Best foot forward: Gaziano & Girling

Tony Gaziano one half of the Savile Row and Kettering shoemakers talks about the company's early days and making a bespoke pair

(Image credit: Andy Fallon Photography)

Having worked in shoemaking for over 20 years, Dean [Girling] and I were both at Edward Green when we decided to start our own company, Gaziano & Girling, in 2006. I'm a designer and Dean is a shoemaker from a shoemaking family – his father was a bespoke slipper maker – so between us we could create a pair of shoes from start to finish.

We had a number of customers we knew would place orders with us, and the first thing we did when we left Edward Green was jump on a plane to Tokyo. We took orders for around 20 pairs of bespoke shoes there, and that demand financed the progress of the company for around seven years, enabling us to go to New York for the second wave of orders.

We're very proud to have built the company without any financial help from anyone until 2013 when some partners came on board so we could open our store at 39 Savile Row. Until then we were travelling around the world to get business; I was designing in my garage, Dean was making from his garden shed, and tailor Jo Morgan at 12 Savile Row kindly let us use his premises to meet our clients.

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(Image credit: Peter Haynes - AllWell)

Savile Row and its vicinity is the centre for sartorial shopping, and while the initial instinct for any shoemaker would be to open a shop on Jermyn Street where many other shoemakers are, we wanted to stand out a bit. This extends to the design philosophy for our shoes – they blend with the outfit, but are still unique enough to be a talking point. People look for men's shoes to be a little bit different, but not way out, and that's a difficult balance to get right.

I design all the shoes and I try to create fluency with all the lines to build everything together harmoniously so it flows. Our style is traditionally English with continental flair, and we create the shoe holistically – we don't just concentrate on the upper of the shoe, we create the lines of the sole. The quality of the making is everything, and some people underestimate what quality can do.

We have a fully bespoke selection of materials, and for made-to-order shoes we use the same soles and the same upper leathers as bespoke pairs; the heel proportion is the same, and we use the same techniques to finish the sole edges. So we incorporate lots of bespoke elements in our ready-to-wear shoes. We have a huge range of around 120 models, and with made-to-order, customers can choose the model, toe shape and the leather, and it takes around 12 weeks to make.

A bespoke shoe usually takes 10 to 12 months to make, as the fitting process is more thorough. In a bespoke consultation we ask lots of questions about when the shoes will be worn and what clothes they'll be worn with. One of the most important things is that the customer orders the shoes to put on his feet and not to look nice on his shelf – there's a difference.

Once we've got an idea of the type of shoe and the materials required, we take a full measure of the feet, which is a very intricate procedure. We take moulds of the bottom of the soles; we take heat impressions, side elevations and top elevations to get as many details as we can. Everyone has their own preferences of how they like their shoes to fit; some people like their shoes to be quite tight, others prefer them looser.

It takes around three months to make a mock-up for the first fitting, and for one pair of bespoke shoes it can take up to three trial shoes made from scrap leather and a cork sole before the final one is perfect. Once the customer has tried the mock-ups on and walked around in them, we cut them up to see what the foot looks like inside the shoe. We do this two or three times to make sure we're 100% happy with the fit. We also do a bespoke service for women and the process is exactly the same.

A bespoke shoe can last for 20 or 30 years if it's taken care of, so it's a real investment. We can make old shoes look relatively new, as they can be re-soled as many times as necessary and we can also do repairs such as waxing and polishing the leather if it gets scuffed, and we can put new heels on, etc.

We recently worked with fashion designer Alessandro Sartori to create a collection of nine bespoke shoes for Italian fashion house Zegna, all of which were made at our factory in Kettering. It's a very exciting time for British shoemaking, as British shoemakers are finally working out how to achieve a balance of finesse and softening the structure a bit, but with enough durability and quality for the shoe to last.

TONY GAZIANO trained in architecture, but realising it wasn't for him, joined the design studio at Cheaney, one of Northhamptonshire's best-known shoemakers, before going on to work in the design departments of a number of renowned shoemaking factories. He founded Gaziano & Girling with Dean Girling in 2006. Ready-to-order shoes start at £1,430, bespoke shoes start at £5,000;

Lead image: photographer Andy Fallon

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