In the 1970s my dad had a thing for dangerously tight trousers. At home, he liked to dance around the kitchen table to funk music in flares that gripped his legs and flapped wildly at the ankle, while he slipped and slid to the rasping tones of James Brown. But what mesmerised me more was the footwear shuffling under each trouser leg: cream boots made of alligator skin.
My dad would feel at home at Gaziano & Girling, the first shoemaker to open on Savile Row in London.
The gentlemen who patronise Savile Row are not, by and large, adventurous in their footwear. The bottoms of their closets are dominated by brogues and Oxfords in brown and black. Gaziano & Girling wanted to give these classics a twist, to cater to the more raffish dresser. With some of their shoes, only the twist remains. They make a pair lacquered in 22k gold, and another in glinting stingray (above).
They appeal especially to the growing market in Asia. “In the West, the lion’s share of spending on luxury fashion and accessories is done by women,” says Winston Chesterfield, director of research at Wealth-X, a consultancy. “But in Asia there are huge numbers of men who go out shopping for themselves, and who constitute a much greater percentage of spending in that market.” Brands are designing for their differing tastes. “The Chinese go for crazy colour,” says Tony Gaziano.
Demand is also being driven by the rise of Instagram, which has given the style-conscious an easy way to share their favourite brands online. One effect of this has been a boost in sales for niche, independent designers, who are more easily discovered through social media. “A lot of these men are very affluent, and they’re not interested in famous labels and designer brands but in high quality,” says Chesterfield. “On these kinds of threads, Gaziano & Girling became very big. Men are looking like magpies at images on Instagram and getting things they like rather than conforming to a fashion.”
Gaziano & Girling is not the only company attracting customers who want shoes in ox blood rather than black, or ostrich instead of patent leather. Saint Crispin’s in New York is selling hand-made shoes made out of wild boar and bison. Like stingray, bison is rough-grained, wears well, and costs less than alligator. Elsewhere there is Vass in Hungary, Meermin and Carmina in Spain, Hiro Yanagimachi and Yohei Fukuda in Japan, and Sanoni in Italy, which makes lace-ups out of reindeer suede.
Provided you employ the right shoe trees, creams, polishes and wax, shoes like this can last up to 25 years. My dad, now 75, still wears some of his old favourites, and they look like new. He would be impressed by some of Gaziano & Girling’s customers. “We’ve just had an enquiry from China,” Tony Gaziano says with a wry smile. “They want a pair of bespoke alligator knee-high boots.”