Question and Answers

Q1: What are the main stages of making Henry Maxwell&#174 bespoke boots and shoes?
Q2: How long do Henry Maxwell&#174 bespoke shoes take to make?
Q3: How many times do I have to come to Jermyn Street?
Q4: Who actually makes the bespoke boots?
Q5: Who buys bespoke boots and shoes?
Q6: Do I have to select from standard models?
Q7: How should I care for my boots and shoes?
Q8: Can you make shoes for customers living outside the UK?
Q9: Do I have to pay to have my own last made for the first pair?
Q10: Could the last be made on a machine?
Q11: Do you hold sales events or special offers?
Q12: Where is your work-shop? Can I come and see it?
Q13: Who can I talk to, to learn more?
Q14: Henry Maxwell and Foster and Son trade from the same premises. Are the boots and shoes made by the same people?
Q15: I live outside the UK: when my shoes wear out, how do I get them repaired??
Q16: Why do people buy handmade bespoke boots and shoes when they are more expensive than cheaper machine-made shoes?
Q17: I am tax resident outside the EU. How do I get the VAT refunded to me?

Q1: What are the main stages of making bespoke boots and shoes?

First, because we need to measure and assess your feet, our last maker will need to meet you.
This could be in Jermyn Street or we could visit you in central London (to ensure that one of our last-makers is free for your visit or make an appointment please get in touch, or we could see you on one of our visits to your country.

Second, your feet will be measured in the traditional way by one of our expert last-makers, who will trace around your foot, take various measurements and assess the structure of your feet.
You will need to allow 30-40 minutes for this.

Third, You will be asked what style of boots and shoe you want. Unless you bring in a shoe to be copied or have a clear idea of the design, you will be shown a variety of examples of boots or shoe styles we have made in the past and various leathers and colours that might appeal to you. You do not need to choose between set styles: the whole point is that your shoes will be unique.

Fourththe making process starts with the last-maker fashioning your personal last, on which the boot or shoe will be made, carving it out of a piece of strong wood, usually hornbeam or beechwood.

  • Our pattern cutters upstairs at 83 Jermyn Street then cut out flat paper templates from the three-dimensional last. This process can take several hours and includes marking out the decoration that you want to have on the shoes.
  • The next stage is the “clicking” or cutting of the uppers from the paper pattern.
  • The uppers are then “closed “, a specialized craft that includes adding the required detailing to the upper, such as a brogue finish.
  • The actual making process starts with the inner sole that has been formed on the last and to which the upper is attached. This stage is also entirely manual, with every stitch hand sewn by an expert maker with needle and thread.

The Fifth stage, normally some 4-5 months after your first visit, is when you will be asked to meet us again to try your boots or shoes before the sole is attached.

Finally, final adjustments are made, the sole is sewn on and the finished shoe polished by hand, the polishing alone often taking up to a day’s work. Your shoes are then ready for collection.

Q2: How long do bespoke shoes take to make? Back

You should allow about 5-6 months for delivery of your shoes, assuming that you are available to try them on before the sole is attached.
This is because it takes time for leather to assume the shape of the last: some components of the shoe are soaked in water and need to dry out slowly on the last to assume the correct shape, and this cannot be hurried.

Q3: How many times do I have to come to Jermyn Street? Back

For the existing client with his or her own last there is no need to come to Jermyn Street at all, unless the last is old and the feet have changed. If this is your first pair of shoes, then we shall need to meet you to measure your feet, and a second time to ensure that the fit is absolutely perfect. If you have ordered the shoes during one of your trips to your country, we try to return within about 6 months so that you can try on the shoes. Riding boots normally require one extra visit to ensure a perfect fit.

Q4: Who actually makes the bespoke boots or shoes? Back
Our team of makers based above the Jermyn Street shop has all the craft skills to measure, make your last, pattern cut, close and make the shoes. We also have an extended team of expert craftsmen who work to our standards and normally handle our “closing ” – a specialized skill- and making. We are fortunate that our team is headed by Terry Moore, who has been with us for 45 years with his vast experience backed up by our team of highly skilled makers, led by Emiko Matsuda and Emma Lakin, who between them have decades of experience.

Q5: Who buys bespoke boots and shoes? Back

With our World-wide reputation, Henry Maxwell and our sister company Foster and Son’s clients for bespoke boots and shoes come from about 80 countries across the globe.

