Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A visit to Grensons

Last week I was given the opportunity to nosy around the showroom of one of Britain's leading shoemakers, Grenson. After falling sole over ear for LCF MA graduate Wouter Baartmans' collaborative effort with the classic brand, the young designer passed on my enthusiasm to the chaps at Grenson and they extended the invite to visit them at their Goodge Street space. Without hesitation I duly bit their generous hands off and a few days later found myself marveling at old and new stock alike all the while learning a great deal about the brand. Grenson Shoes have been one of England's master shoemakers since 1866. Manufactured from the highest quality leather, they are assembled in traditional shoe making styles making them both comfortable and stylish. Along with the well documented fact that they use Goodyear welting, one of the things that really sets this brand apart from other manufacturers is the finishing of the shoes. Over the coming weeks I am going to return to this exciting brand with more focus but for the benefits of this post I want to highlight just a few of the things that caught my eye and captured my shoeist imagination during my showroom visit...

Stanley, Archie and William sitting proudly on an antique desk.

My guide during the visit was Grenson's Joe Hutchins who works on the wholesale side arm of the business but has a keen interest in blogs. If you watched the Grenson x Tenue de Nimes video I posted last week you would have witnessed his knowledge and enthusiasm for the brand. One of the key facets of the brand that revealed itself to me during my visit was the fact that Grenson is a brand that while extremely proud of its heritage and classic shoe making processes, it is not afraid to tweak archive design pieces to create designs which are more relevant today and to offer more affordable models as part of its Rushden range. One of the best visual examples I have is the above shot of three similar but ultimately very different brogues; Stanley, Archie and William. I asked Joe to talk me through how each design came to be:

"Stanley was based on a shoe called Albert which Grenson had made for many years and still do. It has been twicked very slightly, put on a new last to give it a younger feel but we didn’t want to change it that much from the original as it is such a beautiful pattern. This is on a double sole. For Archie, Tim (Little) wanted to blow Stanley up last winter and so he decided to do put it on a triple sole and use the biggest punch we had in the factory to create this wonderful Gibson brogue, he has a friend called Fred who is a boot of equal proportion, both the shoe and boot are on a last that rocks up slightly and has a rubber through to soften the sole and make it more comfortable to wear. As for William, this is Stanley light. Tim took the lining out, put it on a single sole, so you can get the same look but the feel is much lighter, We put William in colourful unlined suedes for last (SS10) summer and are selling well in store so we wanted to continue this style through for AW10 and so he is offered in an Alpine grain which is a very small grain but creates a wonderful texture that is enhanced with the burnishing and finishing to this wing tip brogue."

I love how the brand is constantly looking forward and is evolving with the needs and desires of the consumer in mind.

Three of Tim Little's sample designs

With a history spanning more than one hundred and forty years you would forgive Grenson for resting on its Goodyear Welted soles. However, when compared to other classic English shoe makers, they been making the most positive and interesting moves in recent years. One of the clearest examples of this is their collaborations with well chosen brands from Rag & Bone to Albam to Tenue de Nîmes. These collaborations have reminded us that a classic English shoe brand doesn't necessarily have to follow one set path of shoe making and design. The effect has been a great deal of warranted excitement and a number of mouth watering designs. As you would expect, Grenson have a huge archive of designs and this is actually used to help inspire future collaborative efforts. Inside their showroom, Joe talked me through a room which displays a plethora of designs showcasing the different lasts, uppers, finishes etc available while also displaying the fruits of recent collaborations...

This multi coloured brogue was not for everyone but I personally loved it (despite my own personal fear of clowns...)

Howard, an ideal Spring/Summer shoe.

As I salivated over the SS10 collection it soon became clear that Grenson are one of the best at playing around with their designs for the warmer days. For this season, Tim Little has developed a brand new last, mixing the long elegant pointy trend with the more recent move towards the classic short, rounder British last. Removing the lining is standard for summer shoes but Grenson went one step further with Howard. Playing with the usual English Goodyear’ welted techniques, this Gibson has been totally deconstructed with no support beneath the toe, once the last has been removed the entire upper appears to collapse. With a robust leather trim, a detail typical of a English styles in the 70’s, in tan & brown suede, this is the ideal everyday shoe for the warmer months ahead.

William, the perfect brogue for Summer.

One of the real highlights from Grenson's SS10 impressive offering is William. This is the archtypal classic English brogue in summer clothing. Stripped down for softness and breathability and made from lovely calf suede, it is finished in bright summer colours with contrast stitching. It offers the perfect antidote to the sandal.

My favourite colour variation of William.

Having shown you a few of past and present highlights while offering a somewhat excited and unfocused introduction to Grenson shoes, I wanted to treat you to a sneak preview of a few key designs from AW10 which made my heart beat that bit faster....

Ivan (from AW10) displayed in an old filing cabinet from their Rushden HQ.

Fred in boot and standard brogue form.

Possibly my favourite AW10 model, Glenn. This beauty is based on an old Italian infantry boot.

I will return to the AW10 collection in more detail in an upcoming post but I just wanted to tease you all a little bit. Also, I hope to visit Grenson's factory in Rushden during April to learn more about the processes and people involved in creating my favourite models. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed my enthused, rambled introduction.


Matthew Spade said...

i think this is my favourite shoe post ever you know, such an interesting brand and you're so right about them not having to follow the usual heritage path and sticking to what they though. can't say i've experienced many brands with such a clear and innovative direction.

this has reminded me that i've had no where near worn my loake brogues enough.

the multicoloured ones are superb and i love the new summer design, they look light!

Jason said...

I had no idea Grenson was up to such great things. I feel as though i've been in a cave or something. So thanks for the post and I'm looking forward to hearing about the factory visit.

joy said...

As you know I am a homme/menswear junkie and the last pair struck a cord as well as the William in either color. It would have been great to see in person.


Style Salvage Steve said...

Matt: Thanks Matt! Yes, the brand is really quite exciting and I applaud their business plan. As for your Loake brogues, need to get out more or make an occasion to wear them.
Jason: Ha! I'm looking forward to the factory visit too, I'll post on it as soon as I can.
Joy: You have fine taste as both of those models are my favourites!

Michael said...

Wonderful post - just took delivery of a pair of Grenson Freds in tan. Lovely colour and the double leather sole is fantastic. The leather in the uppers is possibly not comparable with a maker like Crockett & Jones, but at this price point I can't complain (especially as I found them on ebay for £70).

Liking the look of those suede brogues for the summer too. I really like what Grenson are doing with their designs in the Rushden range.

tanya said...

ugh ugh ugh i think the ladies need in on this action - the sample designs in women's sizes please ;)

Iñaki said...

I was just looking at a green pair of Grenson's today! Love the multicoloured ones, definitely for me!

Dale. said...

amazing. loved the video in the other post also. your visit made me incredibly jealous. I live a street away from the factory and i'm still unable to view/buy direct from the factory...

brilliant post, thank you!


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