Needing a pair of black formal shoes for work (nothing exciting), I went browsing in the usual places. First stop was Paul Smith, as I've previously liked the modern but understated look and fit of their formal mens shoes - slim sole; narrow, longer fit; high-gloss leather. There were a few pairs that were interesting, but a few thoughts struck me as i looked:
1. They're pretty expensive - £220 for a pair of work shoes is not insignificant. I don't mind paying that for something that stands-out, but I just didn't get that feeling from the range that was on show, and Paul Smith is no longer an exclusive brand.
2. Nowhere could I see where the shoes were made. Nothing special in that, but still disappointing for such a high-profile English fashion icon with its roots in mod fashion.
So I abandoned shopping and researched online to see what else was available. Surprisingly (to me) there are still a few shoe manufacturers who actually manufacture in England ( see here for a list of 10 ), but most seemed to cater either too much towards trendy fashion or else towards older-fashioned tradition.
Then I looked at Loake. They have some traditional styles, many of which are styled just the right side of frumpy, and they also have a slightly more modern range called 'Design Loake'. Loake still produce many shoes in Kettering, England, in the same factory that the three founding brothers built in 1894, and since 2002 they also manufacture some shoes in India. This seems a reasonable balance of English tradition, English ownership and modern economic reality.
So I ordered a pair of 'Vincent' shoes from their website ( here ), costing a reasonable £135. These are clearly labelled as handcrafted in India, which accounts for the lower price. Two days later the shoes arrived in a sturdy box, protected internally with a soft cloth rather than paper, and including a small plastic shoe horn - not worth much but nice details nonetheless.
I am extremely happy with the shoes. They seem, to my untrained eye, to be much higher-quality than aforementioned Paul Smith or equivalents - great styling, perfect finish and strong construction. The leather upper is very smooth and reassuringly thick, and the general fit-and-finish is absolutely perfect. They have a reassuring air of 'stoutness' about them!
It seems to me Loake offer much greater value than many more fashionable brands (here's looking at you Mr. Smith). They also have an exclusivity greater than most luxury brands, and by purchasing Loake you're supporting an English-owned company who still have significant manufacturing in England.
The ultimate recommendation is whether I'd buy from Loake again, and I can say with certainty that I will. In fact, I already have my eyes on a pair of burgundy tassel loafers for casual wear ( http://www.loake.co.uk/brighton.html# ).