HELDTH X MYVAN: Visiting Foster & Son.

Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson in the shop Foster & Son

Located in the heart of London, 83 Jermyn Street, Foster & Son is Britain's oldest made-to-measure shoemaker. In spite of the high profile and the finest product quality, the small workshop and the shop furnished in wood radiate a cozy atmosphere.

The finest quality in 170 years of tradition.

Just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace is Jermyn Street. The many small shops in this side street have specialized above all in exclusive men’s garments. Number 83 is home to the shop and workshop of Foster & Son, the UK’s oldest made-to-measure shoe shop. High-quality shoes and excellent boots have been made to measure since 1840. Even the tools and materials used have remained essentially the same in over 170 years.

Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson is in the shop of Foster & Son with two men

Foster & Son relies on British tradition and traditional craftsmanship.

British traditions and craftsmanship.

Behind the glass door, a world awaits us that completely conceals the hectic pace of London. The thick, soft carpet absorbs all the sounds, the beguiling fragrance of leather and beeswax fills the room, and Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson, Managing Director of Foster & Son, welcomes us with his warm Oxford English and a mischievous smile. Even though the company is no longer family-owned due to the turmoil of the Second World War, Foster & Son is not giant multi-national corporation without sensitivity. British tradition and traditional craftsmanship form the backbone of the world-famous company with its small shop.

  • The exterior of Foster & Son
  • Some handmade bags on a shelf
  • Two men are standing in front of a showcase full of shoes.
  • Some shoes are placed on a wooden shelf

An excursion into the past – the archive.

Behind a hidden door a small, narrow staircase leads to the upper floor. Hundreds of wooden lasts are on the shelves, carefully labeled with names and numbers. Climbing up through the company’s well-kept archives, we encounter perfect templates for all the custom-made shoes and boots that Foster & Son is famous for. From above, the typical noises of a shoemaker’s workshop sound down softly and accompany the gentle creaking of the wooden steps under our feet.

Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson in the shop Foster & Son

Foster & Son is Britain’s oldest made-to-measure shoemaker – and excels in style and quality.

Royal clientele.

In the anteroom of the workshop a handwritten document of the British royal family is hanging on the wall. It was signed by King George V., one of the very few customers whose name is revealed at Foster & Son. Normally there is absolute discretion on this subject. The rich and powerful of the world have always been part of the clientele of the house and it is part of the good fortune that all further details remain under a cloak of silence. The fragrance of leather blends with the smell of glue, accompanied by the omnipresent spirit of tradition and a sense of reverence for the master craftsmen’s great work.

Three people are standing in a workshop where shoes are made

Edgecliffe-Johnson summarizes the individual working procedures, while the employees show the status of the shoes in progress.

A piece of leather is cut to size

The leather must be cut to size before sewing.

A shoe is made according to the lasts

The hardest work is done: some perfecting final cuts and the shoe is finished.

Edgecliffe-Johnson shows a finished, custom-made shoe

Edgecliffe-Johnson presents one of the amazing results: a custom-made shoe.

Passion and love of detail.

The three highly focused made-to-measure shoemakers sweep aside every cliché. They are young, don’t look a bit old-fashioned and know their craft perfectly. While Mr. Edgecliffe-Johnson summarizes the individual work steps, the three briefly and concisely show the different stages of the shoes in progress. Everything seems pleasantly quiet and calm, accompanied by the wonderful feeling that a centuries-old craft is cultivated here with passion. It takes at least ten months before you receive a pair of handmade custom-made shoes from Foster & Son. In addition to the well-filled order books, leather in particular has a major influence on this waiting time, as the natural material must be brought into its final form with a great deal of patience.

Halfway around the world for a pair of shoes.

Back in the shop we listen to some of the great anecdotes, which fit perfectly to the overall picture of the traditional company. For example, there was a customer from Eastern Europe who did not yet have his own lasts but had a busy schedule. One of the three shoemakers was flown in to take measurements. Due to the customer’s never-ending deadlines, measurements were postponed from one day to the next. In between, they even flew to France, including the patient shoemaker, until after a week they finally found enough time to take the measurements of the last. Of course, food and lodging were the customer’s responsibility.

A handmade shoe from Foster & Son is handed over

King George V.: one of the few customers whose name was disclosed by Foster & Son.

Classical craftsmanship in modern times.

In addition to custom-made shoes and boots, there is now also a small but carefully assembled collection of ready to wear shoes in standard sizes. In addition, there is a selection of fine bags and suitcases as well as wallets and, of course, belts matching the shoes. Thus the small company goes elegantly with the times, without throwing its own history overboard or even forgetting the tradition. Foster & Son proves impressively that classical craftsmanship is not yet extinct and still has a rosy future.

Foster & Son has seen some prominent customers come and go: They keep their names to themselves for the sake of confidentiality.

A bag on a wooden sideboard underneath are shoes.

In addition to bags, suitcases, wallets and belts, there are also handmade shoes in standard sizes.

A historical sewing machine with a shoe on the work surface

An anecdote: the story of a busy customer and the patient shoemaker from Foster & Son.

Photos: Heldth (Teymur Madjderey)

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