From today's the (sydney) magazine
''People in Sydney are finally sick of buying shoes from China'' ... Andrew McDonald.
''People in Sydney are finally sick of buying shoes from China'' ... Andrew McDonald.
George Street might just be the heart and sole of the bespoke shoe business in Sydney, with a history that steps back to the 1850s.
To look at the average Sydney bloke's feet, you wouldn't think our city had a place in men's shoe history. But back in the 19th century, the man who would become the world's most famous shoemaker opened his very first store on our very own George Street.
John Lobb had come to the colonies seeking gold but made his fortune instead with an ingenious hollow-heeled boot that proved popular with prospectors looking to hide their day's stash.
Cashed up with sales from the clever boot, Lobb opened his first bespoke shoe shop, John Lobb, Bootmaker, in 1858. He would later move back to England, but Sydney earns a place in hoof history as the first step for the man whose shoes have dressed the feet of greats from Katharine Hepburn to Edward VII.
More than 150 years later, Sydney is making shoe history again. Megalith fashion house Louis Vuitton this month opens a new Maison store on the corner of George and King streets - only the world's second LV store to offer "personalisation services", where women can order customised handbags and men can pick up a pair of made-to-order shoes.
LV's new digs are a step up from Lobb's workshop on the same street years before - the three-storey Maison is typical LV luxury from the original storm-porch entrance to the detailed mosaic and silk finishes - but the principle is the same: Sydney blokes design their own bespoke kicks by choosing from six shoe models, four soles and eight types of leather.
While Lobb cut and stitched his shoes himself, the task of putting LV's loafers and Oxfords together goes to artisans in the company's Fiesso d'Artico facility near Venice. They work quickly but demand can mean a 14-week wait for the final product.
Still, Louis Vuitton Oceania CEO Philip Corne is betting local customers won't mind a wait."The Australian consumer is very sophisticated," he says, "and very positively disposed to unique pieces" - CEO-speak for how Australians are embracing the idea of bespoke bags, belts and shoes.
Sydney's most prominent bespoke shoemaker, Paddington's Andrew McDonald, has been watching this change for the past five years. He says that for the first time since the '60s import explosion that flooded the city with mass-produced cheap shoes, people are beginning to see the value of buying something unique and fitted, even if they have to save for it.
"It's been going on in Europe forever," says McDonald, who has made shoes since the late '90s. "But people in Sydney are finally sick of buying shoes from China." McDonald's own success, plus that of online retailers such as FEIT for men and Shoes of Prey for women, suggests he might be right.
McDonald isn't worried about the new French competition. He says the Maison store will only add to the increasing awareness of bespoke's value. And it's already proved to be an opportunity for students of McDonald's shoemaking courses, with one picking up a job as a fitter in the LV store. Before that, says McDonald, his graduates had to go overseas for any kind of real shoemaking experience. Three of them now work for a little company in London called John Lobb.