Thursday, September 29, 2011
Chay Cooper of Northampton's Alfred Sargent is in San Francisco this week for that company's first ever visit to the west coast of North America. Chay brought with him a trunkload of samples from the company's Handgrade line of made to order shoes.
First some history. Sargent was started in 1899 and spent the early part of the 21st century principally making basic shoes for its own label and fine shoes for others, including Gaziano & Girling when that firm went into the machine-made shoe business. This was apparently not the best financial arrangement and Sargent ran into difficulties (part of the fallout from those being that G&G was forced to start making its own shoes somewhat earlier than it had planned), from which it was rescued by an investment by the French firm that is its largest customer. Time for a new beginning, thinks the men of Alfred Sargent, which dropped the low end product and began making fine shoes for its own label. And very nice shoes these Handgrades are, with a well-cut waist that is as good as anything I have seen.
Moves upmarket are not without their difficulties of course and at least one of Sargent's is typical of all the Northampton makers. In order to warrant spending $1,275 ($1,300 for boots) on a pair of their lovely made to order shoes the customer has to be fitted, which can only happen at a trunk show, at the factory (a forty minute train ride outside of London), or at one of a very few retailers around the world (New York's Leffot being one). But if the prospective buyer can overcome that obstacle, the product looks to be good value, if value is a word that can be applied to $1,300 footwear. The materials used are first class, the punching is clean, the proportions well balanced, the waists as I mentioned beautifully cut and though I have no personal experience I am inclined to think that the company is likely to be easier to deal with than the other Northampton makers.
Keep an eye out for Sargent's next visit to your part of the world and get fitted.