Thursday, 16 August 2012

Bass Weejuns and Matches


Bass Weejuns are a true icon of American footwear that have long attracted the obsessions of subcultures far and wide. For me, the mere mention of Weejuns conjures up images of Yale grads, seductive scenes of Americana, strutting suede-heads, white socks and Michael Jackson and real 'stars and stripes' great American craftsmanship. Despite feeling as American as apple pie, the classic loafer shape actually evolved from the choice footwear of Norwegian farmers after attracting the curiosity of Esquire magazine. The publication approached a Maine-based boot company by the name of G.H. Bass in the 30s to make a few pairs of the shoe for an article they were running on ‘winter resort style’ and the Weejun (derived from Norwegian) was born. The shoes became instant hits and have remained a popular choice for generations.

Unsurprisingly, the Weejun remains one of the Bass brand’s signature styles and has been part of every season’s collection for over seventy five years. The shoe has stockists far and wide but was recently picked up by Matches. The London retail institution have teamed up the GH Bass team to work on three tinkered Weejun styles. Just before the fruits of the collaboration landed in the capital and online, we caught up with Matches's Menswear buyer Stacey Smith and the G.H. Bass team before taking a closer look at the iridescent beauties...

The exclusive collection shimmering in my yard.

SS: How did this exclusive between the two of you arise, what was the catalyst and how did it evolve in to the collection we see today?
Stacey Smith: We’d been followers of G.H. Bass for some time and had long been aware of the richness of their heritage. We met at their showroom in New York earlier this year and it felt like the right time to work together on an offering. We wanted to provide a point of difference from their classic collection, so we started to look at how we could tinker with the Weejuns style, which we felt was the most instantly recognisable.

SS: What do the Weejuns mean to you? What images to they conjure up and why do you think they are so special?
SS: For me, Bass Weejuns conjure up images of iconic Americana – they were, after all, the loafers of choice for James Dean – yet they also feel indicative of such a raft of styles and movements since then. I suppose, as with all the best menswear, it’s just about a solid, well-made, elegantly designed product that can withstand the ebb and flow of trends.
G.H. BASS: Weejuns are an icon in American footwear. Inspired by a shoe found in Norway, what is now known as a classic “penny loafer”, the Weejun is one of the Bass brand’s signature styles and has been part of every season’s collection for over seventy five years. Bass Weejuns conjure up an image of American leisure going back to the 1940’s and 1950’s. A time when a pair of khakis  or a seersucker suit worn with a pair of Weejuns was a sophisticated and stylish look. It also conjures up an image of James Dean, with cuffed pants, white socks and a pair of Weejuns. These are special images because they work just as well today. As the world has changed and has become fast paced, electronic, and impersonal, the Weejun perseveres as a comforting fashion statement. An interesting point of trivia - in the 1940’s and 1950’s people began slipping dimes (the cost of a payphone call) into the slits on top of their Weejuns. In the 1960’s the hipsters of the day started using pennies as a matter of fashion, and it stuck, hence the name “penny loafer”!

SS: In the vein of the dimes and pennies of the 40s and 60s respectively to the tassel, these shoes have two-tone shades made with brush-off leathers for added impact to the finish. What attracted you to this finish?
SS: We always like to take a more playful approach towards menswear at Matches, and I loved the idea of putting a modern, poppy twist on such a classic piece. The brush-off technique gives the shoes a subtle iridescence that feels different but entirely credible.  I’m really thrilled with the result – they’ll sing out from a sea of black and brown shoes this winter.

SS: Craftsmanship plays a huge part in their appeal with their genuine moccasin construction quickly becoming synonymous with quality and durability. Could you talk us through the skill and workmanship that goes in these shoes?
GH BASS:  When GH Bass & Co. Weejuns were introduced in 1936, their genuine moccasin construction quickly became synonymous with quality and durability. Today that shoe making continues starting with the full grain leathers used in every pair allowing the shoes to conform to the foot like a hammock, creating a custom fit. The leather is stained and polished by hand to give a smooth and natural luster to the finish. Veteran craftsmen hand sew the leather uppers on the last creating  a “hand sewn” tru-moc construction. This is a highly skilled exercise which unfortunately is more often done by machine today as a cost saving measure. An open channel leather outsole with a rubber top lift on the heel completes the quality aspect.

SS: Finally, how would you like to see the collaboration grow?
SS: It’s been a real delight working on this debut offering – I’d hope that we’ll be able to continue to offer Bass Weejuns, subtly tweaked in our own way – watch this space for Spring Summer 2013!

Having introduced the classic shoe and discussed the background of the collaboration between Matches and G.H. Bass, I think it's about time we tasted the iridescent fruits by taking a closer look at each style...

The exclusive collection will land in Matches over the next few weeks.


Matthew Spade said...

the penny down the leather is brilliant, never heard that before and i will be telling some people i'm quite sure. perfect stuff

Izzy said...

Interesting finish.. The burnished colors remind me of something Prada did many springs ago.


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