It was only the start of a very long journey for John Lobb, when in 1851, he walked close to 300 miles from his birthplace in Cornwall to London, fuelled only by his ambition to become a shoemaker’s apprentice.
Today, the brand John Lobb has walked over 8,000 miles, (albeit not on foot), from its 1866-established shop at Regent Street in London, to the Parisian store opened at the turn of the century, to the recently new flagship store at Landmark Prince’s in Hong Kong, bringing forth the three tiers of John Lobb’s leather services to the world: bespoke and by request options handcrafted by the artisans in Paris, as well as ready-to-wear, made in Northhampton, the home of English shoemaking, and debuted in 1982, following the brand’s acquirement by the Hermès Group in 1976.
John Lobb shoes are renowned for its welted construction, also known as the Goodyear welt, made up of a strip of preformed canvas that runs along the perimeter of a shoe outsole – a tried and tested shoemaking construction that ensures the most lasting and comfortable shoe of elegance and durability.
Throughout the years, the iconic Lopez penny loafer has garnered traction amongst customers worldwide, alongside the William monk strap, named after John Lobb’s son, who expanded the business in Paris in 1900. The classic double buckle silhouette, a style first pioneered by John Lobb in the 1940s, has transcended through the timeline of the luxury shoe brand.
The latest Autumn/Winter 2018 collection is a nod to the rural history of the brand, and its well-documented journey from Cornwall to London, translated into naturalistic tones and textures, smoke grey or tobacco suede and claret pebble grain calfskin.
Inspired by the movement and sporting history inherent in the house, hyper lightweight rubber soles finish off the Goodyear welted styles, which riffed on traditional walking boot silhouettes found in the bespoke archives: models like the Moor oxford boot, five-eyelet Sentry derby, or eight-eyeler Helston derby boot, all feature a double stitch welt, contrasting thread colours and distinctive anthracite eyelets; whereas the classic Chelsea boot and signature Lopez loafer are presented with a lightweight walking sole for the season.
John Lobb’s non-welted collection evolves further this season, with relaxed white-soled styles, and signature yellow sole stitching: Holme, a suede plimsole with an anthracite double buckle; and the Heron and Evett, a Derby and a Chelsea boot interpreted with more casual soles and designs.
How does a pair of John Lobb shoes stand out from the many other shoes available out there?
I would say that John Lobb is not out to chase a trend or fashion. A pair of John Lobb shoes will last a lifetime when cared for properly. Some of the John Lobb shoes are constructed in leather, which in general, is a living product, and if cared for and treated, they will last a lifetime. I have recently met a customer who was talking about giving his John Lobb shoes to his son, like you do with a watch, as a family heirloom. And we have customers coming in with a pair of John Lobb they have been wearing since the university days back in the ‘60s.
Personally, I like that John Lobb shoes are very deliberately subtle in their styles; they’re not logoed, and they are not overtly branded, which I believe, is the strength of the brand. Non-welted or welted shoes, be it for men or women, the market is always very competitive, for sure. However, what we have, in terms of the market, is staying very true to our origins. The manufacturing process hasn’t changed since day one, and we are proud to stay true to that value.
How does a heritage brand like John Lobb keep up with the times of changing style and upgraded technology, and perhaps, in return, attract a younger crowd towards the brand?
When we launched the Levah collection back in 2015, a year after Hermès group appointed John Lobb’s first artistic director Paula Gerbase, it has become a real driving force for the brand. Each season, we have new palettes and styles rolled out; for the Autumn/Winter 2018 collection, we have several new styles that are non-welted – one is a double buckle, another a Chelsea boot, but constructed in the Levah style.
I would say that it’s a very important stage in the company’s history: it’s a range of shoes that is sympathetic to our welted traditional range, but at the same time, it does allow us to broaden our target audience. We want to maintain our existing customers – the guys who are buying the more traditional styles, and are also buying into the non-welted styles. It allows us to continue to be contemporary and to be relevant for the modern day customers.
How do you think men’s fashion, particularly for footwear, has changed in the last 152 years, since the brand was established?
I do see a certain evolution for men in general, who were previously probably more pigeon holed than the opposite sex. There is definitely a shift, a blurring of those traditional trends, based on the relevance of how you live your life, and what kind of lifestyle you are adapted to. We don’t like to pigeon hole our customers; we have customers at 60 who wear the Levah, and customers at 20 who wear the William. They can dress up in a Levah more formally, or wear it to the beach on the weekends.
Menswear, not only for John Lobb but in general, is definitely heading towards a more relaxed trend, particularly in countries with warmer climates like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong… throughout Southeast Asia, as a whole. Even back in Europe, there is a notable shift: on weekdays, you’re wearing your welted shoes to the office, but on weekends you may be wearing suede loafers.
Anything from John Lobb’s Autumn/Winter 2018 collection that you would like to highlight?
For the latest collection, Gerbase takes on the direction based on the inspiration of the journey between Cornwall and London: a walking boot and/or shoe with a heavy lug sole, but of EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) technology. It’s very rugged, but it’s also very lightweight and flexible. Those are the elements of technology we used for the first time. The new sole transcends throughout the collection; we may still be pushing out the iconic Lopez, taking something quite traditional, but doing it in a modern and contemporary way.
Do you have a personal favourite pair of John Lobb shoes?
At the moment, I’m loving the Levah collection. It has the versatility, in which you could dress it up or dress it down. Personally, for my own style, that’s what I like at the moment. That being said, I also have a beautiful pair of limited edition shoes John Lobb did last year called the Hayes, created in celebration of St Crispin’s Day, and in honour of the patron saint of bootmaking. It was crafted by hand from a single piece of rich museum calf leather, featuring the classic double buckle silhouette, and a characteristic hand sewn apron. It is, hands down, the most comfortable pair of shoes I ever own.
For the women, you can never own enough pairs of shoes.
Would you say that such saying applies to men as well?
Absolutely! I don’t really want to reveal how many shoes I have (laughs), but I think it definitely applies to men as well. Men are becoming more relaxed and more expressive. With shoes, it’s particularly a way of expressing one’s personality. They are subtle ways of conveying one’s personality when paired with our usual wardrobe palettes of navy and grey.
John Lobb is available at WJ & Co located on Level 1 in Bangsar Shopping Centre