Are these boots (re)made for walking?
March 26, 2019 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I have a pair of mystery boots (no labels or other identifying features that might help me track down another pair) that I purchased from a vintage Etsy dealer many years ago. They are my favourite pair of footwear I have ever owned. They've been repaired several times already, but I think they may now truly be on their last legs (feet?). I am inordinately sad about them being gone soon. Surely there must be a service/craftsperson/business who could re-make a custom new pair based on this old pair? But who? And how much?

I have never seen boots like this on another person, in a store, or online. I have looked. I do not think that finding a new pair to replace them is really going to fill my beautiful boot-shaped void, and I would much rather (if at all possible) have these boots made for me than settle for a not-quite-right new/used pair.

In my ideal world, I would send these boots to a person, who would make a nearly identical new pair based on the originals, but perhaps with a few minor modifications (a comfier footbed and less slippery sole would be heaven, for example). Searching for "custom boots" or "custom shoes" gets me a lot of links to "design your own nikes" type sites. I imagine what I want is a custom cobbler, but all the ones I see are (understandably) focused on their own designs, and say nothing about re-creations.
Is this kind of service a thing that even exists? Will a craftsperson be insulted if I inquire about this? Are there legal issues with copying an old (my guess is they're from the 60s or 70s, but I don't really know) pair of shoes? Have you ever done this? Did it cost you hundreds? Or thousands?
posted by Dorinda to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't give you any advice but no matter what, keep your boots and keep trying. I had a pair of completely knackered pair of gray patent leather high heels that matched everything I owned (seriously) and were so so so comfy. When they turned yellow and were so scuffed I started looking for a shoe restorer. It took a long time. I sent them to the best place in paris- and they came back to me cleaner but not really restored or wearable. I went to several cobbler shops and they sent me to other cobbler shops. Finally I got in touch with a man who was a serious leather sofa restoration specialist and he sent me to a handbag specialist shop in England. They were able to restore them, they are different- but still what they were before. I think I spent 500 bucks along the way... the handbag place that finally did it cost 150- and it took 2 years to find the right place, but it happened!!!! People will tell you it is impossible, but it might not be. Good luck! (and for anyone who thinks that 500 is a lot to spend on heels, its not if the shoes match everything and they are super comfy)
posted by catspajammies at 10:48 AM on March 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

So it's hard to give a recommendation since you don't describe the footwear or provide a picture. The only thing to go on is your your use of the word "boots". A very good American custom boot maker is Whites of Spokane, Washington. But they make boots for serious firefighters and lumberjacks. If your boots are more like patent leather dress shoes with heels, then that probably won't be your thing. Even so, Whites might be able to direct you to a shoemaker that does custom work.

I was googling around trying to remember the name of notable British company John Lobb, which actually makes a wooden copy of your foot (called a last) that they keep in their warehouse so they can always make you a new pair of shoes, when I came across this article about high end custom footwear companies. Besides Lobb, I recognize Crockett and Jones, but have no experience with the rest of them. And it is geared towards men's shoes, which again you didn't specify if that is the type you need.

Also, custom shoe makers operating at lower, non-stratospheric prices still make footwear for ordinary people in places like India and Indonesia. If you are already travelling, or perhaps after you get a wiff of John Lobb's prices, it might worth a side-trip to investigate.

Have you thought of having your boots photographed and doing a reverse image search? Or posting on shoe enthusiast forums? (They must exist-- everything else does.)

As far as recreating a design, when you are paying for this sort of custom work, yes it starts at thousands and goes up alarmingly from there. But since you are paying, they will absolutely be willing to create a shoe in the style and design that you like. If you want an exact copy of your previous boots, that shouldn't be a problem, especially as there are no logos or maker's marks on them.

It sounds like you have a magnificent obsession with these shoes, and I hope you can find someone to rebuild or copy them for you!
posted by seasparrow at 11:14 AM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Re-creating footwear from old designs is very much A Thing, though it tends to be more focussed on earlier eras (eg American Duchess uses designs from the Renaissance to the early 20th century). Rather than searching for "custom", you may have more luck searching for "reproduction" boots (or reproduction bootmaker, or reproduction custom boots) - that will send you towards people whose business is reproducing old designs. My googling (UK-biased) got me at least one result for someone who makes reproduction vintage shoes and considers custom orders, but I don't know if your boots would be considered too modern.

As seasparrow says, some photos of these boots might help people better point you in the direction of appropriate bootmakers.
posted by Vortisaur at 11:26 AM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

What you want to search is "custom men's shoes [Large city]", not because you want men's shoes (I have no idea) but because custom women's shoes of this sort are less available than men's, and the men's custom shoe places that do this will also do women's.

In the US, San Francisco and New York are the places most likely to have appropriate shoe-makers. I know that Al's Attire can do work like this, but a search for "custom men's shoes San Francisco" turned up some other places that look interesting. Al's Attire is highly thought of and can almost certainly meet your needs, assuming you're willing to pay. I don't know if they can work totally remotely or if they would want you to have an initial measurement in the shop.

There are some Japanese and Thai custom shoemakers who do this stuff, but I don't know names. The Shoe Snob probably has some information.

You might also try making an account on Styleforum and asking.

If these are very structured shoes (like, they have a leather sole, leather lining, nailed on heel, etc, rather than being in a soft, nubbly leather with a rubber sole) this will likely be an expensive project. I dimly recall seeing a price for something from Al's of around $600.

That said, I'm sure you'll get a fantastic pair of boots out of the process. I have a couple of pairs of benchmade English boots (via eBay, not first hand) that I've worn regularly for seven or eight years and they're still perfectly good. Both will need new soles put on, but the uppers are in great shape and will probably last another six or seven years at least.
posted by Frowner at 11:31 AM on March 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

Along with White's mentioned above, Baker's Boots and Nick's are well-regarded American custom boot makers.

If you happen to live in or adjacent to Western Mass, I'd suggest checking with Shu Fix in Northampton. I don't know if he does custom builds, but that's who I go to for my boot repairs. He's also done repair work on my leather jacket and a leather purse.
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:40 AM on March 26, 2019

What's going to be tricky/expensive here is that you're not just saying, "make me a roman boot like the other roman boots you sell but in my size" - you're saying, "make a one-off design which will require making a pattern which I will likely never use again and make it to a daily-wear standard". My guess is that you're going to need a cobbler who does pure custom work for most of their business rather than someone who customizes versions of their own standard boot designs.

Many reproductions of women's historical footwear are for costume use only and would fall apart if worn frequently, in the rain, etc. Many that are more robust are made in India, Portugal, etc in small lots; the makers are not set up to do custom work.

I hope you report back!
posted by Frowner at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sorry to over-post, but as I was exploring the Al's Attire website, I noticed that this article is actually literally about a guy who wants a pair of worn out boots recreated and then discovers that Al's can actually re-craft the existing boots, fix the interior, etc rather than starting totally from scratch. It looks like he had a totally new pair made with some minor changes and got the old pair back, fixed up as good as new.
posted by Frowner at 11:55 AM on March 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

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