When it comes to shoes, there’s no denying Britain does them well. Off the top of your head we’re fairly confident you can name at least three or four brands that are more than a century old which, in a time of fast fashion and short attention spans, is no mean feat.
And one of the finest cobblers to be upholding this great British shoemaking tradition? Edward Green. Founded in 1890 by the eponymous shoe clicker (the craftsman responsible for creating uppers), Edward Green committed to ‘making the finest shoes, without compromise’ and, 130 years on, that ethos remains as true as ever.
“Edward Green realised there was a space in the market for a workshop that eschewed mass production, focusing instead on preserving the values of excellence that he saw disappearing in other shoe factories,” says brand and business development director Euan Denholm. “Above all else, we’ve thrived by staying true to that vision because an uncompromising pursuit of excellence will always have an appeal.”
Finding its feet in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, Green’s company brought together the best craftsmen working with the finest materials at a time when other brands were rushing to turn out cheaply made products. Accordingly, the company’ star quickly rose among those with a taste for luxury and, by the time Green’s sons were running the company in 1930, it counted Ernest Hemingway, the Duke of Windsor and Cole Porter among its loyal clientele – while also aiding the war effort with its high-grade military boots.
Post-war the company changed its focus from boots to shoes and eventually ended up in the hands of designer John Hlustik in 1982. Born in Czechoslovakia, trained in Italy and with experience working in Spain, Hlustik brought a European sensibility to Edward Green’s Northampton shoemaking tradition, introducing leather antiquing and encouraging the adoption of brown shoes which better displayed the fine calf skins he was using.
With these subtle changes, Edward Green flourished, opening a new boutique in London’s Burlington Arcade and exporting styles to New York and Tokyo. But, at its heart, the core qualities of Edward Green endured. “Our shoes remain particularly refined for English shoes but are very much part of that Northampton tradition – not overly designed and never gimmicky,” explains Denholm. “We used to have a tagline that still captures something of the spirit of Edward Green – ‘For the discerning few’. But what the discerning eye finds appealing can be different today from 20, 40 or a 100 years ago. For something to appear timeless it still needs to subtly evolve or it becomes stale.”
Accordingly, as well as modernising its practices with new workshops in Northampton and new stores in Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo, Edward Green’s core styles have also adapted to changing tastes – while still retaining the essence the brand was founded on. “In the last decade, a man’s wardrobe has become less formal and his dress, less of a uniform. Not so very long ago we were all wearing suits to work, now in so many sectors that’s no longer the case,” says Denholm. “Boots and loafers have come to play different roles, more integrated into the modern working wardrobe. As a shoemaker, you need to understand those changes and find ways to adapt to them. Broadly, I think that the market prefers simpler, cleaner detailing than would have been the case 20 years ago.”
So which pair is right for you? In sheer numbers Denholm reveals that the brand’s most popular shoe is the Chelsea – a classic cap-toe Oxford with signature swan-neck stitching across the facing that originated in the 1930s. Created in three different last styles, the same design can be formal, traditional or utterly contemporary depending on which one you choose.
However, Denholm says there is also an argument to be made for the Dover. “The Dover is a quintessentially Edward Green shoe and is particularly admired by shoe aficionados,” he says. “It’s a style known as a split-toe derby, meticulously hand sewn with a boar bristle. It is very much a classic style but is perfectly suited to the modern wardrobe working with both tailoring, smart workwear and casual denim – highly adaptable.”
Whichever pair you choose you can rest assured that, should you ever need them resoled, Edward Green will be there to help. “We are the custodians of a wonderful tradition of craftsmanship; that’s something that we need to bequeath – a flame that we need to keep burning,” say Denholm. “A century from now, I hope that there will be a new generation of makers dedicated to making the best Goodyear-welted shoes in Northampton, and that they will have customers around the world, who really appreciate the fruit of their labour. But I fully expect that the exact styles will shift, just as the sands always do.”
Now you’ve got the shoes, these are the best tailors in London to make you a suit to go with them…
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