It is important to understand which sellers of luxury products control their own manufacturing facilities. Not because their product will necessarily be better, but because it gives the consumer the ability to understand the production that much better. There is also the possibility for the product to be more unusual and adaptable.
JM Weston, the French shoemaker based in Limoges, owns its own sole tannery. It makes vegetable-tanned shoe soles just for JM Weston – and for the creative head’s line of women’s shoes, Michel Perry. The tannery is one of only four left in the world making full veggie-tanned soles. J&FJ Barker in Devon is the only one left in the UK.
One thing I’ve always liked about sole tanneries is that they use a lot of local wood in the process, meaning that the soles from that particular part of the world take on a few of the characteristics of the local bark. In England, oak bark is used. In France, it is largely chestnut, says Michel, though there is some oak in there too.
Weston also bought a tannery that makes leather for the upper parts of shoes last year. This will not be an exclusive operation – it already supplies Hermès, Chanel and others – but it is another demonstration of the controlling family’s dedication to traditional French production.
That family mentality brings it close to many other French companies, Hermès in particular. The two swap leathers regularly, with Hermès supplying all of the exotic skins that Weston uses. But Michel does not see Hermès as a competitor, despite its John Lobb line of shoes being comparable in quality and (almost) price. “We are not a luxury brand like them,” he says. “We are a small, dedicated family producer.”
It’s a producer that’s getting a little bigger, though. On August 1 Weston will open an entirely revamped store in London, on Jermyn Street. It will be bigger, better and more in line with the “home” philosophy of the company.
“When Weston started, back in the 1920s in Paris, it was a tiny shop on the first floor of a building in the 17th arondissement. There was one shoe in the window,” says Michel. “Customers would ring a bell, walk up and join a group of their peers to smoke, talk and place bets with each other. It was a very personal, homely atmosphere. We want to recreate something similar in London; though I’m not sure the smoking and betting will be possible.”
Weston is also launching a small collection of leather goods and a new line of shoes – the Eton. As with many non-English brands, Michel and Weston have a strong love of all things English, including English shoes and their style. Many Englishmen will find that strange. They should reconsider the wonders that emerge every day from that unfashionable English town, Northampton.
The Eton last is very JM Weston: smooth but not sharp, long but not pointed. In common with many French shoes, its aesthetic sits somewhere between the English and the Italian. Michel likens the smooth run of the upper, away from the laces and down towards the heel, to the curves of an aeroplane’s propeller.
The bags are pretty straightforward but include some nice functional details, such as easily accessible outer pockets that fasten with magnets. More appealing for me are the deliberate echoes of Weston’s sole tannery, with reinforced corners and feet all being made in the sole leather (and the corners mimicking the pale-honey colour). The same tough leather is used for details inside, too, such as around the zips of the interior pockets.
In a much subtler echo of the Weston shoes, the seams of the small leather goods are done in very tight stitches, the resulting beaded line an intended reminder of the welt stitching on a benchmade shoe. No turned edges on those leather products either – everything is cut and inked nicely.
There is no official imagery of the leather goods collection yet, but we will feature it here on The Rake as soon as it is available.
In the meantime, here’s wishing JM Weston luck with its expansion and new London store – any brand that connected to its own, traditional production is alright by us.