People

The Sole Man

Neil Ridley meets the shoemaker with a passion for whisky and the blues
By Neil Ridley
For more than 10 years, Tim Little has been at the forefront of the resurgence in bespoke and handmade men’s shoe making, proudly reviving the once highly revered English label, Grenson, first established in 1866.

With a client list as diverse as Robbie Williams, Tina Turner, Ant and Dec, Rod Stewart and Sir Elton John, Little has recently turned his attentions to collaborating with the world of blended whisky.

As much as it pains me to say it, I definitely have a problem with buying shoes. But not because I dislike the actual process –far from it. Actually, it’s because I love shoes a little bit too much. But then again, I defy any man to walk past the window of Tim Little’s cosy London shop, situated on the King’s Road in Chelsea, and not develop a funny warm feeling in their lower region. In fact, it’s rather like the feeling most of us get when we peruse the shelves in a specialist whisky shop. Little has established himself as one of Britain’s most cutting edge shoemakers; blending his traditional craftsmanship with contemporary design, and in doing so has created a range of shoes, which are not only beautiful objects of desire, but are hard wearing, dependable classics.

However alongside overseeing the hand tooling of his exquisite shoes at the company’s main factory in Northampton (traditionally the hometown of English shoemaking) Little has recently partnered with Chivas Brothers to create the very first release in a series of limited edition bottlings under the ‘Made For Gentlemen’ banner, the idea juxtaposing two distinctly British crafts. I ask Little how his involvement in the project came about and what comparisons he sees in the whisky and shoemaking businesses. “For me, it was an opportunity to work with people in a very different field, at the same time appealing to a modern gentleman, with a real eye for fashion and quality,” he explains. “The similarities lie in the fact that both businesses are passionate about bringing together an array of ingredients to pull something extra special together as the end result.” So does the esteemed shoemaker feel that there is now more of a trend towards men appreciating craftsmanship? “Absolutely. There’s been a huge swing towards people really understanding what it is they’re buying now.

“The internet has enabled consumers to see the level of expertise that goes into making finely crafted items – from bespoke shirts and shoes, right through to whisky.”

The result is not so much Little helping to blend an actual whisky with Chivas Brothers, but the respected shoemaker lending his unique sense of aesthetic to the design of a new tin to house the brand’s existing 12 Years Old. The limited edition pack is resplendent in the various component parts of a classic brogue design, including the highly decorative punched wing tips, which define the timeless looks of the shoe.

I ask Tim about what he feels makes a pair of handmade shoes so special. “The key to a great pair of shoes is a combination of the quality of the leather and how long it has been stretched over a ‘last’ (the wooden model of a foot, which gives the shoe its shape and resilience).

“Traditionally, Northampton was home to the best leather tanners, as the water sources were very pure, tanning requiring good quality water to produce the best results.”

Little is undoubtedly a wealth of information when it comes to the process of putting a handmade shoe together and during our chat I can’t help but think of the similarities between his craft and that of Sandy Hyslop and Colin Scott, the master blenders responsible for putting together the consistent recipe for Chivas Regal. Amazingly, some of the finest leather that goes into the soles of a handmade shoe can take up to a year to fully mature at the tanners and even more surprisingly, around 35 to 40 different component parts go into the ‘recipe’ of a traditional brogue, with some 200 separate processes occurring during their construction. It’s a fact that clearly pleases Tim and also highlights why a pair of Grensons takes three weeks to make. “Understanding the effort that goes into making something extra special almost certainly defines today’s gentlemen and their character,” he points out, “like wearing a pair of shoes like mine or ordering a well made whisky in a bar. Although ‘revivilism’ is perhaps a trend that will come and go, younger people have really started to appreciate craft and will retain an understanding of what the word ‘quality’ actually means – this is where the opportunities lie for people like me - and whisky makers alike.”


Info



The Chivas Regal

12 Year Old, ‘Made For Gentlemen’
A limited edition release that is priced at around £35.99 from all good specialist whisky retailers.
Visit www.chivasbrothers.com for more details.