England and Italy are the most respected shoemaking countries in the world. Oliver Sweeney takes the best from both worlds: English heritage and Italian manufacturing. Others are quickly following suit: Harry’s, a classic men’s footwear brand founded by Matthew Mellon (once married to Tamara Mellon, boss of the Jimmy Choo empire); and even Church’s – still made in Northampton but owned by Prada.
So what is it about these two countries that allows them to conquer in the battle of the brogue? The Irishman Peter Nyhan, merchandise manager of menswear at Harrods, offers an unbiased opinion: “An English shoe made in Northampton (the centre of luxury shoemaking in the UK) is built to last. The sole is thicker, the leather hand-stiched, it has a stacked wooden heel, the calf skin is tough wearing and, most importantly, the leather, to take shape, is left on the last for a long time.
“John Lobb shoes, for instance, are made with one piece of leather, then cut and hand-sculpted to take on its particular design features. It takes hours to produce, which explains the pricing.
“With a view to the future, Barker Black (www.barkerblack.com) is the hottest new thing. Two young designers passionate about a traditional brand but prepared to elevate it to the next level.
“Italian shoes meanwhile are beautiful, supple and really more about the thinness of the sole and the lightness of the leather. English shoes are not very comfortable in the summer as they are heavier. Italian shoes offer a better mould, as well as more expression and attitude. Bottega Veneta designs each piece with such subtlety that it can only truly be appreciated by those who know how a shoe is made.”
And which one is better? “There’s no way that one is better,” admits Nyhan. “Both are exceptionally good quality countries for producing shoes.”