Buyers of bespoke boots usually have a practical need, but are not satisfied with the standard ready-to-wear product available today. The majority of our clients for boots are those who enjoy riding, hunting and polo, but boots are still required for ceremonial occasions, when only the very best will do, and we do fit the occasional bull-fighter. Ladies are in the minority for our classic bespoke shoes, but we do have a good number who appreciate our skill in making riding and hunting boots.

Although many members of established families have a tradition of commissioning bespoke shoes from us, the shoe enthusiast can come from any background and our clients vary from billionaire financiers to some who have a monthly saving plan to ensure that they are able to afford the very best that money can buy.

A third group of shoe clients are people who suffer from problem feet. Maybe one foot is larger than the other, or they have unusually large or small feet, have suffered an accident etc. There are many well-known specialists who cater for orthopaedic footwear and do an excellent job, but some customers are looking for a more elegant solution.

Q6: Do I have to select from standard models of shoe? Back
No! Many Bespoke  makers are in fact offering to adapt a ready-to-wear machine-made item so that it fits customers with non-standard feet. Your Henry Maxwell&#174 boots or shoes will be entirely handmade to your personal specifications and as such are unique to you. The examples we show you are therefore to help you generate ideas, and not a standard design.

Q7: How should I care for my shoes? Back
Your Henry Maxwell&#174 boots or shoes are worth looking after and with proper care will keep their good looks for many years. Aficionados value the patina of age and prefer a shoe that has developed character after several years of wear. Our experts’ advice is:

  • Use Boot and shoe-treesA bespoke tree, made from your personal last, is vital to ensure that the bespoke boot or shoe returns to its correct elegant shape after every wearing. Boots are prone to sagging if not properly looked after so this is particularly important.Ideally the tree is inserted carefully immediately the boot or shoe is taken off and the leather is allowed to retain its shape and dry out for a day or two afterwards. If a boot or shoe is very wet, you will be advised to let it air in a cool dry place for a few hours before inserting the tree.
  • Use a shoe-horn. (we have some splendid examples!). This will protect your shoes from stretching and damaged stitching.
  • Rotate your shoes. If you wear the same pair day after day, they will not get a chance to recover their shape and dry out properly and will deteriorate more quickly.
  • Laces: Obviously it will harm a shoe if you struggle to get it on or off without loosening the laces properly.
    A few seconds attention can save your shoes unnecessary damage.
  • Polishing is advised not only for appearances, but to keep the shoe supple. If a shoe is very dirty, an application of saddle soap will remove dirt, and then the shoe can be polished as usual. Whilst the toe cap can be brought up to a high shine, you should not apply excessive amounts of polish to the soft surfaces of the shoe- just enough to keep the leather in good condition. Wax polish is best for creating a glossy shine and neutral wax is sufficient to keep the shoe looking good most of the time. For restoring the colour of faded leather, a cream of the correct colour is preferable as it penetrates the leather better. If you wish to create a more¬† “antique” look to your brown or tan shoes you can experiment with alternate black and brown polish for a variegated darker finish.
  • Galoshes: If you are expecting to walk in snow or slush or on salted surfaces galoshes can keep your feet warm and save your shoes unnecessary damage. We stock a range of modern galoshes that slip on and off easily and do not stick to the leather.
  • Repairs: Repairs should not be left too long. Your boots and shoes are a complex structures that will suffer unnecessarily if you delay: the “bottoms” consist of several layers of leather and other material, which will be damaged if you break through. It is a sensible investment to get them looked at before our shoe repair team are confronted with a rescue operation.

Generally the bespoke customer will send his shoes to the maker who has the customer’s original last, although an acceptable last can usually be found from our large collection. Repairs in themselves are a skilled job, and we also strongly advise our ready-to-wear customers to have a professional repair done: it will pay off in the long term both in appearance and life of the shoe. Much the same applies to other leather good such as leather brief-cases, luggage etc. Many beautiful old cases have a patina that can’t be replicated, and a loving restoration can to give use and pleasure to succeeding generations for years to come.

Q8: Can you make shoes for customers living outside the UK? Back

Yes! The majority of our customers live overseas, in about 80 countries. Once your last is made you can easily order new shoes without coming to London, and in many cases we travel to see our clients, especially in the USA and Japan.
We have a Japanese shoemaker in Jermyn Street who looks after our Japanese customers and travels twice a year to Japan. If you join our mailing/email list we will tell you the nearest location of our next visit.

Q9: Do I have to pay to have my own last made for the first pair of shoes? Back

No! You do not have to pay for your first last because we pay this cost for new customers. Obviously we hope that you will like your shoes enough to come back for more and we will keep your last for many years in case you need it.

