We’re of the belief that if our feet feel good, then so will the rest of us. We give our feet hell. And in turn our feet give our shoes hell too. That’s why we look only for the best. Our favourites right now are a pair of cool loafers from Harrys of London. While they were in Kuwait for the opening of their first ever store outside London, we caught up with the company’s Creative Director Kevin Martel, and their CEO Giuseppe Bonfiglio. Between them they are, pretty much, what Harrys of London is all about.
We must confess to being somewhat ‘shoe-snobs’. We like leather. Uppers and soles. Who would make anything other than a Wellington boot or a running shoe out of anything else? Well, actually, a lot of top footwear brands are doing it - Harrys of London included.
‘Vibram’ is the buzz-word amongst cobblers these days. We really don’t like to think that there’s more ‘technology’ than ‘craftsmanship’ that goes into the shoes we wear, but with Harrys of London it seems we’re prepared to make an exception.
The absence of a leather sole makes sense when it is replaced with a ‘rubber’ sole of the quality and exclusivity that combine with the signature ‘Windsurf’ outsoles designed exclusively for Harrys.
Kevin is responsible for the design concept throughout Harrys of London - not only the footwear but also the stores. He nods towards Giuseppe and laughs as he says “and he’s the man who has to pay for my psychosis”.
At Harrys it’s all about the detail. And there’s no doubt that this ethos has contributed to the businesses quiet but steady growth throughout recent years. Bucking all economic trends Harrys of London have embarked on a measured expansion program of which Kuwait is just the first of five new international stores planned to open.
As Kevin explained, “We opened our store in London on the day (in 2008) that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy”. Given that the brand’s core business in London comes from well-heeled (pardon the pun) banking and investment types, this ironic coincidence didn’t bode well for their success.
As time has passed, rather than sit tight whilst the world puts its economic house back into order, Kevin and Giuseppe (who joined in 2009) have purely concentrated on getting their own product right. And they’ve done it with matchless aplomb.
“We’ve come out of this pretty fine”, Kevin says. “We were a small company and we ran things very tightly, so we were well placed despite all that was going on and watched some very big luxury names come close to the edge of extinction”.
Harrys of London is part of the Richemont Group. Their brothers and sisters in the Group include the likes of Cartier, Vacheron -Constantin, and Van Cleef & Arpels. We wonder if perhaps this isn’t necessarily a good thing for a relatively small and remarkably niche brand as Harrys to be in such company.
Neither Kevin nor Giuseppe agree.
“We absolutely are able to still be Harrys”, they say, “and with the added advantage that we have access to the same advisors who work with the world’s most successful luxury brands”.
From there, Harrys of London have found themselves part of, for want of a better description, a mentoring program which benefits smaller companies Richemont have invested in. All good for Kevin, Giuseppe, and of course ultimately us as Harrys of London customers.
They don’t have the same level of attention from Richemont that Cartier or Dunhill do; indeed were they to have it would ultimately crush them. As Giuseppe explained, “Everything on a business management level is up to par with the biggest companies in the Richemont stable, but on a creative level we are able to respond in the way any smaller company with a dynamic designer could ever hope to”.
One obvious question that needs addressing is why Kuwait for their first international store? They explain it simply; this is where their clientele demanded they open a store.
By nature of being in the centre of London their Mayfair store is incredibly international. Around 50% of their clients in the London store are from the GCC. Their approach from a Kuwaiti investor, who ultimately became their partner, came at the right time - just as they were considering international expansion.
They’ve brought their understated shoes to Kuwait’s 360 Mall. Understated because they eschew the current vogue for visible (and sometimes overbearingly vulgar) logos and labels. Instead Harrys of London have adopted softer approach - their iconic heron is embossed on the sole. If you see the dusty imprint of a heron on the streets of Kuwait you’ll know a Harrys of London customer has quietly passed you by.
In the store you’ll find boots, brogues, flip-flops and of course loafers. Fine leathers (for the uppers) are sourced from tanneries in England, France and Italy exclusively for their suppleness and quality.
Italian calfskin is selected for the difference this will make to the comfort and longevity of a handcrafted shoe.
And then there are the soles. Vibram, Technogel, as well as a heavier grade of dress rubber for their more traditionally styled shoes. But we don’t want to give you too much technology either.
Harrys of London’s shoes a reassuringly handmade, and in limited quantities. The ultimate is perhaps their bespoke service which they’ll be introducing to Kuwait presently.
A final word from Kevin cements their commitment to quality without limits, “We don’t compromise. We’re sourcing the finest materials; be they from British Millerain, a mill that’s been in business for more than one-hundred years, or alligator-skin that’s coming from Louisiana and being tanned in Italy that costs us twenty-five euros per square centimetre. Everything we do just has to be the best”.
Even the floor of their store at 360 Mall was flown in especially from London. It’s nearly one-hundred years old itself. Older than Kuwait itself. How’s that for attention to detail?
First Published in Men's Passion Issue #26 November 2010