One size doesn’t fit all. If you’ve got problem feet you’ll know how hard it is to find shoes. Shoes you can walk in, that look good, work with your wardrobe and therefore make you feel happy. Let’s face it: even if you haven’t got a foot issue, the latter is still true. When in pain, you’re forced to get experimental to counteract what are ultimately shoes not made for your matchless feet. You may have bought shoes that you later realised are too uncomfortable to wear for more than five minutes. Again, even if you don’t have a special foot issue, the same may still apply.
Anthony Andrews or Tony as he likes to be known, is the boss. He’s also a master craftsman with more than 50 years of experience in making hand made shoes, often, for people who come to him following an accident, or because they have a deformity like a leg or foot that’s twisted. He used to do a lot of work for the NHS but stopped 10 years ago following extensive budget cuts in the health service. These cutbacks meant Tony felt he could no longer do justice to helping people. He said it meant too much of the quality and precision of the shoe’s fit and materials used would be compromised. So he opened his shop in the West End to offer a private, made-to-measure, service for people. “Now we can use the best materials and best workmanship. We really do put our best effort into making the shoes. We’re very proud of all of our work and people come from all over the world, just to come here to see Tony.” He smiles: “America, Australia, you know… I say to them, don’t you have anywhere to go where you’re from? It shocks me because although someone’s got a foot problem, especially you women, you still want to look nice when you go out with your husband or your boyfriend wherever you are. You don’t want to keep covering your feet up, which is what a lot of woman do, they wear long dresses to cover their problem feet and that’s really sad.”
Then Tony told me how he got in trouble with the NHS. “Once, an elderly lady came in, it was the middle of winter but she only had one shoe on because she couldn’t find a pair that would fit, as one had an irregular shape. I told her, you sit there and we’ll make you a pair and we’ll charge the NHS. So we did and of course 5 blokes came down to investigate and I said, she was an elderly woman in freezing weather with only one shoe on, either you pay for it or I will. They did but I got told that I can’t do that anymore, you know!”
Tony’s clients include film stars, comedians and royalty. “We’ve had a famous news reader in, oh and Michael Caine, he wouldn’t mind me tellin’ ya, he’s been in. We have a specialist team, we can do anything.” He advocates “your business is only as good as your staff, so if you’ve got good staff, you’ve got a good business. We pride ourselves in our materials too, we have leathers from all over the world like python skins, crocodile, stingrays, kangaroo tails, all specially farmed. Each person’s feet are unique, you know. Just like your eyes, if you need a pair of glasses you can’t just take any pair of glasses off the shelf and wear them all day long. You can buy a pair of supports that will help to a certain degree, but to realign your ankle then you’ve got to have them specially made and this is the problem. Perhaps your foot is pronating, going inwards laterally or medially, and it can give you pain all up your legs and up your back. Sometimes it can give you a headache because you’re not lined up properly.”
The benefits of handmade shoes are appreciated by Tony’s customers. He says “We had a lady who wanted us to remake her some identical shoes and we said you’ll have to leave the original ones, that we’d previously made her. She said oh no, I can’t do that! In that case she had to sit in the shop while we made her a second pair. You see, if you’re walking around in agony and all of a sudden a pair of orthotics take you out of agony, you can’t be without them again, nobody wants to be in agony. We’ve had people crying in here. One guy came in, after spending a lot of money with someone in a clinic on Harley Street and he was still in a lot of pain. I made him a very simple support for 100 quid and he couldn’t believe it, he was so happy. But you get all sorts of things like this going on, one person has a very different idea of how to treat someone than another, you see. But when you’ve been doing it for over 50 years, you know, it’s a long time, so if you haven’t picked up a bit of knowledge in that time, you ought to give yourself a bit of a clump around the back of the head.” He smiles.
If you’d like to read the rest of this piece you will have to purchase issue 2, available in our Magazine shop. In the mean time, here’s a glimpse inside the shop with snapshots of shoes being made in the workshop bellow, along with examples that may inspire you to start saving for your own unique pair.1 I am.
The full interview can be found in Address – journal for fashion criticism issue two. You can buy issue two from our online magazine shop.