John Lobb St James Bespoke review - Quarter Brogue Captoe shoes in brown box calf
Another entry in the ongoing quest to buy second-hand bespoke shoes off eBay in the increasingly futile hopes of getting a pair that fit (remind me of that definition of madness, again?)
This is probably my 12th purchase from the big three London bespoke makers (John Lobb, George Cleverley, Foster & Sons) - sadly it's another one for the unsuccessful column fit-wise, so it's back on eBay they go.
An interesting pair, nevertheless, so a quick rundown of the styling, construction and materials. Hopefully also worthwhile in that many of these makers don't see a lot of reviews or scrutiny on the internet (I would assume mostly because their clientele simply don't go in for that sort of thing a lot).
As I've covered at length in previous articles, John Lobb St James (sometimes written as John Lobb Ltd. or according to their modern marketing John Lobb 1849) is a distinct company from the Hermes owned, ready-to-wear making operation of the same name. Read this for details on their complicated history.
What you can expect from a John Lobb St James (JLSJ) shoe are sturdy (though often rather clunky and old-fashioned looking) shoes, hand welted with the highest quality leathers.
So, a rather chunky quarter-brogue captoe Derby. These shots show the rather high SPI welt stitch, neatly finished all the way around. Note the shots of the tongue - lower-end models very seldom feature the full punch detail going through the leather of the tongue. It's a very welcome inclusion.
The leather is an extremely dense-pore boxcalf in a sort of reddish-dark brown. The quality of the leather speaks for itself with a shoe like this - they are clearly a rather old pair, no longer on the original soles, and though there is some very light cracking and scuffs and cuts, there is impressively little aggressive or unsightly creasing on the uppers. They also take up a good shine with very minimal effort. These are some of the qualities that you get with higher-grade leather.
You can see that the right heel has taken some damage over the years, though the left is pretty unscathed. I confess that I wonder exactly what led to this developing - it's one of those little stories that you'll probably never get the answer to, but how does one develop such intense damage to one heel but none to the other? Maybe the original owner used them to kickstart his motorcycle a lot? Certainly an unconventional style for that, but who am I to judge?
You can see an obvious difference in the height of the heel, presumably accomodating a fitting quirk of the original purchaser (or, less charitably, they might have just been made very unevenly unintentionally). Luckily even pretty large gouges to leather don't have much structural risk at the heel, and the stretch of the leather over the heel cup means it will still take a good shine.
The soles have been resoled since the original leather soles - you can faintly make out the LOBB stamp on one of the soles. There is a slight bevel at the waist, more so than the previous Lobb pairs I've owned.
The John Lobb logo with royal warrants still legible on the footbed - a good sign when the logo can still be easily identified, as it suggests not excessive wear from the previous owner (or potentially that they wore an insole insert, though one hopes that's not necessary for a bespoke pair to fit. Pretty galling to spend £5k on a pair of shoes then need to put insoles in them!)
Below, the front shot does a good job of showing how distinctly not sleek the whole design is. JLSJ has for a long time been associated with old-money clients with rather conservative and classic tastes, so sleek and sexy styling is very seldom found. That said, as I get older I find this sort of robust chunkiness aligns far more with my personal style than the swooping, sexy lines of more in-vogue makers.
As to why they needed selling - on paper, the length and width of the outsoles were a fairly good bet for a UK 9.5, but the width at the instep was far, far too wide - a large F or mabe even G fitting. This is fairly typical for bespoke pairs sadly - they have some extreme quirk of fitting for the original owner that makes them a tricky fit for anybody else.
I'll end on the usual topic with bespoke makers (but particularly JLSJ) - the price. The RRP of £5,000 for these seems pretty wild, but Lobb's customer base is not the type to be bothered by this. The make and materials are undeniably solid, but it's a steep price when compared to more in vogue modern makers like Gaziano & Girling or Saint Crispin's.