Friday, 11 March 2011

Sebastian Tarek Shoe Maker

Sebastian Tarek Feature Main

This season saw the debut collection of Sebastian Tarek’s beautiful, bespoke and handmade men’s shoes. It was in the eclectic surroundings of the NEWGEN MEN and Fashion East Installations that I first caught glimpse of this carefully crafted designs. Alongside the latest designs from exciting, emerging design talent including Agi & Sam, Astrid Andersen, Baartmans & Siegel, Matthew Miller and William Richard Green to name but a few, Tarek's shoes placed on a simple workbench really captured my imagination> I was keen to learn more.

A closer look at Sebastian Tarek's display on Menswear Day.

Tarek is an Australian born shoemaker based in East London who has worked for London’s finest shoemakers since 2003 – where he has spent years refining his skills of fit, and creating work of the highest standards to satisfy the clientele of Savile Row and beyond. Cleverley’s (Royal Arcade, Piccadilly) and James Taylor & Son (Marylebone), for whom he still works, are two of the last remaining members of the West End Master Boot Makers society and have been making shoes for the Royal Court since the nineteenth Century. For his eponymous debut collection, Tarek took up the challenge of fusing his traditional skills as a maker of a timeless artisanal product with a more contemporary and relevant aesthetic. The result is a collection that is an exploration within the bespoke market. An idea conceived and developed with his private clients in mind, a marriage of personalised service, comfort and luxury with a more relaxed and informal feeling.

Now that the dust has begun to settle on Menswear Day, I could not resist visiting the shoemaker at his East London workshop. Over the course of my lunch hour, we discussed the release of Port magazine, the business of fashion and the beauty of bespoke shoes...


SS: What attracted you to the wonderful world of shoe making?
Sebastien Tarek: The truth is, I was bombing out of high school and I was over here on a rugby tour and I watched the story of Hans Christian Anderson and fell in love with this way of life. To start with, I went to evening classes for two years during the twilight years High School. It was during the first year of these studies, that my Polish grandmother informed me, in her thickest accent that my great, great grandfather would be so proud of what I was doing. Why was that I asked? Was he fond of shoes. "No he was a shoemaker you idiot!' It turns out he was eighteenth generation. Shoemaking, apparently dates back in my family to making shoes by appointment only to the Tsar of Russia at some stage.  I had no idea when I was growing up! From my perspective there didn't seem to be such an inclination in my family, I come from a family of fashion editors, both my Parents were at some stage and neither were crafty in any way.
SS: From this revelation, did you know that you wanted to make bespoke men's shoes?
Sebastien Tarek: No it was a total evolution. I started out making women's footwear, fashion shoes and even worked on show shows for a while in Australia. It was only when I returned here, which at the time was only meant to be a short stay, that I began working for a woman called Georgina Goodman making couture shoes and this introduced me to the West End Masters Bootmakers Association. It then evolved from there. From a creative point of view, I've always been driven by process and I became absorbed in the men's bespoke process. Every shoemaker makes shoes in a different way, there is always so much to learn.

SS: What was the catalyst for the collection? Has this been on the cards for some time?
Sebastian Tarek: It has. There are aspects of it that I've been on working for time, for example one or two lasts, but there are also newer elements as well. The catalyst were actually the pair of shoes that are in that bag. I made something for myself, inverted burnished leather and I had a client come in, described the idea and then made them for him.The whole collection developed from there.

SS: What was your initial inspiration?
Sebastian Tarek: The thing that I kept on going back to when I was designing this collection was your favourite pair of jeans. You want them to fit fantastically but you also want them to show signs of the journey you've had together. You might want some that are box fresh and others that tell a story. I wanted to create a body of work that was based around fit and the notion that they could show the signs of love, wear and age. That they could look relaxed quickly. A lot of people consider bespoke shoes to be stuffy and I wanted to step away from this idea.

SS: Was it difficult balancing this collection with your other projects? Were you working around the clock?
Shoemakers don't really retire. If they do, they tend to do shortly afterwards. They usually die in the chair whilst they are working. In order to make a living from it, you really do have to work hard and I've grown accustomed to working hard all of the time. I had a day off last Sunday but before that, I cannot remember the last free day I had. Last week I went back to college as well, I teach at the Royal College of Art and I needed a day to prepare for that. I like being busy.

SS: How would you like to see Sebastian Tarek, the brand, evolve?
Sebastian Tarek: It was only when I became with Fashion East that I began to think about this very question. I want the brand to evolve but in an organic way. It might be a cliche statement but that is how I see it.

SS: For me, the Installations are always a highlight of Menswear Day. They really demonstrate the diversity of menswear design talent that exists in the capital...
Sebastian Tarek: Initially they didn't have space for me but I think that it was this desire for a representational presentation that saw me take part. It was a great experience.

Clients are individually measured and fitted for their own personal set of wooden lasts. The range is based loosely on classic styles, with specific detailing updated and refined to fit his relaxed aesthetic. Silhouettes are pushed into stronger, more architectural forms and have a modern look. Anachronistic extras are lost and a purity of form, and the importance of provenance is rediscovered. Tarek uses two of the oldest pittards still working, and the soles and heels of the shoes are all hand made from leathers produced by the last remaining Oak bark tanner left in Britain. Hand stitching details, and laces are all exclusively made from Irish linen thread. The distinctive finish of the shoes is a result of a specific burnishing technique traditionally only used for cavalry boot legs. Elements such as the facings of styles such as Adelaide’s, Derby’s, and Saddle shoes are applied in new surprising contexts. Without further ado, let's take a closer look at the collection...






Whilst being talked through his designs in his Sunbury Workshop, I could not help but take a few photos as the shoemaker wielded his pattern hammer. However, I feel that they deserve a post of their own so, come back after lunch and we can all watch a true craftsman at work...

Sebastian Tarek in his East London Studio.


Simen said...

Gaa, so many awesome shooes.

shoe rack bench said...

I couldn't believe that those shoes are just made by magical hands. Qualities of the shoes are high and as I can see the outputs above, it is really worthy for the purchasers. I will going to buy one for my uncle.

Brandon said...

"I wanted to create a body of work that was based around fit and the notion that they could show the signs of love, wear and age."

This is what I like with clothing too. Bespoke shoemaking is perhaps the best example of a collaborative effort between craftsman/designer and customer.

I love hearing about other people who want "organic" growth and who want to see slower consumption.

I think I've also fallen for the first Chelsea boot. I've been looking for such a long time for a Chelsea boot that I feel is a little off too and these seem to be them. One day I shall save up and get a pair (I have no idea if that is in the foreseeable future or not though :/). I wonder if Sebastian teaches how to make wooden lasts?


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