Thursday, 3 September 2009

Style Salvage Speaks to... Lodger (Part Two)

Following on from where we left off yesterday, please make yourself comfortable for part two of our interview with Nathan Brown. In part one we talked about how his passion for shoes developed in to Lodger and how the last nine months have been. In the concluding part we talk about balancing traditional craftsmanship with the very latest technology and kit, the idea behind the Gentleman's Corner and finish off with a few recommendations.

The custom fit starts out with a 3D laser scan to build a virtual model of each foot. Above is the scan of Steve's feet.

SS: We love how Lodger strikes the right balance between beautiful, time consuming handcrafting, traditional shoe making machinery and the very latest technology and kit. Was this balance a key facet of your vision for Lodger?
Nathan Brown: With the laser scanner, it was my view that there was all this technology but no one really knew how to apply it. You could go out there and say you want to revolutionise shoe making but I think that is a very dangerous thing to say. The way we pitch our technology is that it is an additional benefit. However cool the scanner is, if you are a size nine and have a regular width it can't really do anything more for you but if your foot is like mine it comes in to play. We can take six different widths and nobody else can stock that. It was very much about starting off the company from scratch, not accepting the standard fair. Like shoe trees for example. A proper shoe tree will make your shoes last longer than anything else you could possibly do and the shoe companies know this but they use it as an excuse to sting you for another £50 to £75. I thought this was a bunch of crap. We just price it in now and don't take a margin on the shoe tree, which is why we include them with every pair. The shoe bags are made out of bamboo, because it is better for the environment, it is shaped for less waste etc. We design everything, from the images on the shoe boxes to enable you to see what's inside.

Aside from just the tech it was us reimagining and taking nothing for granted. Reimagining from the ground up. What it is built around is twofold. Firstly, we are passionate about shoes and we want to show that we have thought about all the details and secondly, we like people so the experience in the shop is all about the product whilst relating to people. The rest of it, we don't really give a shit about, we don't have the attitude which comes with luxury sometimes. We love sitting down and having an espresso with a customer and chatting about shoes.

The July shoe of the month on display with a few sartorial options.
SS: Gentleman's Corner is an extension of that idea. What frustrates us about many shop/label blogs is that they tend to be pointless aside from updating people on stock and new products. Whilst talking about product design, Gentleman's Corner discusses other brands that you admire and ones which you think your customers might be interested in which is extremely rare.
Nathan Brown: Originally the Gentleman's Corner wasn't a blog. The idea was to have a corner of the shop devoted to things that we like and that is where the gentleman's corner started but by the time we got going we decided against doing it in the shop and turned to the web instead. The concept was formed in the real world but then applied online and I think that is why it has a different feeling, it wasn't "let's do a blog" but "let's find a way to talk about the things we like".

SS: Do you think you'll go back to having a physical corner in store?

Nathan Brown: We incorporate elements of it in to the store now. We have the display table which currently has the Scabal suit on it because we want to show the shoes in context. With that blue striped shoe alot of customers told me they liked it but they just didn't think they could wear it. So a lot of what we are going to do with the photography of the Gentleman's Corner is going to put the shoes in to context. The blog has become an organic part of what we do. We only serve the booze that we like, we only show the clothes on the table that we like and wear, the magazines we like. At the moment we are stocking Man About Town and the Rake. The Rake is a great magazine and I thought that it was stupid that you couldn't get it in this country and now we are pretty much sold out of it. The reason we sell Man About Town is because I love Hugh and the magazine, I felt guilty that we would be stocking a different title so called him up and asked for a few copies. We big up things we like and things we think are good. We don't make a penny on the magazines but we like showing off cool things people might not see otherwise.

Issues of the Rake and Man About Town on sale in store.

SS: Having grown up literally surrounded by trainers, have you got any desire to explore that area with Lodger?
Nathan Brown: Quick answer: yes. Longer answer: yes but. Haha! The thing is, most of the trainers that shoe companies put out are awful, they are heavy, they are poor, they are what an old fashioned shoe company thinks a sneaker looks like. So I definitely want to reinvent. We were actually doing something with one of the big three sneaker brands about doing bespoke, English made trainers and we've got a couple of prototypes in the office. I can't talk about it but they are freaking gorgeous, they are stunning. We are going to do something at some point but it certainly won't be the usual, traditional shoe company trying to make sneakers.

SS: What are you thoughts on the current state of the shoe industry? What excites and infuriates you?
Nathan Brown: Firstly, I'm a lover not a hater. I've got as much of a shoe collection as my large feet allow, so I genuinely love other brands. Starting Lodger wasn't because I thought that there was nothing good out there but I thought we could push it further. I'm certainly coloured by my perspective which is why we do shoes which are classics with a twist rather than full on fashion. I just feel that luxury brands in general aren't moving with the times, a lot of luxury brands, whether that be Savile Row or Luis Vuitton, became world beaters because they were exceptionally innovative in the products they did one hundred years ago but it feels to me that many are resting on their laurels a bit now. The fear to embrace online properly, the fear of letting go of control of your brand... all of the things that the younger brands are doing. If you go to Pitti Uomo, there is a completely different sense of energy between the luxury hall and the young fashion hall. My feeling is if you just jam those two feelings together, that will be really cool. I am trying to mash up those two energies with Lodger, to bring that enthusiasm, relentless innovation, keep pushing and push it some more.
Each pair comes packaged with a shoe tree inside a bamboo fabric bag with a product shot on the label.

SS: It does seem that many luxury brands have been coasting on cruise control...Nathan Brown: And taking the piss out of customers. All of my friends are demanding customers, maybe because we work in the industry, but why would a customer let a "luxury brand" get away with charging you thousands of pounds for a bag simply because there is a short run of forty. Now there is no reason why there can only be forty. For the Kudu shoe we are releasing, we can only make twenty five pairs because there is only that much leather available. So many brands however, create illusionary limited numbers and it is so frustrating.

SS: Finally, harking back to the idea of Gentleman's Corner, we always ask our interviewees for recommendations, who would you like to big up today?
Nathan Brown: As a wine fan: Oregan Pinot Noir. It is on the same latitude as Burgundy France, same soil type, is it amazing... you just have to find it.
Hairdresser: Although long overdue, I always go down to Olivier at Gentleman's Tonic on Bruton Street because he takes very good care of me.
Tailors: If I'm on the Row I do a lot of stuff with Scabal because I think they just have the most beautiful cloths in the world. I got married in suit cut from Scabal cloth so I personally like it a lot. The problem I have is, being in such close proximity, if I name one I need to name quite a few but a cloth merchant I can just about get away with. I'm happy to make personal recommendations.
Shops and Labels: Albam, Smedley, E. Tautz, I'm sure we'll do some stuff with Carolyn Massey so congratulations to her on her place at New Gen Men. Those are a few of my favourites. I spend half my time in denim and the rest in suits so that is a good mix. I like giving personal recommendations to customers. For international travellers, typical Bond Street guys I always recommend that they should walk down Lambs Conduit Street and you can go to Oliver Spencer, Folk, Pokit, It is such a nice street and for someone who spends a lot of time in Mayfair it is an eye opening thing but for readers of your blog they know all about the street.


T.Lee-Mens Suits Designer said...

That blue shoe with the stripes and brown outline is UNREAL!!! Where can I buy that and for how much? I love this blog BTW, not many mens fashion blogs worth the time....This is.

Kat said...

Great interview, amazing shoes. It's so nice to hear someone in the industry sound genuinely passionate about it. Thanks

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