We are proud to present to you an interview with Tony Gaziano, renowned bespoke shoemaker and co-founder of Gaziano & Girling.
FTDF: Can you tell us about the different steps of your career and your background?
Tony Gaziano: Originally I was trained up to be an architect. That is how I first got acquainted with design. But I quickly decided that I was not interested in becoming an architect. I went into design of shoes and when I was about twenty I started working for a company called Cheaney. Most of the work I did for them was some subcontracted work for fashion brands such as Jeffrey West and Paul Smith. I worked there for several years mostly on design, I didn’t have any practical shoebuilding, it was all just drawing and range building.
After a while, I left and went to work for Edward Green. I started working on more classical footwear rather than the fashion houses. It gave me a deeper knowledge of the product, it was more about quality than fashion and seasonal runs. I worked there for two or three years and learned a little bit about handmaking but I decided I wanted to go deeper into it so I went to work for Cleverley. I have worked for George Cleverley for about seven years, first as an apprentice and then I managed the bespoke workshops which involved last making, designing, cutting the leather, stitching the uppers together and that’s where I met my partner Dean Girling. He was a subcontracted outworker craftsman and I was the craftsman that worked in house. That was fifteen years ago, we started working together but we didn’t have the intention of opening up our own company.
I was then contacted by the present owner of Edward Green who asked me to come back from Cleverley to design for the brand. The condition was that I wanted to set up a bespoke setup for Edward Green. So I spent basically the next two years creating a bespoke service for Edward Green.
Then, in 2006, Dean persuaded me to leave Edward Green in order to start up our own company. When we left, the bespoke service of Edward Green stopped and they introduced their Top Drawer range which I still think they are doing today.
In the mist of all that, I’ve done a lot of subcontracted design for brands such as Ralph Lauren and a few other fashion houses as well.
That’s it… Anything more would bore you!
FTDF: How do you reflect on the time you have spent at Edward Green?
TG: When I worked for Edward Green, I had no intention of leaving. I have worked for them twice so it is almost like my second home; I loved the time that I spent there. They are not particularly happy with me now but I still have a lot of affection for this company. Alongside us I think they make the best shoes in the country. Very well made structured shoe. It broke my heart to leave Edward Green but the boundaries were too strict, too classical for me, I needed to be able to create my own identity which is the reason why I left.
FTDF: You were a shoemaker but you launched a RTW brand…
TG: Thanks to my time at Edward Green, I had a vast experience on the manufacturing side as well and developing and designing lines of shoes. Unintentionally I was lucky enough to have probably the broadest experience in the country because in England you are either a London bespoke shoemaker or you are a Northampton shoe manufacturer. Nobody crossed over; we were the first people to bring a bespoke looking London shoe to the manufacturing side. There is a lot of symmetries with our business. People connect the Italian/English name to that contemporary style of shoes that we have which is English structure but with a little bit of a twist. It is not out there design but it is enough to get people to come out a little bit of their shell and to get more adventurous with their shoes.
FTDF: Do you feel that a shoemaker has to go into RTW in order to get by. Did you feel you were bound to launch a RTW brand in order to make a living?
TG: When we started the company we were going to purely do bespoke, however RTW is getting better and the bespoke market is becoming more of a niche. Dean and I can make a shoe between us so we could have just stayed me designing, pattern cutting, closing and Dean making. We would have made a very nice living but we ventured into RTW as an experiment and once you started and the ball is rolling you have to roll with it.
FTDF: Being a craftsman how did you manage to cope with the hazards of industrial production?
TG: Very difficultly, look how grey I am! On a more serious note, building a factory today is very difficult because 90% of our machinery comes from the 1930’s/1940’s. Moreover it is not only finding the machinery that works but also finding the operatives who can use it. These days, people see in black and white: shoes are either made by machine or they are made by hand. But there is a middle area where there are machines, first generation of machines that were created to replace handmaking that are almost as skillful in themselves as making by hand. It is not about pressing a button, these machines are all levers, very mechanical.
Nowadays we have our own factory where everybody is a shoe geek but when we started, we had to work with other people who did not share our passion because they used to make a lower grade product. That is why setting up our own factory was really crucial.
FTDF: What are the specificities of Gaziano & Girling as a brand?
TG: If I had to sum it up, I would say that our drive was to manufacture a bespoke looking readymade shoe. That was the key. People thought that our intention was to make a shoe that was half continental, half English but that was not the intention. We wanted to bring the London bespoke world into readymade shoemaking and to be able to create a service where people could be able to buy that aesthetic without having to have it made for them.
FTDF: Your brand is young but has a very loyal following. What do you think attracts people to it?
TG: I think we were fortunate to hit the time when many forums and blogs exploded, that was lucky. Also when people look at the shoes, even if they can’t explain it, they see the quality, the lines, the passion that was put into it. Some people can talk about it forever, some people can’t but they can still see and feel the difference.
Most of our customers up to now have been people who are passionate about shoes but we are making a good looking enough shoe which attracts new customers who were probably not into the welted trade before. These days, there is a luxury brand explosion and everybody seems to enjoy dressing again. In that way, we are a little bit lucky but also we are rewarded of all the attention and hard work we put in our shoes. We don’t cut any corners. Everything is done the way it should be done. Nowadays because of commercial fashion brands and people spending a lot of money on something that is not worth, they really understand when they see something that is.
FTDF: Do you reject trends or do you embrace them?
TG: I kind of reject trends. I like timeless. Trends are for younger people than me.
FTDF: You are the figure of the brand, can you tell us about your partner Dean Girling?
TG: Dean is more the mechanical side. He is a little bit crazy with quality; he is our factory worst enemy! He has tremendous technical knowledge about shoes, he understands the mechanics of the shoes. If something is not right, he can walk into the factory and put it right. He lets me create, I let him maintain.
FTDF: You are famous for you square toe, is it some sort of tribute to the masters shoemaker of the past Nikolaus Tuczek and Cleverley?
TG: A little bit. My favorite shoemaker was definitely Anthony Cleverley, whom I think was younger, and sharper than George Cleverley. During my time at Cleverley I fell in love with his shoes. Much of my inspiration comes from there, especially the Deco Line.
TG: In a nutshell, there is simply more handwork. For instance, we have to handcurve the waist. However, we use bespoke leathers for everything so quality wise everything is on the same levels in regards to materials but there is a lot more handwork for the Deco Line. Also there was a lot more attention to the design aesthetic of the Deco. It is not to everybody’s taste, it is a little bit sharp for a lot of people but for us it is a special Line which in a way represents the 1920’s as opposed to the more traditional stuff which is inspired for the 1940’s and 1950’s.
FTDF: Would you agree that the Deco is the closest you could get to a bespoke shoe in RTW?
FTDF: Where do you see Gaziano & Girling as a brand in five to ten years?
TG: I would like to have at least three shops, one in London, one in Paris and one in NYC. Moreover, the quality has to grow as the company grows. We cannot increase the production without increasing the number of craftsmen. It is a long process, it means lots of training. We don’t want to take over the world, but we want to get bigger while maintaining our philosophy and quality standards. It will be hard but it can be done.
We would like to thank Tony Gaziano for his kindness and his wit. We also would like to thank Marc Fass, owner of Calceom, who made this interview happen.
Paris, November 2012. All rights reserved.