From Boots to Loafers: This English Shoe Model Is Making Work Footwear as Enjoyable as Sneakers

For the past two decades, Harrys London has focused primarily on comfort-centric city shoes: black Oxfords and smart loafers with technical insoles and sleekly integrated rubber sole units. This season sees the arrival of a new, design-driven collection that’s mature, serious, and sophisticated. Sleek satin calf is joined by matte deerskin and midnight navy suede. A tightly curated offering of seven leathers spans elevated sneakers, classic Oxfords, Chelseas and even hiking boots.

English shoes have the reputation for being chunky, heavy and built like tanks. The original Harrys offer was sweet relief to Londoners: professional shoes that wore like sneakers, making heading to work feel like setting foot on a basketball court. Now the brand is playing with the chunky shapes and visual weight of classic English lasts while continuing to innovate under the classic uppers, using lightweight Vibram soles to create more substantial shoes that lean into the design history of English city shoes (and their country cousins, the hiking boot) while still prioritizing comfort.

The new Cliff deerskin boots and Finch trainers from Harrys London.

It’s the first collection under the brand’s recently appointed creative director, Graeme Fidler. What he’s trying to achieve are shoes that have practicality, informed by a sense of patience, sincerity and slow evolution in design. The essence of the original Harrys loafer is still here, but now the brand is presenting a more unified, refined point of view: not apologizing for the size and shape of English shoes, or trying to make them into Italian loafers, but drawing on the technology of sports and outdoor shoes to make strong visuals with an easy-going ride.

Fidler, a graduate of Northumbria University, trained as a designer in the north-east of England, and still has the easy going, down-to-earth manner the region is known for. He cut his teeth at Ralph Lauren in New York, designing for the nascent RLX sub-brand and working on the Aspen Ski School collab with legendary executive Read Worth. “We would sit and chat for hours,” Fidler recalls, “and I’d wonder how he had the time.” But he came to understand that this was essential to the method: patient, slow design that prioritized treating people well. “[Worth] knew if he cared about the person then the product would be taken care of.” Fidler developed his own slow design philosophy at British heritage brand Aquascutum, and then Swiss label Bally, before coming to Harrys. In each case, he says, his role was to get from idea to product, inspiration to substance.

The Warren trainers are cut from Acqua suede, a material impregnated with water-repellant to stand up to rain and puddles.

The Warren trainers are cut from Acqua suede, a material impregnated with water-repellant to stand up to rain and puddles.

Harrys London

The key is to embrace practicality and change, not to let tradition become constraint. “We’re proud of technology, proud of innovation, providing something that’s suitable for every day in life.” The brand’s acqua suede is impregnated with water repellant throughout the hide, rather than merely coated with a proofing spray. On a recent wet day in London, Fidler says, a colleague said it looked like the suede got drenched but his feet stayed totally dry. The Evans, a classic black derby, is made up with the brand’s proprietary Technogel insole and a custom Vibram sole unit. “Vibram is a really good partner for us,” Fidler says, citing the Italian rubber sole specialist credited with inventing the first rubber lug soles. You can find the soles on everything from construction boots to the glove-style, barefoot experience FiveFingers shoe. The most outdoorsy of the new models, the Eccles boot, has the heft to work as a mountain climber, with a chunky rubber Vibram sole and substantial ankle support, but is finished in soft Acqua suede. Another boot, the handsome Cliff model, combines serious engineering with soft, textured deerskin for a go anywhere, do anything boot that’s formal enough for the office but wouldn’t blanch at a walk in the woods.

The core collection, Fidler says, is “subtle and hard-working loafers and lace ups, in concrete gray and chocolate brown to match tailoring and denim. … But I’m no longer imagining it as only city. I wanted to open up the offer.” Rather than making soft shoes, these days Harrys is imagining tough models and softening them: work boots in buttery deerskin, trainers with merino uppers, suede chukkas with a gum sole rather than a clunky double welt, Oxfords with gel insoles. The Thomas trainer is another example. “We’ve filled it with Primaloft and removed the foam, it’s responsible design, and the nappa leather is so soft, it’s almost like a kid glove.”

From left to right, Harrys London's Leon loafer, Evans derby and Maddox Chelsea boots.

From left to right, Harrys London’s Leon loafer, Evans derby and Maddox Chelsea boots.

Harrys London

Beyond design work, Fidler is now back at his alma mater as a design professor. “When I talk with students, I always try to present the product being sold in Dover Street Market, or a New York department store. The challenge is to imagine that they’ve created the product even though it’s barely out of their sketchbook. … I always say: imagine when it’s on the catwalk, imagine how it looks on the rail.” His message to the next generation of designers is the same he’s championed: find a path from idea to substance, slowly and purposefully.

Source: Robb Report

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