What is the Anatomy of a Shoe? 4 Stunning Examples
When you look at a shoe, you see a shoe. As in, the whole shoe.
But is not the whole no more than the sum of its parts?
And what are the parts of a shoe???
No easy answer to that. I went to the Beckett Simonon shoe workshop where the leatherworkers start each shoe by carefully cutting the shapes from templates. I asked to see the pieces for four different shoes (to share them with you). Each was unique.
But, before chapter one, there is the prologue. Where did those templates come from in the first place?
The creative process, to transform a shoe from imagination to reality, needs the ability to take a 3D idea and deconstruct it into 2D shapes.
You can see our designer, Giovanni, above, sketching the design for an Oxford Wingtip shoe onto a last (a foot-shaped mold). He then carefully takes apart the drawing, lays it out flat, and traces it onto cardboard.
Of course he needs to take into consideration that the pieces will overlap to be sewn together. His studies, along with experience working in all aspects of shoemaking, come into play.
He then cuts out the cardboard pieces to take to his workshop next door to make into metal guide pieces.
He passes these to the leather cutters, for the start of the shoemaking process. (If the shoe gets the go-ahead, Giovanni can size the shapes up and down on his computer!)
On the leather cutting table, the artisans carefully select the part of the hide, place the guides on top, and take a scalpel around the shape.
Each type of shoe has its own challenges, whether in this cutting stage, or in the assembly.
I asked to see a range of shapes for the shoes that the leatherworkers were cutting. I chose a selection to show you: two (quite different) shoes, a boot, and one sneaker.
(Click on the images to see the Beckett Simonon range of each type)
Shoes with closed lacing (e.g. Oxfords) are considered more formal than those with open lacing (e.g. Derbies).
Oxfords were popularized in Oxford University, in the 19th Century, but Captoe Oxfords are often called Balmorals because of their earlier origins on the royal family’s Balmoral estate in Scotland.
The Durant upper has five pieces. Each piece has a name:
The toe-cap and the heel-cap
The vamp (the piece which wraps around the two sides and the front)
The facings (the two pieces are where you lace the shoe up)
The Durants are what are known as quarter-brogues (as there is no broguing on the toe-cap).
The leather is brogued by hand in the Beckett Simonon atelier - the holes are cut with a stamp and a hammer. The artisans stitch top and bottom of the broguing, which means this shoe has a lot of stitching.
If the Oxford Brogue is a jigsaw puzzle, then the Wholecut would be an origami challenge.
The Valencia Wholecut upper is just one single cut of leather. Our leatherworkers carefully select the best part of the leather hide, and then slice out the piece using the guide shape.
Sewing the pieces together might be a lot less work, but here the challenges are selecting a perfect section of the hide, and molding this single flat piece to the shape of the foot.
The hides needed are rare. The leather cutter has to find leather which is free of marks and blemishes, with a texture which is consistent across the entire piece.
They take an extra-long time on the last to hold their shape - around three whole days.
They are sought-after shoes because they look smart with a business suit or dress occasions. With no stitching to get in the way, wholecut shoes polish and show off the shine better than other styles of dress shoes.
These are not the only wholecut shoes I saw in the workshop - the loafers are also made from one large piece of leather, and there is a wholecut sneaker we recently started producing, called the Gellers.
These sneakers are intricate both to cut out and to sew. Only two guys cut all the leather - Santiago and Hector. Appropriately for running shoes, these guys are also the fastest cutters in the workshop, from what I’ve seen.
They cut some of these pieces from full-grain leather, and some from suede. I couldn’t believe the speed and accuracy they cut out these tricky pieces.
Passing it on to Juan and Juan, these guys again need experience, skill, and dexterity to assemble these trainers.
The Morgen Classic is one of the most traditional sneaker styles - the German Army Trainer, or GAT. Originally they were created to military specs for a grueling workout regime. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, thousands of pairs entered army surplus stores.
A crisp white leather upper and contrasting rubber sole looked great, and proved to be durable.
The GAT became loved across the globe - a template to be reinterpreted. And Beckett Simonon has done just that, with variations of colors and materials.
Jodhpur boots originated in India in the late 1800s. They were developed for polo players, to wear with Jodhpur trousers, which are baggy at the thigh and tight-fitting over the calf. These then always go over these close-fitting, ankle-high, Jodhpur boots. The boots are sturdy but give added flexibility, needed for the horseback sport.
These short, riding-boots are tricky to make. There are two main pieces to the Jodhpur - the vamp, at the front, and the quarter. These are large and need concentration and skill to cut them out accurately.
The strap is in two parts, each attached to the vamp. The pure brass buckle is always designed to be on the outside of the boot (the inner-side has to be smooth, because this would have been up against the horse).
The far right piece on the illustration is the back part of the boot. It is stitched to form a loop, through which the two straps pass.
Traditionally the Jodhpur boot ties with a strap - however, Queen Victoria reputedly substituted the straps with elastic sides. This branch of Jodhpurs became known as the Chelsea Boot.
The Other Parts
And there’s more to it than that!
You might have spotted that I missed out the tongue - well, to be honest, it wouldn’t fit into our wonderful artist’s sketches. But, Durants, Valencias, and Morgens do have tongues...
Then there is the lining. That’s a huge part of the upper. All these shoes have a leather lining. It is similarly cut out by hand from soft, vachetta leather and stitched together.
The Morgens have an extra touch of difficulty. Being sneakers, these have an elastic strap which the shoemakers sew to the tongue, lining and upper! This gives more flexibility for a sports shoe.
The soles - there’s another topic right there. The inner-sole, mid-sole, outer-sole... Let’s just say, all these shoes have soles (and they are also cut out from leather, or molded from rubber for the sneakers).
The cotton laces are always the last pieces which complete the picture. They tie it all together.
And Then it’s a Whole
So next time you take out a pair of shoes, look carefully at the handiwork. You will start to recognize the range of pieces needed to make your footwear.
If they are handmade, like the Beckett Simonon shoes, take a moment to think about the work and skill that has gone into devising and creating what you have in your hand.
Different shoe designs have different feels when you wear them, they age differently, and they have their own look. Little changes to the cuts make big differences to the results.
Why not have a look through our catalog and try and imagine all the different shapes which make up the shoes I haven’t mentioned. There are many. If you have any questions about them, leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming posts.
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