Q10: Could the last be made on a machine? Back

So far, attempts to mechanise last-making have failed to produce a stylish result: for instance if we took a plaster cast or electronic image of your foot, the resulting shoe would look like a foot, which would not be very appealing. The last is not a copy of your foot, but is a model of the shoe interior, supporting your foot in all the right places. Each last maker has an individual style because he or she is envisioning the shoe when making the last. Ready-to-wear shoes are made on a plastic last, but specially seasoned wood (usually beech or hornbeam) is more suitable for the nailing and hand-stitching process of a hand-made shoe.

The last is absolutely vital, since if the last is not right even the most talented maker will not be able to create a decent shoe. The skill of last-making is similar to that of a sculptor, envisioning a three-dimensional picture of your foot and the finished shoe whilst shaping the last by hand from a roughly formed block of wood. With few youngsters joining the craft there are very few skilled last makers in London today.

Q11: Do you hold sales events or special offers? Back

Yes, our sister company Foster and Son hold a sale in the Summer and Winter, and occasionally hold special promotional events. If you would like details, please add your name to our mailing/email list.

Q12: Where is your work-shop? Can I come and see it? Back

Our bespoke boot and shoe-making work-shop is at 83 Jermyn Street, and visitors are welcome to see our craftsmen and women at work by appointment.

Q13: Who can I talk to, to learn more? Back

You can get advice on commissioning a pair of Henry Maxwell&#174 boots or shoes by calling in at the shop during business hours and asking to speak to one of the makers, or by arranging for us to visit your home or office in London, or by attending one of our periodic visits to the USA and Japan. We have an extensive display of our shoes in the shop and you will be welcome to examine them.

Q14: Henry Maxwell and Foster and Son trade from the same premises. Are the shoes made by the same people? Back

Yes. The quality and standard of shoes and boots for each company is equally high, but our Foster and Son and Henry Maxwell lasts are different in style and keep to their individual traditions.

Q15: I live outside the UK: when my shoes wear out, how do I get them repaired?? Back
A bespoke customer will normally send his shoes to the original maker because his unique last is needed for a first class repair. We do have a very large “library ” of lasts from which an acceptable last can usually be found for the non-Fosters or Maxwell shoe repair, however.
Your ready-to-wear shoes will also keep their original style and quality and last a lot longer if expertly repaired.
Please send your repair to Jermyn Street with clear instructions, preferably on our standard order form.
We suggest that you email, fax or telephone us beforehand to agree the type of repair needed and the cost before dispatching your shoes or other leather goods. We normally ask for a deposit before proceeding with major repair work. Work is routinely sent though the mail or by courier although you may wish to insure the package.

Q16: Why do people buy handmade bespoke shoes when they are more expensive than cheaper machine-made shoes? Back

  • First, no ready-to-wear shoe can achieve the style and fit of a bespoke one because the skilled human hand can still stitch more complex shapes than the best machine.
  • Second, To the cognoscenti, a bespoke shoe, unnoticed by most people, is a discreet sign of good taste and individuality.
  • Third, a ready-to-wear shoe is made to fit the average foot and the average taste. With your own shoe, you can choose any leather and any combination of colour or shape you like. The shoes you take home from 83 Jermyn Street will be unique and come to you directly from the craftsmen who made them for you.
  • Fourth, some of us have foot problems. The orthopaedic case is a specialist job that we don t normally cater for. However, many people have minor problems that cause unnecessary foot pain and are looking for a more elegant result. Our last makers have a well-earned reputation for creating an elegant look for the problem foot and bringing pleasure and comfort to many such clients. The bliss of foot comfort, invisible to others, is greatly appreciated by the wearer!
  • And finally, a good pair of bespoke shoes will give pleasure for many years. One of our customers brought in some his Father had bought in 1936 and we were pleased to refurbish them and bring them back to their old form, retaining their patina and timeless style.

Q17: I am tax resident outside the UK. How do I get the UK VAT refunded to me? Back

Initially you pay us the full price including VAT but we provide a standard UK VAT refund form for you. This takes only a minute or two to complete, and mainly requires your name, your address
outside the UK and a contact telephone number. On departure from the UK you will need to get your form stamped by the UK customs. You then mail the form back to us and we re-credit you the recovered VAT. The regulations require us to re-credit you in the same way that you originally paid, e.g. by re-crediting your credit card, and therefore make it impractical for us accept cash for VAT free goods. Additionally UK tax residents can usually claim a VAT refund if they have a problem that requires them to have specially made bespoke footwear. A letter from a registered medical practitioner is required.