The Old Pocklingtonian Old Pocklingtonian 2017-18 - Page 9

FEATURES IN THE SPOTLIGHT OLD SOLE LOUIS STANDS UP FOR SHOEMAKING If contemporaries of Louis Smith (99-10) had been asked which career path he would follow, it’s a fair bet “traditional shoemaker” would not have featured in their predictions. The rugby, cricket and watersports fan insists he hadn’t the slightest interest in art or design while at school - and when he left it was to read Business and Economics at university. Roll on eight years and Louis, 26, is proprietor of an exquisitely tasteful shoes and menswear boutique in the cobbled maze of York city centre streets. Old Sole has a gentleman’s club feel, with shelves of high- end shirts, shoes and accessories; even a decanter of whisky on hand beside beautiful leather armchairs. And in the corner, Louis’ shoemaking tools. So how did the former scuba diving instructor become one of the country’s few bespoke shoemakers, whose carefully crafted shoes take six months to make and attract commissions from across the country? “Most people are shocked when they find out about what I’m doing as I showed no interest in this sort of thing at Pock,” he says. “I was always interested in my own style, with shoes my favourite part of an outfit – but nobody, myself included, would have had me down as a shoemaker.” Finding someone to take him on from the dwindling pool of traditional shoemakers was tough. Louis’s Europe-wide search took him to Florence, where within 30 minutes of meeting renowned custom shoemaker Roberto Ugolini, he had committed to daily Italian classes and a four-year apprenticeship. Louis lasted two months at Sheffield Hallam University before realising it wasn’t for him. A spell in Australia and the Philippines training, and then working, as a scuba diver followed, before he returned to the UK to plot a career. “I spent the first year watching Roberto and his colleague, Robertino, in their workshop, asking questions, practising on scrap pieces of leather and helping with shoe fittings,” he says. “It was quite frustrating but watching is the best way to learn and the leather is so beautiful that making mistakes is expensive!” After buying a pair of shoes from trendy shoe designer Justin Deakin in London, he noticed the business was advertising for an apprentice and got himself the job. “I got more and more interested in how shoes were made. And the more I discovered, the more fascinating I found it,” he says. Louis enrolled on an intensive shoemaking course in London and was thrilled to emerge with his own pair of self-made leather shoes: black with purple laces. “I didn’t take them off for ages… I realised that’s what real shoes are,” he says. “For the first time in my life I could seriously see myself doing this as a career.” Towards the end of the year, Louis was trusted enough to make a couple of pairs of shoes for himself. Then, under the watchful eye of Roberto, he gradually became skilled in the craft of shoe-making. “There are about 200 individual processes which go into making each shoe and I had to run each step by Roberto before he was happy. Towards the end of the second year he let me make my first pair for a customer from start to finish, which was amazing,” says Louis. “To completely make and stitch a pair of bespoke shoes by hand gives a certain feeling of deep satisfaction and pleasure. From making my first pair, I just wanted to experience it again.” After four years, every shoemaker’s dream of creating a product with their own name on started to grow in Louis. At the same time, many of his tight-knit band of OP friends were moving back to the area. When his mum, who owns the Giselle Ladieswear boutique in York, discovered the shop next door was coming up for rent, Louis made his move and Old Sole opened in December 2016. It has taken him months to find suppliers in the UK, but now Louis’ bespoke shoemaking part of the business is really taking off. Prices start at £1,300 a pair and although Louis’ friends haven’t yet been in a position to commission them, he thinks it’s only a matter of time. “A handmade shoe fits better than any other, plus you get to design it yourself - from the style to the leather and its colour,” Louis says. “Business is going really well. I’ve had orders from all over Yorkshire as well as London. My only problem is making them fast enough!” 9