Sunday, June 17, 2012
Words and photos by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans
French stylist and dandy-about-town Marc Guyot once told me of a mutual acquaintance who returned to his shop, sleepless and troubled. The fellow asked to exchange a pair of shoe bags, the cloth drawstring-topped things that come included with better shoes, such as Marc’s. One of the bags was half an inch shorter than the other, and he hadn’t been able to sleep since discovering that. Although I never lost sleep over them myself, I can sympathize with our common friend as a fellow seeker of the uncompromising – what the French call an inconditionnel. Like him, I devoted time pursuing an ideal, but my pursuit preoccupied my waking rather than sleeping hours.
Spare a thought for the humble shoe bag. Its form usually follows function, which is to provide a bit of protection from dust and to keep your shoes from getting scuffed around when you feel blindly for a pair of shoes to drag out of the closet in the morning, or when you travel. Usually made of felt, its construction’s pretty simple: made flat, one end opens up and you put the shoe in. Sometimes there are drawstrings to close it with. That’s the practical use of shoe bags, for the purchaser anyway. For shoemakers, the purpose is principally marketing or brand reinforcement. Including bags tells the purchaser he has bought a pair of shoes worth preserving or at least that the pair purchased is in the same league as other brands that supply bags with their shoes. Stamped, stitched or embroidered with the retailer’s name, bags also serve the purpose of badging the shoes they cover, allowing the owner to tell even with the bags on the make of the shoes. So far, so boring.
A few stores and shoe brands use shoe bags as a particular flourish to set their shoes apart. Alan Flusser, whom Guyot rivals for clothing knowledge and gossip, once sang the praises of the old Brooks Brothers for providing shoe bags made of Brooks Brothers shirting fabric, which was a cute although not particularly durable touch. (Brooks Brothers wouldn’t do something as creative today.) Massaro supplies ridiculously decadent satin-lined shoe bags with its men’s ready-to-wear. Some bespoke makers go farther still – Cleverley provides neat ultrasuede jobs with a snap button closure, while Anthony Delos has a fellow Compagnon du Devoir make up shoe bags in soft material with Delos’s name embroidered on them. Gaziano & Girling provides thick fleecy shoe bags with braided trim that close with a flap (as did the shoe bags supplied with Edward Green’s short-lived bespoke operation, naturally, since Tony Gaziano ran it).
Still, all of these seem like merely ways to sleeve shoes up prior to jamming them into a closet or back into a shoebox. Only one type of shoe bag stood out for me, and there were only two places to get it.
The most famous bespoke shoemakers in the world, John Lobb of Saint James’s, London, sell shoe bags. (This is, of course, the original Lobb, not the one selling overdesigned ready-to-wear shoes on Bergdorf’s website.) They don’t include them with the purchase of their bespoke shoes, but are famous enough and set enough in their ways to nickel-and-dime (shilling-and-pence?) customers for the sundries like bespoke shoe trees, bags and polish which most bespoke makers generously throw in. Made out of some sort of fleecy material, with thick silver or gold braid trim, they zip along the top to close. Wedge shaped, with a definite top and a bottom, they do with flair what does not need to be done at all. The ultra-fruity tassel at the top undermines arguments as to these bags’ decidedly superior functionality: even though they do a better job keeping your shoes upright than the pocket-type design of other shoe bags, these are ornate, overthought, luxuriously unnecessary enough to seem to be vestigial remnants of a different time. In other words, unreal, which is also the price Lobb London wants for them – and of course it would seem infra dig to purchase Lobb bespoke shoe bags without owning their bespoke shoes.
Fortunately, it appears that Alan Flusser was just as taken with Lobb London’s shoe bags as I am. Indeed, if it weren’t for Alan Flusser’s books, I would never have known about Lobb London’s bags in the first place. When Flusser ran the last incarnation of his New York custom shop, he sold made-to-order Edward Green shoes with bags specially made for his shop with the same details as the Lobb London shoe bags. I never had the opportunity to patronize Flusser’s New York shop before it ceased operations (I understand he’s now relaunched). After his old boutique closed, I made some enquiries and found that there were a few extra pairs of the Flusser-Lobb shoe bags that weren’t wedded to any shoes, and ended up with these for my own Edward Greens. No name or logo necessary or desired.
In the end, an amusing exercise in the pursuit of something so vaguely ridiculous, so ornately, fussily unnecessary and overdone that it recalls the fellows in my first post on the topic of our obsessive curiosities. One’s visitors may comment that they look like ominous little sleeping bags, but whether for anthropomorphized shoes or the other monsters of the unquiet sleep of reason is still an open question.
Posted by Will at 7:00 AM