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Gentleman's Attire

To pretend to be a gentleman, go to London and get suited
Jonathan Kandell
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 3)

The fitter's measurements and notes will go to the last-maker, who will use the data to carve a solid block of beech into precisely contoured models -- "lasts" -- of both my feet. The lasts will be molds for my first pair of shoes. Mr. Kastellis shows me the huge cellar where wooden lasts are kept. Soon, sculptures of my feet will be in the vicinity of those of Frank Sinatra, Alfred Hitchcock and Groucho Marx.

Next, the clicker takes over. He is the artisan responsible for choosing and cutting the eight pieces of leather (lately, German calfskin is in vogue), which will be used for the upper part of each shoe. A closer will cut and slice the leather into thin layers and then stitch them together into a finished "upper." The maker will then stitch the upper to the sole, made from tough, British leather, and add the two-layered heel. Finally, the polisher gives the shoes their permanent color and sheen. "Another pair of Lobb shoes has been born," states the shop's catalogue. "A process which has lasted months compared with the factory articles produced in minutes -- a Rembrandt compared with a penny print."

My first Rembrandt of footwear will require at least two more measurements (the store's fitters visit the U.S. several times a year) and eight months of work before it will be ready. It will cost me $2,500, plus $63 for parcel post and $125 in U.S. duties. Add mahogany shoe trees made to measure at $470, and the total for my first pair of Lobb's is $3,158. Though they will no doubt last longer than any previous shoes I have owned, Mr. Kastellis cannot guarantee that my future purchases at Lobb's will take less time or money. "As we get older, sir, our feet tend to spread from the additional weight," he points out.

Back at my hotel room, I pack my small, carry-on suitcase, no heavier than when I arrived. My bank account, however, is noticeably lighter. Airfare, lodging, clothing, meals and miscellaneous expenses involved in my four-day impersonation of an English gentleman hover near $10,000. "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life," Samuel Johnson once said. Or maybe, he has simply run out of money.


Jonathan Kandell is a freelance writer living in New York City.


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