In the 13 years that Phillip Car has been in charge of Saint Cripin’s, the independent shoe company has made approximately 15,000 pairs of bespoke shoes. But even now, newly made pairs continue to surprise him: a particular model, created with leather in a particular color, coming together for a one-of-a-kind combination that had never existed before.
Based in Romania, Saint Crispin’s—named for the patron saint of cobblers—creates 1,500 made-to-order pairs a year. “We start each pair from scratch,” Car says. Customers are given the chance to dream up their perfect shoe and have it become a reality; they can choose from 90 models and different leather materials in up to 60 colors.
Every detail comes into focus: wingtips, brogues, even soles. The narrow waist and high arch support provide not only a timeless elegance, but comfort as well. “That way,” says Car, “you can always achieve a quite unique pair.”
Shoes, according to Car, are not unlike teeth or well-maintained fingernails, in that you can tell what kind of person the wearer is simply by looking at them. At a trunk show for Saint Crispin’s, held in the menswear shop Signet, Car explained to The Edition how shoes can make or break an outfit—and how anyone, in any place or situation, can walk the talk.
You work with different types of leather that people may choose from. Can you talk about what makes them different from one another and what makes them preferable to customers?
Mostly, 85 percent [of our shoes] are calf leathers, and then we have some exotics. The calf leathers can be printed, they are [versatile]. And the exotics, for example, [can be] crocodile, alligator, ostrich, stingray. But actually these are not leathers that are really good for making shoes. Calf leathers are simply the best leather to [use] for shoes, because they have the best properties in the way of how you use them, how they can take out humidity, and also they’re very comfortable.
What lengths do you go to so that every pair fits each customer perfectly, not only in terms of size, but also their specifications and styles?
We have, next to size, four different widths. So we can go a little bit deeper, because sometimes people simply have wider or more narrow feet, and this we can respond to by using different widths. This is normally not possible in stores.
We also provide a so-called fitting program or customizing program, where we can adapt the instep, the outside joints of the shoe like the big tall and small toe, we can respond to a small heel. So this is what we call made to measure, where we aim for a different kind of fit directly responding to the customer’s foot.
What sets your product apart from others of its kind, and what makes your customers come back?
We encourage customers to get sized. And then they can choose a unique pair of their own. We need about eight to ten weeks to deliver a pair, which is, in our competitors’ field, quite fast. Normally it’s between half a year and a year. We aim that our customers get their shoes sooner, because then the seasons haven’t changed, they haven’t forgotten what they ordered.
What factors and details should first-time customers pay attention to when ordering a customized pair?
First of all, the fitting and sizing is most important. And then, [since] it’s their first pair, we suggest certain styles, which make their experience easier without getting frustrated. We’d rather make lace-up shoes as a first pair than loafers. I try to advise people to choose pairs which are not too spectator-like, so they would pick them [when putting together outfits] and not say, “Maybe tomorrow.” We want our customers to wear our shoes, hopefully get compliments for them.
Would you recommend your shoes for daily wear? What types of outfits do they usually go with?
It depends on the customer’s own style. If somebody wears more dark suits, like a lawyer, I’d rather recommend dark brown shoes, not necessarily black shoes. But also you can go a little lighter. It depends on how casual or how, let’s say, conservative the event you’re attending is. I’d rather have a versatile style, let’s say an Oxford shoe, which you can [wear] for all seasons and all occasions. You can wear it with jeans but you can also wear it with a suit. There are definitely shoes that are more formal, and shoes that are more casual.
It also varies in the leather you use. For example, a grained leather or a long hair suede is, in my opinion, definitely more for casual looks, whereas plain leathers are more for formal looks. My opinion is that a shoe looks best when it’s worn, but also maintained well. So you shine it, keep them not too dry, wax them from time to time. I would say wear your shoes, not to be afraid of [them], not to think they are too [precious]. They last as long as they are treated well.