Not many people know this, but a few Northampton shoemakers will allow you to order almost anything from their archive. And with histories that sometimes stretch back as far as a hundred years, there are a lot of shoes to choose from.
One of the better programs is at John Lobb – the one based in Paris, not London. As some readers know, there are two Lobbs. The original, situated on St. James of London, operates as a bespoke-only firm. In 1902, they opened an outpost in Paris, which was later sold to Hermes. When Hermes acquired the shop, they got with it the rights to use the Lobb name for a ready-to-wear collection (which debuted in 1982). That’s the John Lobb most people are familiar with, even if it’s relatively much younger.
The Hermes-owned Lobb is a complicated business. There’s the ready-to-wear line, of course, then an exclusive – and frankly very expensive – bespoke program. Their bespoke shoes have a subtle French sensibility, but are still very classically English in taste. Lovely footwear, but with prices that start around $7,500, they’re prohibitively expensive for the most guilty of spendthrifts. On the upside, the Lobb store tells me they’ll fly their fitter out to meet any clients in the US – even if yours is the only order in that city.
For a more affordable option, Lobb has three tiers of made-to-order. A breakdown:
- The most basic and straightforward service is called RNI (Rolling Needed Items). Here, Lobb carries a permanent stock of their best selling models, which includes their iconic Lopez (a tasteful French take on an American classic); City II (what I’d consider the ultimate business shoe), and William II (my favorite double monk). Customers can order these without any MTO charge, but lead time is around four weeks.
- Then there’s the Core Collection. Much like RNI, customers can’t change any of the specs (unless they’re willing to incur a MTO fee). On the upside, you get access to a wider range of models. Since these aren’t part of the permanent collection, however, the lead time is four months, as the shoes have to be made.
- Finally, there’s Lobb’s “By Request” service, which is a true MTO program. The exciting part here is that you can order almost anything from their archive. Special makes, such as their limited edition Saint Crepin collections, are excluded. However, with over two hundred available designs, you’d be hard pressed to not find something you like.
The “By Request” service has two limitations. First, since John Lobb has a very streamlined production process, they’re not as flexible as other makers. That means each model has a limited number of available leathers for the uppers, and only a couple of options for the soles. Not as accommodating as, say, Edward Green, who will let you choose almost anything for a design. Or Saint Crispin’s, which is about as close as you can get to bespoke without actually going bespoke.
Secondly, you have to know what’s in their archive — a list of which, as far as I know, isn’t published anywhere. Many of the more obscure models are only written about on Japanese blogs, which are hard to navigate.
So, I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favorite models from the archive. Eighty three models here, with photos and names. Each model is available in a few different types of leathers, but you’ll have to contact a Lobb retailer to find what’s available. I recommend Skoaktiebolaget, who’s a sponsor here, but is also one of my go-to sources for footwear. Along with great service, they also have an electronic swatch book of all of Lobb’s leathers. Very useful if you can’t visit a local Lobb boutique.
The upcharge for Lobb “By Request” service? Just $150. Not cheap, but also not unreasonable to gain access to one of the larger design archives in Northampton.