Nicholas Templeman may not be very familiar to many shoe aficionados, but his experience are very prestigious. He worked as lastmaker in John Lobb London for 7 years, and now takes his own adventure. As an independent bespoke shoemaker, he has gained great reputation around the world.
It is a great honor to have an interview with him.
You grow up and live in London for your whole life till now, and does this affect your taste and inclination to classic menswear and shoes?
Yes I grew up in London, I’m not sure if this directly led to my interest but probably subconsciously in a way. I am very used to seeing businessmen and women on the tube and on buses, wearing suits and shoes on the way to and from offices, as I got older I started to learn that you are still able express yourself despite wearing a “uniform” each day. I tried to do this at school in my uniform but not with much success, it was part of my journey though I suppose.
I remember one teacher who always stood out as more smartly dressed than the others, a math teacher called Mr Chan, we would ask where his suit was from and each day show the label inside the front, Hugo Boss, Versace, labels are the most important thing to teenage boys.
Why after graduation with a degree in Fine Art you were interested in handmade shoes industry?
I was interested in clothes and dressing well and I have always liked making things, although shoes were always what I took the most pride in wearing. I had lots of pairs of shoes back then (more than I do now). I think because growing up everyone my age wore trainers/sneakers so I refused to. I never wore jeans because that’s what my dad wore, so every day I would wear a shirt, some trousers and shoes.
I thought perhaps I could have a career in tailoring, I knew Savile Row was the most famous place for tailoring but I never realised there was a similar industry for shoemaking until I walked past a shop in my second year of university which had tools hanging in the window display.
I realised if there were hand tools in a shoe shop then there must be a way to make shoes by hand, so I did some research and when I moved back to London I got in touch with John Lobb.
I know many shoemakers start their apprentice by stitching sole, then upper sewing, then pattern making, at last, if they are persistent and good enough, mentor will teach them last making. Why could you land the job of Last making at John Lobb Ltd without any experience?
That’s not really the way it works in west end shoemaking, you are basically taught only one part of the process which you will work at professionally, and they will hire depending on what positions need to be filled.
When I got in touch to ask for advice I was fortunate, they were looking for an apprentice lastmaker so I took the opportunity.
In your 7 years in JLL, did you rotate in different departments? if only one thing you need to mention, what did you learn there?
There is no formal rotation through departments, if you train as a lastmaker you will only be making lasts in your day job. John Lobb is a fantastic place to learn from various people though, as you can spend free time with makers and closers while they work as long as you don’t get in the way.
Not many places have everything happening under the same roof to watch and learn from.
When you build your own brand, how did you get your first clients.
I think I was lucky with timing when I started my own business, I had no idea where I would find clients but I saw social media was going to have a profound impact on these traditional industries.
No one really knew who I was though, so the hardest part was getting the ball rolling, fortunately there were people on forums who were keen to see what an independent shoemaker could do differently to the traditional shops, my friend Derek at Die, Workwear blog wrote some articles and I was able to get a few clients quite quickly from the exposure and by booking a trunk show in the USA.
How do you describe your house style? It reminds me more of George Cleverley, Masaru Okuyama more than John Lobb Ltd.
I don’t know about house styles really, I try to not steer clients in any particular direction but you can always tell the influence if the person making the shoes. It’s part of who you are, as much art as science, I couldn’t really copy anyone else’s way of working as it’s so personal.
I don’t know how a business with several lastmakers or cutters can have any sort of house style really, each person works their own way.
(This is very true when you screen John Lobb London shoes on internet, no obvious housestyle.)
Your travel to US and Asia often, do you partner with some boutique or bespoke tailoring house there? or your just book your clients there yourself.
I normally travel every 6 months to usa and Asia, although I have only just been able to travel to the USA again after 2 years of travel redirections. Hopefully Asia can resume in 2022.
I travel on my own normally, I book a suite in a nice hotel and set up a miniature showroom in the lounge. It’s much more personal that way, I can sit and discuss with a client for an hour without people walking around us like if we were in a shop somewhere.
How many fitting shoes do you offer, What is each pair for? many rumour about John Lobb Ltd offering none.
There is usually one fitting with the shoe in-welt, this is usually enough but if we need another then we can do another.
At John Lobb there were no fittings so I consider it a luxury to have one now. In some ways no fitting is the best way, as long as you are ok with starting again from the beginning if you get it wrong, you never truly know what the shoe feels like until it’s the finished shoe. If a client wears the shoe for a few weeks/months/years and feels they would benefit from an adjustment, then I am always happy to do this.
Why do you think England has more bespoke houses than individual shoemakers, while in the other part of the world, individual shoemakers are more common.
England has an incredibly long history of shoemaking, in the past the only way you could find clients was to have a shop so it was natural for shops to grow and hire/train staff, it was beneficial to keep good staff in your employment.
Countries with a younger industry tend to be more dynamic and accepting of modern advancements, using things like social media to promote their work directly to the audience.
When I worked for a shop, no one ever came and ordered from me by choice, they just happened to meet me instead of anyone else. Today my clients can see my work before making a decision to order.
What is your plan for this business? Many Chinese bespoke shoemakers struggle because this business is labour intense and reward limited. How do you take this?
I don’t have any particular plan for the business, I am happy and comfortable with the way it is currently operating. I am not a hugely ambitious person, I have everything I need in life, I get to do what I love by making shoes every day, travel the world meeting interesting people, making new friends and providing for my family through doing that. I can’t ask for more really, I am grateful to be as busy as I am.
Please say something to Chinese shoe lovers and bespoke shoemakers.
I have not yet travelled to China but one day I hope to, I love watching what Chinese shoemakers are creating on social media and I am so happy to see the world of shoemaking growing bigger and people creating more and more interesting expressions of their ideas.
I look forward to meeting some of you in the near future.
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