Over 3 years ago, I visited Justin FitzPatrick at Gieves & Hawkes in London. Back then he was polishing shoes and working on the designs for shoes he wanted to produce, though from my own experience I know it takes time to actually launch a brand.
Justin wanted to get things right from the beginning and so it took him a couple of years, because the first J.FitzPatrick shoes became available for sale via his blog and Gives & Hawkes. Ever since March 2014, he sells his shoes online via his website, at Timothy Everest in London, Leatherfoot in Toronto and at select trunk shows around the globe. Today, I am going to review a pair of J. FitzPatrick shoes, which were provided to me by Justin.
J. FitzPatrick Shoe Review
Although the shoes are made in Spain, designed by an American living in England who learned a lot about shoemaking at Stefano Bemer in Italy, J. FitzPatrick shoes have a bit of an avant-garde flair traditionally only found in French shoes. Obviously, in a globalized world new styles evolve and defining geographical hallmarks are no longer valid but to me French is what I thought, when I saw his shoes for the first time.
Of course, he also carries the black captoe oxford or dark brown suede shoe on more conservative lasts but if you want this kind shoe, you can get them basically anywhere. As a small company it is important to differentiate yourself from others, and Justin is doing that by using refined, elegant lasts paired with unusual upper designs and leather colors or material mixes. For example, the Stefano model is not only part of his shoe snob logo but it also combines the name of the late Mr. Bemer and the saddle design that is traditionally associated with American shoes but his design is much more streamlined and comes in red and black. If I had to sum up the shoes of Justin in one sentence, I would say:”Classically inspired, traditionally crafted with an avant-garde twist”.
The Wallingford Spectator Shoe
The shoe I received from Justin in the mail is the Wallingford two-tone spectator in the currently unavailable combination of navy blue calf leather with grey suede. While, this is definitely not one of the first three pairs of shoes you should buy, it was ideal for me because I have all the basics and an unusual style of color is always welcome. It was my first pair of navy shoes, and I must say, it goes really well with navy blue suits in solids, or light pinstripes and windowpanes. I don’t like it so much with grey or charcoal suits and I also don’t think it works all to well with tweed or corduroy but with blue suits it looks very stylish indeed.
Last & Fit
The last is a bit more pointy and elongated than what I usually have but I like the variety in a shoe closet. The fit is exceptionally good for an off the rack shoe and it is really a joy to wear this shoe. The heel is a little slimmer than most RTW shoes, which is excellent for my feet and the geometry and heel height is perfect – just like on a bespoke shoe. Justin told me that he had extensive consulting sessions with Tony and Dean from Gaziano & Girling, which helped him tremendously to get the fit where he wanted it to be. Compared to Alfred Sargent, the midsection of the shoe is a bit wider, and it has about the same width as the Crockett & Jones Handgrade collection.
The one thing that I somewhat dislike about the fit is that fact that the uppers reach up rather far on the outside of the ankle so when I walk in the shoes for a while, the edges rubs against my socks and skins. Usually, I only have this problem with about 20% of the shoes I try on, so if you have low ankles and know the feeling, I suggest to talk to Justin before you buy.
In terms of sizing, the J. FitzPatrick shoe UK 10, fits as well as a UK 10.5 in Alfred Sargent and UK 9.5 in a Crockett & Jones Chadwick. As can see from the deviations, shoe sizes are really different from company to company but also from last to last. As such, I would always suggest you know the size, model and last of the shoes you already own, so Justin can make recommendations for you to get the perfect size the first time.
The heel of the shoe is built of leather and perfectly constructed. The goodyear machine-welted shoe features a channeled sole, that is painted black. The stitch density of the double welt is lower than on Crockett & Jones Handgrade or Alfred Sargent, but considering the bonding qualities of modern glues, the welts are more of sentimental value anyways. The broguing on the uppers is decent and en par with what you get in this price category. Interestingly, the tongue of the shoe is attached on the inside, so it doesn’t move around even after a long day. Little details like this show that Justin really thought about everything from start to finish.
After about wearing the shoes for the fifth time, I noticed that a metal rivot on the inside had come lose. While that is not a big deal, I think that’s something that could be improved, but possibly it was just a one-off problem with my shoe.
The stitching is mostly neat and symmetrical all around and you can only see deviations upon closer inspection with a trained eye. Most people would never notice that. If you look very carefully at the medallion, you can see that the upper on the left shoe was not perfectly aligned. However, Justin told me about this defect when he sent me the shoes, because he personally inspects and polishes every pair before he sends it out to customers. This kind of service and quality control are highly unusual. The right shoe had a few ripples on the leather heel but Justin would have never sent our this shoe to a customer, it was just because he sent out that shoe for review. Overall, I think the workmanship is good for this price range of $500 – $560.
Both leathers are aniline dyed and seem to be chrome tanned. It is a bit softer than the leathers you usually see from English shoemakers and so far it seems great. Time will tell how well it ages, but at this point I have no concerns. Since both leathers are solid, there is no patina. On the other hand, if you were to order a pair of brown shoes from J FitzPatrick, you would be able to enjoy the patina skills Justin refined and perfected over the years while working at Gieves & Hawkes. The leather lining comes in a natural color and seems to be the standard you find in quality men’s footwear. Both Crockett & Jones and Alfred Sargent look a bit better and cleaner from the inside but at the end of the day, the inside looks of shoes is not really important.
A big plus is that all your shoes are hand polished by Justin himself before they are sent off. I hope for his sake that he will soon not be able to do that anymore because he outgrew this stage, but at this point in time, it is a nice personal touch.
One of the first things I noticed when I put on the shoe was the quality of the shoes laces. The first time I put them on, and wanted to tie them up, the laces snapped. I tried to do the same with the other shoe and the laces snapped again. Luckily J. Fitzpatrick provided substitute laces in the box, so I tried those. First shoe, same thing. So now, I looked on the inside, because I assumed that a sharp edge of a metal rivot on the back of the lace hole was cutting the lace when I was pulling, but that didn’t seem to be the case. So, I simply pulled on one of the shoelaces, and they snapped right away. So, I pulled out some Fort Belvedere Shoelaces in grey, and they worked just fine. At this point, I knew the laces were bad, and when I told Justin, he told me that he was aware of the problem and that he was working on the problem. So by now I hope all is well.
Overall, J.FitzPatrick shoes are the product of a shoe lover who spent years on perfecting his products. Considering all the new shoe companies that are popping up, such as Paul Evans, who in my opinion offer inferior products with less refined lasts but a focus on marketing, Justin offers a product of quality that he designed, tested and refined many times, before he offered it to his customers. I really appreciate that because it’s something that drives myself and it also took me years until Fort Belvedere was up and running.
The shoe I received was from the first batch he made, and all creators know that no matter how much you plan and prepare, your first product is never going to be the best one. But people with passion constantly try to improve their product and are never satisfied with the status quo. 4 out of 5.