Shoemaker John Lobb Revels in Tradition

Artistic Director Paula Gerbase chats about the brand’s legendary craftsmanship and minute attention to detail.

Samantha Tse

John Lobb uses a 190-step process to produce its supple footwear.

With the menswear market fast on the rise, brands are continually reinventing themselves to capture a generation that is overwhelmed by choice and difficult to impress. But British footwear brand John Lobb—which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year—remains committed to its own vision. And by executing it with finesse, the company has created a sense of heightened relevancy in a saturated market.

To footwear aficionados, John Lobb represents a dedication to craft and a commitment to heritage and tradition in men’s formal and bespoke footwear. The British brand, founded in 1866, has become the benchmark for quality and controlled elegance, counting both the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales among its patrons. “Craftsmanship is paramount and at the core of everything we undertake at John Lobb, from bespoke through to ready-to-wear made in Northampton through to the casual side of the collection,” explains Artistic Director Paula Gerbase.

The company, which is now owned by Hermès, still has its factory in Northampton, England, as well as a bespoke atelier in Paris that offers personalized services in which every detail such as color, material and heel height is determined by the client. The foot is measured and customers return on two additional occasions to ensure the fit is perfect. The original bespoke workshop in London is the only branch that is still family-owned and operates independently from Hermès.

“The bespoke service at John Lobb continues to function much in the same way that it did when the house was founded,” says Gerbase. “Our expert craftsmen work from our Paris atelier to craft the shoe or boot to the customer’s very specific desires, which takes around 50 hours of work to be completed.” Shoes and boots run into the four figures, but the product is ultimately about craftsmanship and luxury. For its ready-to-wear line, the company developed a process that pulls the leather over the shoe just enough so it retains elasticity to mold itself to the wearer’s foot. This is done during one of the final stages of the 190-step process and the result is a shoe that fits like a glove.

“Attention to minute details and a history of innovation are in the fabric of John Lobb, whose very foundations were built on handmade artistry and craftsmanship of bootmaking,” Gerbase says. The Brazilian designer was appointed as the brand’s first artistic director in 2014. Prior to John Lobb, she helmed her own womenswear label, 1205, which she started in 2010, but had never designed shoes. Gerbase trained at London’s famed Central Saint Martins and worked at Savile Row houses where she refined her skills in classic tailoring and understanding of form and fabrication.

“My time on Savile Row taught me above all a respect for craftsmanship,” she says.

Gerbase was brought in to give the classic footwear brand a sense of modernity while retaining its quintessentially British roots. She has introduced more casual shoes that appeal to a younger generation while continuing to innovate for the brand’s core customers. For the upcoming season, Gerbase and her team have revamped the welted shoe into something more lightweight in supple leathers and suede.

In addition to designing footwear, Gerbase and her team are expanding the brand’s presence internationally. Last fall, John Lobb opened its third U.S. store in the Miami Design District. The 1,000-square-foot retail space offers both ready-to-wear and bespoke services. The design concept of the Miami store is in line with other John Lobb shops, but as a nod to the city’s laid-back culture, the store has a more relaxed vibe with high ceilings and lighter-weight shoes in a brighter color palette that will be available year-round to accommodate the warmer climate.