The best brogues are English. We know how to make a good shoe. Which top the list?
Best brogues simply cannot be bettered by any other gentleman’s shoe. The slipper can try, the boot can have -a-go and the loafer can attempt to edge up on the inside. But it remains a fact, that for the English gentleman the brogue is the one shoe he cannot live without.
A different type of footwear may be called upon in the field, and the tenets of what to wear when shooting dictate appropriate footwear, as does what to wear out hunting. But you can guarantee that after the day’s sport the best brogues will once more be firmly on foot. Watch Downton Abbey and keep an eye on the shoes. Lord Grantham wouldn’t be without his trusty pair of brogues.
Best brogues are no longer just worn in brown, but in a myriad of shades and materials that has given this most quintessential of footwear a pleasing new lease of life. At a recent party in the Yorkshire I spotted a pair of brown leather and dark blue suede brogues. A departure from the norm, but an elegant solution that bridged the gap between stuffy formality and a hint of the fashionable.
For Christmas the NH (new husband) will be receiving another pair of traditional Northampton best brogues. Loafers have not lasted and suede in winter is a conundrum. Fashion was flirted with but only one shoe solution has been arrived at. ‘A pair of brogues will do the job’. And so we will beetle off to the Shire town that is at the heart of the shoe industry, and pick out a brogue that will comfortably cover every country eventuality. To Northampton.
If the best of British style and country life strikes the right note, subscribe to The Field this Christmas, save a rather impressive 38% and be sanguine in the knowledge that, like the best English shoes, The Field is the perfect fit for the true English country gentleman.
Northamptonshire is the spiritual home of the best brogues. No English gentleman’s wardrobe should be without a pair of Northamptonshire shoes, but the brogue did not originate in the Midlands. Originally they were worn in the wilder reaches of the Highlands and Ireland, the punched holes designed to allow water to drain from the shoe after braving boggy stretches. The Edwardians popularised the modern brogue with a winged toecap and the shoe became a favourite of the Royal family at Balmoral.
By the Thirties it was essential kit for the modern gentleman, with brown a popular colour. The best-dressed man in Europe, the Duke of Windsor, boosted its popularity as an elegant shoe, shocking society by wearing full brogues to play golf and on other social occasions. The co-respondent, a two-tone full brogue, was worn as a sporting casual shoe with whites or flannels.
BY ROYAL APPOINTMENT
Tricker’s, supplier of shoes to the Prince of Wales, is Northampton’s oldest shoemaker, established in 1829 and supplies some of the country’s best brogues. Now in its fifth generation and still family controlled, it produces the finest of welted footwear; the classic Country Brogue with double leather sole (£340) is the most popular. David Fryman, manager of the firm’s Jermyn Street shop, claims, “Best brogues have never been out of fashion. Men have been coming in with their sons for generations. The style doesn’t date. We have a gentleman who went on honeymoon in his Tricker’s brogues in 1962 and the shoes are still going strong.” Fryman understands the brogue’s lasting popularity. “You can wear a brogue with a dress suit or casually with jeans,” he explains. More than 200 processes and eight weeks of production ensure the highest quality in Tricker’s bench-made shoes. Pricing reflects admirable value for an everlasting pair.
Fryman reveals that this traditional company is still rethinking its brogues. “We were making so many special orders that I decided we should have available in stock the multi-coloured brogue, and what could be more patriotic than red, white and blue?” The commando-soled Bowood costs £340, with special orders from a selection of leathers and styles starting at £525.
Crockett & Jones is the second largest of the five Northampton shoemakers, still family owned and going strong. Managing director Jonathan Jones reveals: “We have just opened a second flagship store at 92 Jermyn Street where 100 different styles are on display. Crockett & Jones have a strong emphasis on quality and design. Most of our shoes are sold under our own name but we also make collections for well-known international brands.” This bastion of tradition produces classic best brogues. The Pembroke (£330) is a five-eyelet, wingtip brogue Derby in tan scotchgrain with a rubber sole and storm welt. “It is rugged and smart and even the rubber sole is made in England,” says Jones.
THROW IN A LOBB
Cornish cobbler John Lobb opened his workshop in London in 1866, then Paris in 1902. John Lobb was acquired by the Hermés Group in 1976, although the London bespoke workshop, John Lobb Ltd, remained in family hands and continues to operate independently from 9 St James’s Street. John Lobb launched its first ready-to-wear collection in 1981. Its creative director Andres Hernandez, who wears nothing but Balmoral-cut Oxford brogues for their aero-dynamic elegance, says, “The Darby II (£670) is one of our iconic brogues. The 190-step manufacturing process includes each hole being individually cut to a precise position. There are over 500 holes in a size 7 pair and we say, ‘There are 500 opportunities to get it right or wrong.'”
The English brand Church’s is also part of a fashion stable, having been bought by Prada in 2000. But it still makes some of the best brogues. In 2009 Jonathan and William Church repurchased Cheaney‘s, the Northampton shoemaker taken over by Church’s in the Sixties, from Prada and now operate the company from its original 125-year-old factory in Desborough. This English heritage combined with the Church family history and a shoe made entirely on site is appreciated by aficionados.
