Have you ever wondered why a luxury dress sneaker could command a price tag of $739? To find out, I ventured from New York City to the world-renowned shoemaking capital of England: Northampton.
There, I had the privilege of meeting Chris Woodford, the managing director of Crown Northampton, who has given Crown the reputation of the best luxury sneaker brand on Earth.
As Chris delves into the intricate details of the materials and craftsmanship involved, you may find yourself convinced that the $739 price tag is a reasonable investment. (But hey, if you don’t go with this No. 8 cordovan leather, you could nab some for just $425.)
Join me as we dive into the fascinating world of Crown Northampton, where passion, quality, and meticulous attention to detail come together to create a truly exceptional sneaker experience.
“The sneakers are worth it because you can’t buy better at the price point we made them for,” says Chris. “I’ve designed them from knowledge. What’s the best leather I can buy for an upper? What’s the best lining I can buy? What’s the best sole I can buy? What’s the best way of putting those things together? And what’s the best way of making them cost effective?”
What’s the Process of Making the Sneaker?
Here is a the step-by-step journey undertaken by skilled artisans at Crown Northampton to bring their exquisite footwear to life:
- Making a last
- Pattern cutting
- Clicking Leather
- Lining Prep and Closing
- The Oak Bark Tanned Leather structure
- Lasting and Making
- Finishing and Boxing
Let’s break it down a little further.
Making a Last
“First of all, we start with a last,” says Chris. “That’s the mold of someone’s foot that we adapt, and we probably have had eleven different iterations of that one last to get a fit that we felt was suitable for the markets we want to sell in.”
A last is a three-dimensional form that serves as the foundation for the shoe’s shape. Skilled artisans at Crown Northampton carve the last to achieve the desired fit, ensuring optimum comfort and style. The last acts as a blueprint for subsequent stages, dictating the contours and dimensions of the final product.
Chris adds that the last also needs to fit the sole unit, but since he uses natural gum soles from Lactae Hevea, it’s very flexible and can adapt to slight adjustments in the last.
[Further reading: How Thursday Boot Company Designs Their Boots]
“Clicking is the next phase and that’s laying out the leathers, whether it would be the buffalo or Shell Cordovan, or a crocodile leather or whatever it is you’re using,” says Chris.
Clicking is the process of selecting the right pieces of the hide for the right pieces of the shoe: using stronger parts of the hide for areas of the shoe that experience more wear and tear, and avoiding defects or ensuring they’ll be hidden under stitching or what have you.
Then the process moves on to pattern cutting, which refers to a flat template made of paper or card that’s used as the key for cutting the separate pieces of a shoe (or garment). Crown Northampton’s craftsmen expertly trace and cut the selected pieces of the hide, paying careful attention to ensure precision and accuracy.
“Some of the patterns designed are quite unusual, quite big, which is not normal for pattern cutting,” says Chris. “But I do it in order to make the shoe as clean and simple as possible to highlight the materials. Because that’s the cost in the shoe: the materials.”
Here we should emphasize that these are sneakers made from cordovan, the most highly prized leather on Earth. Known for its durability, natural shine, and resistance to creasing and aging, cordovan can only be made from the base of a horse’s tail and the product Crown uses comes from Chicago’s Horween Leather Company, who are world renowned as the most skilled makers of the stuff. Each piece of cordovan takes a minimum of six months to produce!
“Horween is the best tannery in the world, the best tannery for making cordovan,” says Chris. “Very, very cool leather. Very difficult to work with.”
Leather lining is a hallmark of luxury footwear, and Crown Northampton spares no expense.
“We use a really nice veg tan lining,” says Chris. “The only other people that use this leather that I know of are really high end bag makers.”
The shoemakers attach supple leather linings to the inner surfaces of the sneaker. This step enhances the aesthetic appeal, helps to manage moisture, and also ensures a smooth and comfortable fit against the wearer’s foot.
[Further Reading: The 10 Best Leather Sneakers for Men]
Prep and Closing
In the prep and closing stage, the various components of the sneaker start to come together. Leatherworkers assemble the cut pieces, paying close attention to detail and ensuring a precise fit. Using specialized stitching techniques, they join the upper sections, linings, and other necessary elements, taking great care to maintain the shoe’s structural integrity while maintaining an extremely minimalist approach to the design.
The Oak Bark Tanned Leather Structure
“With the quarter of all the hand stitched sneakers, we use oak bark tanned leather,” said Chris. “It takes about a year and a half for it to be tanned from English calf.”
Many shoemakers use celastic or plastic to help the shoe keep its structure, but Crown likes to emphasize natural materials wherever possible, as long as it’s superior to something artificial — and oak bark tanned leather is.
“The belly of the animal is used because it’s got less dense properties,” Chris explains. “We soak it and wet it and it molds the shape of the shoe and it creates a really firm finish when it’s dry. It’s really unusual. It also isn’t plastic which is quite good for the environment — but it should last forever.”
Lasting and Making
Lasting and making is the transformative stage where the sneaker takes its final shape.
Stretching the shoe over its last needs a surprising level of skill: the craftsperson needs to ensure the leather doesn’t bunch or wrinkle while making sure it maintains its integrity and above all produces a perfect fit for the last. It’s a seamless integration of the different components, resulting in a distinctive and flawless sneaker.
It’s also a serious workout. We tried it in Guatemala, and that was when the workers’ phenomenally meaty forearms finally made sense.
This is also the step where the cork filling is molded into place beneath the leather insole. Leather insole and cork filling are components usually only ever seen on higher level dress shoes and boots, and it’s another element that separates Crown from other sneakers. They help to improve the fit over time as the leather and cork molds to the shape of the foot as heat and friction is applied from wear. They also help to manage odor and moisture, making for a shoe with more longevity.
Finishing and Boxing
The finishing process is always more intense than you might think. It sounds like the job is practically already done, but it’s where the edges are refined, the leather is buffed, and rigorous quality control is administered.
Then the sneakers are carefully boxed, ready to embark on its journey to the discerning wearer.
View this post on Instagram
Why Make a Dress Sneaker?
The design process began with a focus on personal preference rather than fitting into a specific category of shoe.
“I didn’t intentionally make a dress sneaker,” says Chris. “I design stuff that I like. I make stuff, people then see it, and go ‘oh, that’s kind of in between a dress shoe and a sneaker’ and I was like ‘I suppose it is.’ It’s the same materials as a dress shoe, but I’m making a sneaker.”
By utilizing the same high-quality materials traditionally found in dress shoes while crafting sneakers, a hybrid product was born.
The approach at Crown Northampton is centered on crafting products that resonate with their own tastes and those of their staff. Their aim is to create something unique, challenging, and difficult to replicate. The intricacy of the manufacturing process becomes a safeguard against imitation and competition.
It’s just too hard to make these sneakers. That keeps him at the top of his niche without worrying too much about competition.
As we conclude our exploration into the realm of luxury dress sneakers with Crown Northampton, we are left with a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship and dedication that goes into creating each pair.
So, why would anyone spend $739 on a luxury dress sneaker? The answer lies in the unparalleled experience that Crown Northampton delivers. Each step of the process, from the shaping of the last to the finishing touches, showcases the brand’s dedication to creating a remarkable product that exceeds all expectations.
Latest posts by Veljko Vesic (see all)
- How Tricker’s Makes Britain’s Best Boots (Factory Visit) - September 19, 2023
- How to Keep Your Leather Boots From Cracking and Drying Out - September 15, 2023
- The Ultimate Guide: Are Duck Boots Good for Snow? - September 13, 2023