George Cleverley Bespoke Wingtip Imitation Brogue Review - how much shoe do you get for £5,000?
Clickbait elephant in the room alert - I got these off eBay for a much more competitive price than £5,000, but that's about the going price for bespoke shoes in London at the moment.
Diminishing returns mean that a £5,000 pair of shoes is not 10 times better than a £500 pair of shoes by any objective measure, nor 20 times better than a £250 pair of shoes. The price vs. return ratio is not a linear one, and as you progress up the scale, the differences become subtler and really only of interest to enthusiasts.
So yes, you're paying for a supremely well-made pair of shoes meeting your exact specifications, but you're also paying for prestige, exclusivity, the expertise and time of the people that made your shoes, and ultimately the comfort of a bespoke fit. What you probably aren't looking for if you're dropping that much cash is a concept like value for money.
About the maker
George Cleverley is one of the trio of longest surviving London bespoke shoemakers, alongside John Lobb Ltd. and Foster & Son.
G.J. Cleverley has been in business since 1958, and like many of the surviving luxury bespoke operations in London, it's adapted to survive today's climate. Alongside their bespoke operation, Cleverley produce the "semi-bespoke" Anthony Cleverley line in Ready to Wear and Made to Order variants (semi-bespoke being a largely undefined term that generally equates to RTW products made to a comparable standard as bespoke, taking design cues from the bespoke lines). Below that they have a Ready to Wear line, and also *I think* produce shoes for Mr Porter under the Kingsman label.
Buying used bespoke - or "Why walk a mile in another man's shoes?"
This may sound obvious, but the appeal of having bespoke shoes made is that they are made *for you*. Not only can you customise your style and materials, you will have a last of your foot hand-carved - the specialism and arduous, multiple fitting and refinement process accounts for a lot of the massive cost. This is not to say a perfect fit is guaranteed - things can still go wrong at this price. Ultimately though, a lot of the value in the proposition is how it is tailored for you.
Why bother buying someone else's shoes? Thanks to a side gig of buying and flipping shoes from charity (thrift) shops then putting the money back into... uh... more shoes, I own or have owned shoes from pretty much every major British shoemaker. However I've never had any British bespoke pieces that even came close to fitting me, so at the very least there's an academic interest to seeing the quality of a bespoke pair in comparison.
It's a risky purchase, as bespoke shoes can offer a fairly standard fit, or can actually be pretty weirdly shaped and therefore uncomfortable for anyone except the original owner. All you can do is try and match width and length measurements against a pair you own and crosss your fingers. Lengthwise these looked like a good fit and I liked the styling, so took the plunge. Worst case scenario, I could resell them for cost price at minimal risk.
I'm also just pretty fascinated by it as a window into a world that I'm unlikely to be buying into in the near to mid to even far future. London's bespoke shoe shops have a distinctly "Ollivanders Wand Shop" type vibe, all luxurious wood panelling and an air of intimidation and "if sir has to ask the price..." unspoken wealth that's hard to shake with even the nicest sales assistants.
Design and materials
An imitation brogue means the wingtip front broguing is actually the same piece of upper leather that has been perforated and stitched, rather than an overlapping additional layer of leather. Permanent Style have an old article about a similar shoe, arguing that it helps to reduce the bulk at the front of the shoe. I think this is a bit of a red herring - it's not like my regular brogues weigh kilos more - but it's a nice talking point for any other shoe lovers, more something that is done as a demonstration of the maker's craft than for any practical reason.
The eBay listing for these noted the leather is Freudenberg calf, Freudenberg being a highly respected German tannery. It's a relatively rigid but very lightweight, dark brownish, quite matte leather that's taken polish well on the toes. It's definitely a thinner and finer leather than any of my other shoes - comparable to the type of leather Berluti or Corthay might use. I'm impressed with how well the uppers have held up though - there's a lot of wear on the soles, so they've evidently seen some wear.
It's impressive. I mean, I'd expect it given the RRP, but still reassuring to see. Super tight stitching. Note the gentle slope of the heel angle, visible in the side profile shots, which follows the line of the back of the shoe rather than standing completely upright. RTW shoes tend to feature a more bulbous heel section that sits on top of a straight heel. Super minor detail, but it adds a bit of sleekness to the profile.
Another tiny but nice detail - the brogue punching continues along the top of the tongue where it might usually just be decorative punching. The soles aren't aggressively fiddle-shaped, just a little bit of outward convex curving.
Comfort and fit
This was obviously the make or break point... sadly they're just a bit too big to work. Width wise they're perfect with some appreciated extra volume in the instep, but they're longer than I'd prefer.
The bespoke nature of this pair actually exacerbated my own shoe fitting difficulties - my left foot is slightly smaller than my right, but this pair have a slightly longer left shoe which means overall the left foot is too loose. This is not a problem you'd get buying RTW.
This is the dilemma of buying bespoke shoes - there's no standardised sizing, so all you can go on from the eBay listings are length and width in cm. Even that is skewed in this instance as the heel is slanted forwards rather than dropping straight down. Overall it's a bit of a coin toss, as in spite of the sole measurements roughly tallying up with other pairs I own they feel about 1/2 a size too large.
As a comparison between high-end RTW like Edward Green or Gaziano & Girling - while the output of the RTW lines from those brands can hardly be described as affordable or poorly made, they cost about 20% of what Cleverley charge for bespoke. Permanent Style had some insight into the cost, margin and value of bespoke tailoring which may add to this discussion.
The value for me with these was good - I paid essentially the RRP of a new pair of a new pair of Crockett & Jones.
Is it really meaningful to talk about the value at RRP though? Taking John Lobb as an example, for the price of a pair of crocodile leather shoes from John Lobb Ltd, you could buy about 54 pairs of brand new Allen Edmonds. A pair of shoe trees (beautifully hand-carved though they are) costs £1,130 including tax. As stated earlier, this is pricing for people who don't really need to ask the price, making the value a very relative concept. I don't think anyone is choosing between buying them or buying food for the week.
An interesting purchase overall - what you gain in build quality and brand cachet with second-hand bespoke shoes, you lose in predictability on sizing and fit. On balance I'd say that buying second-hand bespoke is probably going to provide more risk than benefit for the vast majority of people - for a similar price on eBay, you can get as new RTW shoes with much more standard sizing, which more than balances out the differences in construction quality. Maybe if you can find a seller open to returns if they don't fit, but probably not worth it otherwise.
There is risk in terms of the styling too when buying bespoke. A lot of bespoke pieces will be more polarising than shoes from higher-end RTW lines, which are by their nature designed to appeal to a wider audience. After all, a bespoke design only *really* needs to make the purchaser happy (though hopefully it will still meet some objective standards of aesthetic appeal).
Ultimately shoemakers like G&G, EG or C&J do lots of classic, timeless styles that will probably be a safer part of a shoe collection than a bespoke piece, will set you back only a fraction as much at RRP, and be a lot easier to predictably size. You can even make it a lot easier on yourself by buying the Finchley model from the Anthony Cleverley Semi-Bespoke line, which is cheaper than a bespoke version and offers standard shoe-sizing options.
Anyway, these are going on eBay in the near future. Next task is to get a 500% pay rise and get my own pair made!
Hope this was of interest, shout if any questions. I'll probably do a few more long-form reviews over the next few months on new / existing pieces and an update on collection.