Made at the company’s bespoke atelier in Paris, the six-eyelet Richelieu shoe was created specifically for the launch of the new Dubai store, with only 10 pairs available. It consists of two pieces of buttery-soft Jujube calfskin leather in a rich shade of burgundy, with a hand-stitched upper and sole. Painstakingly crafted from the highest-quality leather, it is a fitting showcase of John Lobb’s time-honoured expertise when it comes to shoemaking.
“The Lawrence is really a shoe that infuses the heritage and savoir faire of the company,” says Philippe Gonzalez, chief executive of John Lobb. “It is fully handmade by our bootmakers in our Paris workshop. It includes various elements of our bespoke offering — for example, the heel respects the bespoke proportions for better posture and better comfort when walking, and there is a curved finish to the sole to improve comfort.
“It’s a shoe that you have to look at closely because the hidden details that are part of our DNA are all there. You can see the finesse of each stitch.”
The company’s eponymous founder, a young British apprentice bootmaker, famously travelled on foot from the Cornish coast to London in 1851 to further his fortunes. He also journeyed to Australia during the gold rush, creating hollow-heeled boots that miners could use to stow contraband gold nuggets. He returned to London in 1863 and was promptly named bootmaker to the Prince of Wales.
The brand’s first bespoke boutique opened on London’s Regent Street in 1866, followed by a presence in Paris in 1899. More than 150 years later, the brand uses many of the same techniques to craft its shoes — a 190-step process perfected by artisans at the atelier in Paris and ready-to-wear workshop in Northampton in the UK.
This dual British-French heritage creates an interesting juxtaposition. “We are a very serious company in that we pay attention to details and we concentrate on every element,” says Gonzalez.
“And at the same time, John Lobb is a company that, by essence, being English, has that sense of humour. By being warm and embracing people, we want to show that yes, there is the seriousness of the product and the seriousness of the artisans behind the product, but we also don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
In 1976, the company was acquired by Hermes and in 1982 it launched its first ready-to-wear collection. But while heritage is the cornerstone of the brand, it is also a company steeped in innovation, all the way back to those hollow-heeled boots. While John Lobb will always be associated with handcrafted formal shoes, from smart boots to classic Oxford, Derby and loafer models, it has also adapted to the casualisation of trends across the fashion industry.
“It’s in evidence that a man today is dressed differently,” says Gonzalez. “And our objective is really to accompany our customer during his 24-hour journey. Because in your 24 hours, you might have meetings, which require more formality in your look.
“But then you maybe go to a party, to the theatre, to meet friends, or to dinner, and you need another type of look and shoe to wear. And on the weekends, you go to the mountains or to the beach, and then you need another product.
“We pay attention to how we accompany our customers on this journey, providing elegance and comfort. It’s true that we are not a sneaker company. But we have some casual shoes and sneakers, because our customers are looking for that. We infuse our vision, quality and heritage into those products.”
The breadth of John Lobb’s product offering, including sandals developed specifically for the region, is now on display in the brand’s intimate new boutique in Mall of the Emirates. The space embraces a new store concept that was developed by Parisian architecture studio Cigue and introduced in Paris and Beverly Hills last year. A central, grounding structure in walnut wood and matte metal is reminiscent of the front desk of a familiar hotel and is where a “concierge” will talk the customer through the various options offered by the brand.
In addition to ready-to-wear, the company’s By Request service allows customers to personalise their shoes by choosing from more than 100 original designs and then customising each element, from the type and colour of the leather to the sole and buckles. For an even more elevated experience, the brand offers the Bespoke service, where artisans work directly with clients to create shoes precisely moulded to their individual feet.
For Gonzalez, this approach lies at the heart of sustainable design practices. “It’s made for you, so we reduce mass production, which answers a sustainability concern,” he says.
“What makes John Lobb different is that the quality of the leather we use is such that the patina will evolve. We use natural leather that will age nicely and you will develop that relationship with your shoes. It’s like a handbag that you love. You spend so much time with it and it follows you on your journey.”