In the making of a shoe, the leather is stretched over a last, a form that represents the customer's foot, either the foot of an individual for bespoke shoes, or the abstraction of a group of individuals in the case of ready to wear footwear.
Each bespoke shoe customer has at least one last (men who have ordered both laced and slip-on shoes usually have a separate last for each), and last storage for a bespoke maker like John Lobb Ltd. of London, whose last room is photographed, can literally come to occupy more space than the area given to making the shoes.
I was reminded that a shoe requires a last when I was contacted by a Philadelphia man who has been teaching himself to make shoes by hand. We discussed my becoming his first customer, and I am perfectly willing to pay to have him make a pair of shoes for me but I do not want to add measurement risk to what would be a transaction fraught with it. The man is classicly trained artist who has made a few pairs of shoes, which means he has experience at clicking, closing and finishing but has not spent years measuring shoes for a proper fit or learning last-making generally. And that stuff does take years.
So thinks I, I have lasts at three different makers and surely one of them will lend me my last for the good cause of helping out an artisan in training. And we will be finding that out over the coming weeks.
The issue of who owns the last is similar to that of who owns the pattern in bespoke tailoring. I am not an attorney but it is my understanding that the maker owns the last or pattern normally, however if the customer paid for it specifically then the customer has a case that he owns it in the absence of a contract that says otherwise. And goodness knows, I have never seen a contract associated with a bespoke shoe order. That said, I have known these gentlemen for years and talk of contracts should be unnecessary.
In any case, the emails are going out this week, and we will await the reaction. For the last truly must come first.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images