“We are the shoemakers’ shoemaker.”
- George Glasgow Cleverley Jr
It may be a cliché, but in this case it is a hard one to avoid: certainly whatever the heir apparent to G.J Cleverley, George Glasgow Cleverley Jr, does not know about bespoke shoemaking is – inarguably – hardly worth knowing.
He arrives in Melbourne hot off the back of Los Angeles’ Oscars week, having fitted a host of big name entertainers for the event, as is attested by his attendance at the legendary Vanity Fair Oscars party in the week before our chat. Yet George Jr is far from starry eyed – being part of a family company that once shod Winston Churchill, working with the likes of LA luminaries must be par for the course.
As the company’s chief executive and creative director, the near 30-year-old (“I’m 30 next month”) carries both the legacy and the knowledge of more than a half-century of English craftsmanship in his head. Makers of Melbourne chat to him during a 48-hour fly-in visit to fit his bespoke Melbourne clients out of Fitzroy’s Double Monk, the representative of a family business in an industry that has few left to speak of.
George: “We are one of the last family run shoe businesses out there: Church’s is now owned by Prada, Berluti is run by the LVMH group. It’s just my father and I. Our shoes are made the same way as they were 100 years ago. We do the process by hand, drawing around the feet of our customer and taking 15 or 20 measurements. The shoes take six months to reach the fitting stage and it’s really like a drug – once they’ve ordered a pair they always come back for more.”
Needless to say the hefty price tag (bespoke shoes run upward of AUS$5000) means the company’s relationship with the rich and famous is much in evidence.
Alexander McQueen wore a pair of Cleverley boots when he was knighted by the Queen of England and the more loyal clients each have their own style named for them: among them the Chow (a streamlined monk named for American restaurateur Michael Chow), and the Churchill (no explanation needed).
George flips David Beckham’s wooden block in his hands as we talk – the mould around which the soccer star’s shoes are formed.
George: “I’ve been in this business by default forever. My Dad is 63 and he’s been in shoes since he was 15. I was 17 or 18 when I got my first pair. They were Chelsea boots in black calf. I still have them, which is not unusual for a Cleverley shoe – in New York we had a guy who came in wearing a pair that was made in 1968.”
He is justifiably proud of the heritage, citing theirs as the shoe brand of choice for designers the world over, from Ralph Lauren to the CEO of Bulgari.
George: “My Dad always used to say to me that you should always spend the most amount of money on your shoes and on your bed, because if you’re not in one, you’re in the other.”