shoe features slip beading [detailed hand stitching] that comes from the welting process. Normally a sneaker would have a piece of leather trim that you put over the edges to clean up the work. But John Lobb is about quality, and I wanted to open us up for an absolute critique, and make sure that even the seams are really perfect.

I think that's the hard thing about doing something that looks like nothing, because you're so open to mistakes and you can see any little slip of the needle.

That's also the beauty of it, and if you're not going to do it with John Lobb, you're not going to do it anywhere.

PAULA GERBASE joined John Lobb in 2014 and as artistic director has revamped the identity of the British footwear brand;

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