Caroline Wightwick set up Thomas Dainty Brogue Trader, a visiting footwear tailor, 12 years ago, selling only Cheaney’s shoes. “For me they are the all-round English shoe and have the best brogues,” she says. “Some other brogues can be a little orange but Cheaney’s burnished leather combined with the way the collections are freshened every year and different-shaped lasts make for a perfect shoe.” The Grosvenor, in hand-burnished calf with welted sole costs £245. “The no brown in town rule is certainly changing,” says Wightwick. “The City is international and no longer the preserve of a plain black Oxford.” Different last shapes give a more contemporary brogue. The Sandringham (£325) is a full brogue with a chiselled toe in bronzed espresso calf, and can be worn elegantly with a navy suit. With hedge funds encouraging more casual dress in the City, the brown brogue is fast making itself at home, where once it would have turned heads.
Devon-based Herring Shoes has its own brand of made-in-England footwear manufactured at the Cheaney factory. “I design the shoes myself, decide on the last to use and then they are made to my specification,” says Adrian Herring. He is passionate about English shoes; his number plate reads BRO6UES. “That’s got to say it all,” he laughs. “We sell more brogues than any other shoe. They are so versatile, can be dressed up or down, and the same style takes on a different appearance with a different finish.” Herring admits that, like many men, he enjoys wearing his favourite (and best-selling) Herring Gladstone (£225) every day. He is a keen advocate of the co-respondent brogue. “Our Henley (£225) is my number one two-tone shoe,” he says. “A full wingtip brogue in hand-burnished calf leather and contrasting beige canvas. The perfect match for a linen suit.” Like other traditional English com-panies, Herring exports most of its shoes. “The export market is better prepared for brighter and more fun-loving brogues,” Adrian Herring admits.
This could all change. A chance meeting with Deborah Meaden from Dragons’ Den, who owns Fox Brothers woollen mill in Somerset has resulted in a new tweed-and-leather brogue, the Dartmoor shoe (£275) and the Exmoor boot (£285). With funky innovation coupled to authentic British craftsmanship and passion they are bound to be a hit. “What can’t you wear them with?” Herring asks.
A modern brand, with its eye on tradition, Lodger was founded in 2008. “Our brogues are gentle and quirky,” says the firm’s Clement Cortale. “It is a casual shoe for everybody, and they look great with jeans, smart jacket and no tie.” Cortale’s favourite is inspired by the co-respondent brogue. The canvas is placed only on the back of the shoe,” he reveals. Why? “Because the canvas at the front would get dirty and look strange next to the shiny and smooth toe. It will age organically.” This shoe is inspiration for Lodger’s bespoke edition service, from £475. “Our clients can pick the last and leather and match it with the canvas or fabric of their choice.” Other Lodger designs include a sporty lightweight brogue, suitable for wearing with a suit and an innovative waxed, mossy-leather brogue, with a blond sole, both £375.
Oliver Sweeney, set up in 1989, manufactures in Italy and elsewhere. Its Anatomical Last, closely mimics the human foot. “We have a freedom that comes with a modern brand and alongside our 20th-anniversary Walsh tan, triple-welted brogue (£255), we are able to create some fashion-forward looks, too,” says Charley Sowden, head of marketing.
Older brands do track contemporary style. Edward Green of Northampton is one of the most traditional. “From the start in 1890, Mr Green made the very best,” says the firm’s Euan Denholm. “Craftsmanship and uncompromising quality are still important to us today,” he continues. A slim, elegant version is what the firm is famous for, and its classic brogue is refined. “Our biggest seller is the Malvern, a full wingtip – particularly good in chestnut. We use a greater degree of handwork than many other factories,” Denholm says. “The quality of a shoe starts with the quality of the leather; ours is exceptional.”
Loake was one of the first English shoe manufacturers to venture online and launch a retail website. It recommends its Chester heavy best brogue in tan calf leather (£185) for the country and the smarter-toed Savoy calf brogue for the city.
They are good value, Goodyear welted and made in Northamptonshire. “The English brogue has earned its place in every wardrobe as one of the most versatile styles available,” says managing director Andrew Loake.
Best brogues are a symbol of traditional British craftsmanship and heritage. Treat them well and they will last for years, and even improve with age.
BEST BROGUES FACTS
- The word brogue originates from bróg the Irish and Gaelic word for shoe.
- Best brogues may be universal but they are never worn with a dinner jacket.
- Co-respondent (two-tone) brogues were deemed rakish on first appearance, and named after the sort of chap who would be the co-respondent in a divorce suit.
- HRH The Prince of Wales has a pair of brogues made by George Cleverley using leather tanned in Russia, shipwrecked off the English coast in 1786 and discovered by divers in the Eighties.
- The term wingtip comes from the “W” shape (like the wings of a bird) of the toecap of a full brogue.
- Goodyear welting is a manufacturing process used by the best-quality shoemakers and refers to the way the sole is attached to the shoe. It makes shoes easier to resole and is a sign of quality.
- The Northampton Five: Church’s, Crockett & Jones, Tricker’s, Edward Green and Lobb.
- Don’t forget Cheaney, owned by the original Church family and still producing the best English shoes from their factory in Desborough.