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Monday, July 21, 2014

Oh You English - You Have Something Over Us Australians For Sure - The Timeless Beauty Of Foster & Son Shoes

Waiting - that is what defines my business. It's all about waiting. Patience is so important because if you rush anyone with their craft there will always be mistakes and yet we all want to get from A to B in the fastest possible manner.

I patiently waited for the courier to come. I was impatient though. My patience was feigned and there is a difference. I have also been impatient with learning the technique of patina and bull shine. Real patience, like our friends in England at Foster & Son who have been making shoes since 1840, renders very different results from the rest of the pack. There is also something organic and timeless about the act of making a shoe which flows through into every detail of the product. Something as natural as the leather with which the shoe is made. People talk about a brand's DNA but with Foster & Son it seems to be more earthly than a subject of DNA, it seems to me more soulful (no pun intended).

The box that arrived was a dulled green which took me back to the early 1980's when I first hid myself under a billiard table in a friend's house. The billiard room contained that same earthly English sensibility of greens and browns in felt, carpet, timber and leather that when I opened the box I felt a soulful sigh of "ah yes, this is English" as I reconnected to something in my youth. The shoe bags, the gold braid, the felt cloth, it all felt like something I had seen before.

Andy Murphy at Foster & Son had sent inside the box a catalogue which opened with the following:

"The tools of our craft are very simple. An awl, flax thread, beautifully naturally tanned leather, a hammer, pliers, sharp knives, beeswax, punches and marking tools. 

These simple things, unchanged for centuries, we transform into practical and often beautiful objects, perfectly adapted to the human foot and the aspirations of the wearer".

But I did not write this post to wax lyrical about Foster & Son, I am writing to continue in the vein of glacage and bull shining. Andy Murphy had followed up a request I made to have the shoes high-shined as  they refer to it. He had then instructed me on the process the shoes undertake. He explains it as follows:

Just a little run through of how we polished your shoes. It takes us 5 days. We have a couple of polishers that work for us off site. With your shoes the first thing we do is brush coat black wax polish (Saphir). We leave that to soak in overnight . Then for the next 2/3 days we use the same wax polish, slowly polishing with a slightly damp cloth  (we use well worn yellow dusters - the older and holes in it the better- if you have a brand new one, wash it in the washing machine to get the first layer of fluff off) rapped over 1/2 fingers.  We call it the spit and polish ( the army method ). We use a small amount of polish and water going in small circular motions over the leather. It takes time to get this right. Too much force and you will take the polish off -  not enough and nothing really happens. 
We repeat this many times, until we are really happy with the shine. Basically the more you repeat these steps the more polish you will add and the more shinny it will become. Usually this is only done over the the toecaps only. You can add neutral polish too over the toe caps, thus can give a black shoe a slightly different hi-shine look. Hope this is helpful to your readers.

But Andy also had another funny story to tell me about the art of shoe shining.
When I was an apprentice shoe maker at New & Lingwood in the early 80's .... While our in house shoe polisher was on his day off, I decided it would be a good idea to tidy up his polishing room because it was a real mess. I set about tidying up and threw away all his old  well worn polishing dusters and replaced them with nice new neatly folded yellow dusters! The next morning I was so excited to see our polisher Jimmy get to work and see his nice clean tidy room..... Oh dear.  He went bananas!!  

This is perhaps the best bit of information I could add to in my humble experience. In my attempt to perform glacage over my self-prescribed 'shoe sabbatical' I have found that the by using cotton shirting left over from old bolts, over time those rags that I used become increasingly softer with the motion circular motion of glossing the shoes to the point that they become much more fluid massaging the polish into the shoe. Below I will post the Foster & Son shoes and a recent attempt I made on a pair of RM Williams boots.

High shine Foster & Son Black Cavendish Oxford shoes. Made in England by shoe makers that have been operating since 1840.

Quality English made shoes by Foster & Son with wonderful packaging. 

Left, RM Williams Glacage I attempted, right, the high shine perfomed on a pair on a pair of Oxford brogues by Foster & Son. Don't mind the Hermes shoe brush, it's there for a point of reference to matte black.

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