There’s a lot to be said for dressing from the ground up. Get the foundations right and it should be smooth sailing – because shoes are, after all, the window to the soul. I grew up with the ‘shoes worth wearing, are worth repairing’ mantra, inherited from my late grandfather – who wore the same pair of well-loved and carefully looked-after brogues for almost half a century. What’s beautiful about this, is how those classic shoes transcended trends and always looked the part. Sure, good shoes cost more than your average sneakers, but buy cheaply and you’ll certainly buy twice; better instead to invest in a piece of footwear history.
Studio Nicholson have teamed up with Tricker’s, who are Northampton’s (and arguably the U.K.’s) finest shoe-makers, to produce two timeless styles – the Monkey Boot and Penny Loafer. Stripped back, streamlined and reinvented for the Modular Wardrobe, they’re engineered with the promise of lasting a lifetime. We invited Dan Richmond to open up the iconic blue Tricker’s box and tell us more about the collaboration and the determination to design and deliver long-lasting footwear.
Collaborative projects tend to work best when it’s a partnership with matching values. Why do you think the alliance between Tricker’s and Studio Nicholson is so strong?
From the offset, both brands have a reputation that’s built on the principal of outstanding quality. There’s an understanding and commitment to creating products using the best materials, carefully crafted, to the most exacting standards. The core philosophy of Tricker’s and Studio Nicholson follow a consistent tone of voice, and it’s something both companies promote internationally with their audiences – so the collaboration felt like the perfect fit.
The Modular Wardrobe has always been promoted as a system of dressing for everyone, regardless of gender, age, shape or size. How has this methodology been maintained during the collaboration?
What is unique about the two styles we’ve produced for Studio Nicholson, is that they’re both truly unisex. Generally speaking, even with traditional styles that are marketed as being for men and women, they still tend to have subtle differences in the dimensions of the last. The last is a hard, three-dimensional form, on which we construct the shoe. It’s crucial, because it dictates the overall shape, proportion, fit and character.
Can you tell us a little more about the design history of each shoe?
Originally, Monkey Boots were issued to troops by the Czechoslovakian army during the inter-war years. They were durable, practical and super sturdy which, not surprisingly, made them the ideal boot for a serving foot soldier. After this, they disappeared from view for a couple of decades until the mods gave them a new lease of life in the 1960s – and by the late 1970s and early 80s they’d been adopted by skinheads, punks and students. At Tricker’s, we’ve been making our own version for quite a few years now, and they’ve always proved really popular in the U.K and Japanese markets, where the desire for British-made apparel is very strong.
We think of Penny Loafers as being an urban shoe, but they were actually inspired by the slip-on shoes worn by Norwegian farmers. Rumour has it, that some students travelling to Norway in the early 1900s spotted (and loved) the basic moccasin-type shoes being worn by agricultural workers – and took the style back to North America. For Tricker’s, the slip-on shoe has become a classic silhouette that combines comfort with a quiet confidence. After consultation with Studio Nicholson, some edits have been made to our standard Penny Loafer, which include a triple row upper stitch, straight edges throughout and a brand-new saddle pattern in a letter box shape.
How have both styles been reinterpreted to embody the Studio Nicholson aesthetic?
The standard Tricker’s Monkey Boot has been edited so that it sits more comfortably in the modular wardrobe. A triple row stitch has been added and there are clean, straight edges throughout (we’ve removed the usual gimping edge treatment detail you’d expect to see on a style like this). They have a more rounded toe box, and a narrower width in the forefoot, waist and heel than most Tricker’s. The contours have been carefully engineered so they fit narrow, as well as wider feet. For the Loafer, there’s a real city feel, with a subtle, elongated toe and mid profile that still accommodates feet of all proportions. A slightly narrower forefoot and snug waist stays true to the handwriting you’d expect from a slip-on.
What stands out for both styles, is the use of an amplified sole unit. The Vibram Morflex is an expanded EVA based rubber compound. It’s lightweight but extremely strong, undeniably comfortable and also water repellent. They grip well and are highly shock absorbent. With a reputation like Vibram’s, you know you’re buying durable shoes you can trust. For the uppers, the MC Leather was selected for both styles. It’s a super-soft, water resistant leather that we’ve sourced from one of the world’s best tanneries.
You’ve recently had 104year-old Tricker’s shoes sent back to the workshop for repair – which says such a lot about the loyalty of your customer – and quality of your products. What are the benefits of investing in a traditional bench-made shoe?
We train and develop skilled craftspeople who live and breathe shoemaking, which in itself, is keeping an essential trade alive and well. Tricker’s footwear is all about longevity – and besides that, everything is still 100% manufactured at our factory in Northampton. The construction of all of our footwear is also Goodyear welted; the benefit of this means that customers can get them resoled at any time without any issue. We know from experience that people love their footwear and that if you invest wisely, there is no reason why a good quality pair of shoes shouldn't last you a lifetime. When we receive a pair of shoes or boots back for repair, we look back at the archive and we’re able to remake them exactly the same way they were made all those years ago – we transform them from an old scruffy old pair to looking nearly new again. We have shoes coming back to the factory for resoling services that are 60-70 years old, which this is precisely what we want to promote – we want customers to wear Tricker’s for life.
Tricker’s have always bridged the gap between traditional and progressive. Was this distinctive outlook what drew you to work for the brand?
It’s a 5th generation family-run business and the oldest shoemaker in the U.K. – 191 years old this year. For me, the novelty of going into the factory 2-3 times a week never wears off, and each time I do a factory tour, I see something new. The brand has a fantastic reputation worldwide and being local to the Northampton area, I had always had a bit of a romance with Tricker’s. As well as this collaboration with Studio Nicholson, we’ve worked with Comme des Garçons, Thom Browne, Yohji Yamamoto, Paul Smith and many more. Although I’ve worked for a number of footwear brands over the years, I’ve found the values and the integrity that Tricker’s has towards the workforce and the manufacturing isn’t seen too much in today’s world. The family’s ethos hasn’t changed since 1829 – and has always been to make the best shoes they can, for the fairest price. You can’t argue with that.
Leanne Cloudsdale is the Studio Nicholson Editor-at-Large