We are separated by vast gulfs of years, wealth and taste, Will and I (he has them), but we stand united in our admiration for Alexis, Baron de Redé, the most successful kept man in history.
Like many true stories, de Redé’s is too fanciful for fiction. Born into a recently ennobled banking family of Jewish ancestry, he was educated at Le Rosey, the archetypal Swiss boarding school. His father’s suicide in 1939 exposed the newly orphaned de Redé to unexpected realities, including the ruin his father had hidden from the family for some years… and, of course, the imminence of war about to sweep through Europe. Taking matters into his own hands, at the age of 17 de Redé left for New York with only a Brigg umbrella and his father’s dinner jacket to his name. There, he literally dined out on his looks through the generosity of various Platonic admirers of both sexes, and, at one such dinner, struck both the eye and the fancy of a diner a few tables over. The smitten South American was Arturo Lopez-Willshaw, heir to an enormous fortune based on guano (otherwise known as bird droppings, used in fertilizer, explosives and other applications). Lopez had married his own cousin in order to please his family, but couldn’t live without de Redé. In exchange for Alexis’ “loving friendship,” but not his love, Lopez conferred a million dollars – in 1940s dollars – on him and set him up as a stockbroker. To everyone’s surprise, de Redé proved a banking prodigy, multiplying Lopez’s fortunes after the war even as the guano dried up (so to speak) and ultimately, in addition to other business interests, becoming president of the Rolling Stones’ management company. He also masterfully oriented the incontinent collector Lopez’s taste in art and decoration, forging easy friendships with Elsie de Wolfe, Mona von Bismarck, and other midcentury luminaries of uncompromising luxury who helped inform his esthetic.
Until now, de Redé’s signature accomplishment was the purchase and loving restoration of the Hôtel Lambert, a 17th-century townhouse on the Ile St Louis, home to some of Paris’ oldest families although better known to Americans as home to the ice cream shop Berthillon. He dwelt there in atavistic period splendor, indulging his taste for the theatrical with ornate costume balls attended by what was once known as café society – the proto-jet set with a mouthful of names which made the world its playground. Indeed, attired for one such ball he gazes out from the jacket of his privately published, decadently self-indulgent memoirs, hauntingly beautiful with languorous, mischievous eyes beneath a fur cap.
“All I want is the best of everything, and there’s very little of that left,” he once said, and there Will and I, and he, converge. Our ephebe days behind us, we draw inspiration not from de Redé’s rarefied lifestyle or exotic beauty but his professed dedication for the creations of bespoke shoemaker Anthony Cleverley, whom he lauds throughout his memoirs. Explaining his frequent orders with the simple and sensible, “Shoes are a great joy for me,” de Redé notes that there was even a model named for him, a moccasin in pigskin. In fact, as Will discovered, there’s currently uncertainty over which moccasin is the eponymous de Redé, since the Baron had many pairs of both a sleek banded loafer and a tasseled loafer in pigskin and in other materials. Anthony Cleverley himself is long gone, but his look book eventually ended up in the hands of the firm named for his better-known relative George Cleverley, a fellow disciple of the great maker Tuczek of Clifford Street. (Some say Anthony Cleverley was an even better shoemaker than George, which is the sort of unverifiable nostalgic claptrap that Internet Gentlemen seize upon. Only a few today have experience with both to compare their fit, finishing and style and none of them are posting on the men's message boards.)
George Cleverley, like de Redé, had a talent for survival and survival in style. George Cleverley died some years ago at the age of 92, with turns as shoemaker and Polonius-like senior advisor to subsequent generations at Tuczek, Henry Maxwell, New & Lingwood and, twice, on his own account. His last sally forth came in 1991, when, with George Glasgow and John Carnera, he left New & Lingwood for a shop in the Royal Arcade off Bond Street in London in order to keep making bespoke shoes to the highest standard. Their clientele followed and the firm has prospered, due to their technical expertise in making perfect-fitting shoes and the relaxed elegance of their designs and styles. An added draw for many has been Cleverley’s first refusal rights on the infamous Russian reindeer calf, fished out of a 200-year old shipwreck and tanned in a complex process lost to time involving birch oil and other substances pungent with evocation. When George Cleverley began offering designs from the Anthony Cleverley look book some years ago, I saw an opportunity to combine iconic elements from the two Cleverleys.
These, then, are slip-ons originally designed to the Baron de Redé’s order by Anthony Cleverley, made up in Russian reindeer instead of pigskin by the firm of George Cleverley. The Russian reindeer’s coffered (cross-hatched) pattern and texture give it surface interest similar to the original pigskin, while George Cleverley’s current team have interpreted the Anthony Cleverley model to fit the idiosyncrasies of my own feet. That the result is as sleek and elegant as it is does credit to both Cleverleys. These thus are moccasins, but I find them long-vamped and shapely enough to wear with a patterned suit, casual enough to wear with jeans. Like the Baron himself, they know how to be different things for different people.
So, at the risk of reading too much into this, we can see convergence on multiple levels: the heritage and skills of the two Cleverleys, the one’s creation in the other’s leather, and Will and I intersecting on some meta-bespoke plane. And Dominic Casey, the swashbuckling bespoke shoemaker at Cleverleys who made my pair, informed me that he had recently made a pair of bespoke shoes for the new owner of de Redé’s beloved Hôtel Lambert, piqued to discover the coincidence of tiny things.
-Text and photos by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans