Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Trad-Ivy Tuesday: Cleverley Bespoke and Customers for Life

I’ve been threatening to write something a bit more than a tease regarding my George Cleverly bespoke foray but life kept getting in the way. The Cleverley subject hasn't been the only casualty. I’ve not had the time to write much of anything in a thoughtful way. Let’s see what this little window of drivel scrivening time might yield.
Becoming caught-up in the tentacles of bespoke circumstance is a deadly thing. Perhaps not as deadly as addiction to narcotics or other lifespan minimizing endeavors but none the less, it’s tricky. “Ok ADG, stop the florid verbosity and declare what you mean”. This is what I mean—once you have clothing, or perhaps anything else for that matter, made exclusively for you…from start to finish…from a pattern or set of design specs contrived by and collaboratively evolved between you and the artisan, it’s hard to turn back. And no, it won’t kill you as quick as crystal meth but unless you are wildly prosperous, it wreaks havoc on one’s bank account. This I know first-hand.
And I’d always eschewed bespoke shoes. I had/have a bevy of thirty-plus year old either Poulsen and Skone/New and Lingwood or Henry Maxwell bespoken shoes, courtesy of my friend Alan Flusser. Alan knew George Cleverly personally and at least one of my hand-me-down Flusser shoddings were touched by the man himself. I'm also as you know, a sucker for the back story and I've loved hearing Alan tell the story of getting to know Terence Stamp who was also a devotee of the man Cleverley.
I’ve always been thankful for having a similarly sized foot as Alan as well as having the privilege of feeling-seeing-knowing the difference between a truly bespoke shoe in contrast to the declining in most cases, quality of today’s shoes. But in the twelve or so years since receiving my first bespoke hand me downs, I never took the bespoken plunge. Until April 2011.
Suffice it to say that a basic rule of thumb regarding the cost of one pair of bespoke shoes is roughly equal to the cost of one bespoke sport jacket from the best Savile Row tailors. This excludes exotic leathers like alligator or some other reptilian option. You’d probably need to throw another one thousand pounds on the tariff for such bizarre sheathings. 
How do I know? Please—I went straight to the fuzziest of fuzzy offerings during my first survey. But my perusal of the exotics was brief. Even though the costs for this endeavor were gonna be stunning on any account, I practiced a flimsy level of restraint. And for some reason, it’s important to me that you know how I budgeted for this undertaking. I sold two pieces of furniture to accumulate the dosh required to play at this level—I kid you not. Leather chairs languishing in storage since my marital demise became shoe currency. Shut up.
Rationalization becomes a skilled craft…evolving almost in tandem with the growing appreciation one develops for the skilled craft of bespoke. Or the better eye that one evolves after looking at etchings and watercolours for a few decades.  This is just code for you’re gonna spend more money moving forward—or in my case, spending the same amount of money during those times when, than goodness it was temporary, your ass is moving backward at warp speed. And you don’t even need to refine your verbiage to vocalize such rationalizations. It’s long since been done for you by the purveyors of such goods. “The most expensive clothing in your closet is the clothing you never wear” … “Prorate the cost of such goods against the number of years they remain in service….” Yadda yadda. Works for me.  The same strategy has never worked for me however, when it comes to the amount of money I’ve spent on the hedonistic financing of whiskey, women and epicurean endeavors but what the hell. Thanks be to the Lord our Father that I’ve never been very good at cards or seduced by betting on the ponies. 
So my maiden Cleverley foray was fun but in a nervous and tentative way. I’m no stranger to artisans with measuring tapes around their necks with pattern books and chalk at hand. The shoe thing made me nervous…but not for too long. Dominic Casey, Cleverley’s Washington man is a great guy. With a head of swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean hair and an affable demeanor, Casey possesses the patience and diplomacy required of artisans who travel to the colonies and must tolerate tacky Yanks who want their goods.
Legacy Cleverley, at least to me, is manifest in two things…the curiously unique chiseled toe as well as the fact that George Cleverley turned out some of the best side gusset slip-ons ever created. So I wanted my first and perhaps only pair of bespoke shoes to reflect that heritage. But what about fuzzy? Well, the toe and the side gusset slip on characteristics in tandem are fuzzy enough, right? Wrong. Who the hell’s blog are you reading? I selected what Dominic called Conker Cape Buck suede. It's redder than most suedes and it’s just different enough for one to notice. And of course I wanted the Cleverley toe.
The first fitting wasn’t unlike the baste or first fitting when bespeaking a suit. But it’s kinda odd to slip on a pair of shoes with no sole…more so than when standing before the mirror in a basted coat while tailors nip and pin and mark and take notes. Some of the same occurs during the first shoe fitting but the Cleverley artisans do a lot more tactile assessing at this point.
I took notice of a lot more explaining about fit and feel that’s important for first-timers to understand. It wasn’t all too different from the extended lecture that Puerto Rykken had to give me when the Scholte-esque drape of my maiden Flusser garment confused me. Bespoke shoes hug your feet uniquely and all of us who’ve worn our “comfortable” off the shelf size will surely need some help in understanding how bespoke shoes should feel.
The trial fit concluded and I was promised the finished shoe in another few months. One of the other delightfully serendipitous things about making shoes is that it takes longer than making clothes so the second half of the balance due gets to languish in your account a bit longer. Told you I could rationalize anything.

The phone rang about a week before the shoes arrived and it was Dominic. He let me know that he was sending my shoes but that sometime during the final assemblage a very small line of ink, rather like a graphite pencil mark, had made its way on to one of the shoes. He immediately said that he would remake the shoes if the blemish was a huge issue. He also offered the option of reducing the price of the shoes if the mark was not too off putting. I requested that he send them on.
 The mark was present but had Dominic not been so transparent about it…so proactive in letting me know of its presence, I probably would have never noticed it. And please, it’s the kind of mark that suede shoe wearers know is gonna be on your new shoes after the second wearing anyway. But then there was another issue. They seemed a tad too tight…not deal breaking too tight but keep in mind; these aren’t shoes that I bought at the Polo outlet for 60% off. I sold furniture to finance these babies so one shouldn’t have to live with anything that isn’t just right.
One email exchange with Dominic and they, without my suggesting it, declared that they’d have none of it and would remake the shoe entirely, allowing for just a slight adjustment at the instep and of course, being more careful not to blemish the suede during the clicking and the stitching and the lasting. Perhaps it’s the pervasive bad service and mediocre quality that we’re forced to live with that caused me to be over the top gratified. But Cleverley is in a unique business and first time customers need to be happy. And so far, I was beyond impressed. I kept the original pair with the understanding that when Cleverley was back in Washington, I'd just drop the blemished pair off during their visit.
But then…this arrived. I was gut punched. Poleaxed. A replacement for sure. Slightly roomier too. But remember, the fit wasn’t too much of an issue. It was Cleverley who decided on the fact that the two minor issues for a first time customer just wouldn’t do. The thoughtful replacement wasn’t my shoe. It wasn’t what I ordered. 
Part of the thrill of bespeaking things is to add touches that truly differentiate them from the masses. And the British Racing Green leather interior was a crucial adjunct to my already unique choice of Conker Cape and unique toe. Kinda like that discreet tattoo or shirt tail monogram. Or nipple ring. The replacement shoe looked identical to what Cleverley ready-made or Edward Green special order goods convey. But at triple the price and no nipple ring. I needed my green interior.

What to do? I emailed three trusted experts and the feedback was consistent. “This isn’t what you ordered and you shouldn’t have to live with it.” The subsequent email that I sent to Cleverley was diplomatic and detailed—with photos to support my concerns.
My phone rang late one afternoon not too many days later and it was George Glasgow, Sr., current head man and one time acolyte--protégé of the man Cleverley himself. He wasn’t obsequious but he was incredibly transparent and energetically apologetic. It was obvious that he was calling from home, given that it was pushing ten pm England time.They had no answer regarding how their originally sublime and over the top customer obsession had gone so wrong. This is truly a cottage industry and there isn’t a team of Process Excellence/Six Sigma blokes walking around these joints with clip boards, flowcharts and stop watches. Stuff happens. And if I said it once during our twenty minute phone call, I said it a hundred times..."Don't be mad at Dominic...don't be mad at Dominic". Folks, my sense was that these people had been trying to do the right thing from the beginning and that FUBAR-ed things from time to time, kinda like ghosts and aliens and me getting lucky with Roxanne Burgess...happen.
What Mr. Glasgow was emphatic about was my happiness. And by the way, consistent with how I’ve rolled on this blog from the get-go. None of the Cleverley people were aware that I blogged sartorially. As a matter of fact, I suspect that they still don’t. There was none of this "he's gonna trash us in the blogosphere and we gotta fix this snafu post haste." So his efforts to make me happy were no different than his efforts I’m sure, to please any other customer. My options were limitless. I could opt for a third pair to be made. I could have a full refund or if I could live with either one of the pair in my possession, Mr. Glasgow would extend to me a deep concession.
 I also learned from Mr. Glasgow a few things about the first pair of shoes made for a customer. Their profit margins really emerge from subsequent pairs ordered by a first time happy customer. The maiden pair requires carving a last and then adjusting it accordingly after the first fitting. This is a huge time consumer and therefore a lot more man-hours live in the first pair. But for me, it seemed like there might not be a subsequent pair.
I’m a decent businessman. You can’t be in business for fourteen years without having some degree of acumen. And I reckon that I’m a decent negotiator too. The quality of what my peers and I deliver is such that there have been very few unit price beat-downs from our clients over our fees. But I couldn’t take full advantage of what Mr. Glasgow ultimately offered me. I just couldn’t. The man was so fair and so committed to making this thing right that I think he’d have given me the pair for twenty percent of list. Remember, the original pair weren’t that far off the mark. It was Cleverley who decided that the two minor issues constituted a full remake. I could have pushed the consolation deal closer to my favor but I didn't.
I was more than pleased with where we settled and I kept my original Conker Cape pair. Glasgow instructed me to simply hold the second pair and return them to Dominic Casey who would be in town the next month. No problem there…I’m a compliant guy.
Here’s a lesson for all of us…consumers and purveyors. Customer delight, customer centricity, customer focus…whatever. To me it is nauseating rhetoric when you see the words and the behavior doesn’t align. Purveyors…take a page from the George Cleverley playbook. If you want to gain and retain customers for life, then tell them that you want their business forever and walk your talk. If you believe that customer retention is important, then let your behavior match your belief. And customers…be relentless in expecting, especially when spending large sums in the luxury segment, nothing but Cleverley caliber service.

So Cleverley made nil on their first pair of bespoke shoes for me. Actually, with phone calls, man hours involved in emails and back tracking the snafu and remaking a pair of shoes, they lost money. But they also created an environment conducive to ADG making another pair of bespoke Cleverleys and owning two pairs of ready-made George Cleverley shoddings commissioned by Cleverley and contrived at Crockett and Jones.
All’s well that ends well. Cleverly—Quality—Customer Delight…I give the Cleverley boys the highest of marks. If you want a customer for life, consider the Cleverley boys' obsession with how to gain and keep them.

Onward. Broke. Real Broke. And sitting here smirking and speculating at how aghast you'll be when you see the next pair of Cleverley bespokes that are currently in the works.



Anonymous said...

"The most expensive clothes you own are the ones you don't wear." Ain't it, though. I expect, in the world of bespoke, there are two kinds of customers: repeat customers and people who are generally just getting used to the idea of paying THAT MUCH for something to wear. We are not all always prosperous. Some years you fill the cellar. Some years you just drink what you have. You mention selling assets to finance the Cleverlys. Good on you. (Remember looking at GQ sometime in your youth and seeing shirts that cost like suits and suits that cost like your car?) More than once I have done MTM or Hong Kong or something like it and found that I neglected to specify some given, like "Make sure there is room to let these out if I can ever afford to eat again." The feeling I remember too well is "SEE, you tried to cheap out and you just wasted money." But in all of those cases save one, the purveyor was long gone. In the exceptional case, I had gone to my neighborhood retailer and was just plain disappointed. Sure, it was mere MTM, not bespoke, but it was merely WRONG- it took so long to deliver that I had GAINED weight and the jacket length seemed short. ( just a crucial inch, probably ) They spelled my name wrong on the "custom" label. These were good merchants and they got a good house to make my jacket, but it was a mess. Short answer? I haven't bought a suit or jacket from them since.

Sorry to rattle on, especially after your lovely and encouraging post. I am glad you held on and got exactly what you wanted, and I hope you enjoy them for a long time. May you prosper enough to buy and wear out several more pairs.
Yr hmbl, &c,

Anonymous said...

This was a very interesting post - one of your best. That said, from an 'outside' perspective, my main takeaways are:
You paid and arm and two legs for a bespoke pair of shoes.
They should fit perfectly the first time - that's the entire point of them being bespoke.
They should arrive free of any marks - even small ones that might eventually appear after wear.
When your shoes are "rebuilt" (as a result of the two previous issues) they should be rebuilt correctly and to your original, rather deliberate specifications.

I understand an appreciate that their follow up customer service was excellent - again, it should be given the costs and process. Had I 'gone broke' ordering these shoes, and then experienced THREE relatively serious issues (fit, finish, and style), I would have been pissed off. And, I most likely would have gone back to the high end, well fitting, off the rack shoe makers I already patronize....at more than half the cost (I'm guessing). Just my two cents and honest reaction to the post.

RHW said...

I hate shoes that are too small. I hope your Clevs have some "give" in them and end up being comfortable.

The Leopard said...

Wow, while reading this I couldn't help but hear Rod Serling's voice narrating " Take one consultant who's done well for himself and has decided to have bespoke shoes made and innocently places the order not knowing that he has just entered the Twilight Zone". Quite an ordeal, I too have had things custom made that when they arrived were not what I ordered and had to deal with the hassle, you start out with great expectations and are crestfallen when the order is wrong. It's the handling of the situation that makes all the difference and I think this was handled well by both parties, when one comports oneself as a gentleman he hopefully is treated like one, you did and you were, kudos. So many times today when you're trying to have a purveyor's error rectified you get in your face, off the wall rudeness. In this case you got customer service from the top who wanted you to be happy with the product, I think this is a good thing, nuff said.

Young Fogey said...

Can't wait to see how fuzzy the next ones will be. What you got only go to 6 or so on the fuzziness scale (mid-brown suede with subdued brogueing--beautiful, but not in-your-face fuzz). Will the next ones go to 11? Maybe you can have a contest for best guess. Here's my entry: green alligator cordovan (yeah, I know that's impossible, which is why I chose it).

I actually prefer the cocoa color on the unacceptable replacements, but that's just personal preference. You should choose the color you like, my tastes be hanged.

P.S.: I think my retinas are scarred from the socks in the second-to-last photo.

Sir Fopling Flutter said...

A great story and I'm very pleased you're happy with the result. I also sincerely hope that you're satisfied with the fit of the shoes. There's nothing worse than shoes that don't fit properly, and I would hate to wear ill-fitting shoes for the next 20 years thinking "these are my Cleverley shoes that aren't quite right".

Another lesson which you don't mention is that first-time bespoke with any new maker always leaves you with things you want to tweak next time. Doesn't matter if it's shoes, suits, shirts or anything else, it takes a couple of iterations to get the pattern just right (even if you have several fittings). I've done this with suits, knowing that the next one I order will be slightly better than the first. With bespoke shoes, that could become a ruinous expense.

VogueOntheRange said...

Simply stated:

This tale is testament to two truths: Cleverly and ADG are both class acts. And I rest.

Mink80 said...

Outstanding post. As usual.

ADG said...

Thanks everyone. You've shared your own insights and wisdom to the point that your comments are worthy of a follow up post. But for now:

1. I am 100% pleased with the Cleverley shoes.

2. They fit fine.

3. The Cleverley guys are phenomenal

Conor Aubry said...

This is a great post, ADG. You're definitely one of the best.

I do blame you, though, for tempting my Protestant thriftiness and American rumpled-ness.

Also a good reminder for those with customers to treat them well.

Anonymous said...

You have to be the most interesting person I've ever had the pleasure of not-quite-yet-meeting. Just interesting is what you are. I, a decorator by profession, confess to not understanding trading a pair of leather chairs for a pair of leather shoes. Oh the things we could have done with those chairs in your one-day-soon new digs [which I dream for you, dreams like the abandoned gas station you pick up for a song, and do up in glorious floor-to-ceiling ADG style]. But having endured divorce, I also understand invisible tonnage that attaches to stuff. So keep teaching me things, ADG. I'm here to learn. You seem very patient with students like me.

I like Fogey's idea of contest for best guess!

Fogey: green alligator cordovan
Flo: texturized/dotted ghillies with triple tassel ties

-Your Devoted Stalker

Cubanchem said...

Too bad Rancourt isn't reading this, they could certainly learn a thing or two. Great post as usual. Enjoy your beautifully fuzzy shoes.

Anonymous said...

Do you read Tweedland - The Gentleman's Club blog? I think you would like it.

Young Fogey said...


I think his green alligator cordovan slip-ons will have enormous orange pull tabs, front and back (like some Chelsea boots have). Said pull tabs will be monogrammed (aGd), though I'm not sure what color the monograms will be. Will he go sur ton? Will he go for minor contrast? Major contrast?

ADG said...

FogeyYoung...THAT wasn't EVEN close. However, you've now got me thinkin' about the next pair.

CubanchemMonMon...sit tight. I'll even have a good story to share or...

AnonStalker...I DID have lunch one time in a BBQ joint that was a converted gas station. I'd be all over it as an option for my digs. Alas, this, what is sure to be an interim nest, won't be close to the "good bones-eclectic-pugnaciously shabby" place that would better suit me. Gonna be a bit more modern and sterile than I'd prefer. I'll mitigate the "sterile" part of it in no time.

Conor...thanks man. I hope that all is well. I loved the poster that your mom gave you. I reblogged it on my tumblr.

Anonymous said...

"good bones-eclectic-pugnaciously shabby"

Shelby Footeish, ya mean? I found it. But we're gonna fight over it. Got no idea how I wandered my way to this tumblr, but finding this dream house was worth every click. You and me'sa only 2 people who'd call this "move in ready."



Cubanchem said...

Looking forward to see how this unfolds. I threw my pair in the back of my closet. I cannot just toss them out, but I cannot wear them. Don't know what to do with 'em.

Conor Aubry said...

Thanks ADG. Things are grand. The little girl is 15 months now and all over the place.

I was just looking over DTM this evening. Thanks again for that; it's an indispensable reference.

Anonymous said...

Young Fogey's Update/correction:
"I think his green alligator cordovan slip-ons will have enormous orange pull tabs, front and back (like some Chelsea boots have). Said pull tabs will be monogrammed (aGd), though I'm not sure what color the monograms will be."

I want to update/correct my contest entry as well. Max's pipeline custom-designed Cleverleys viewed 4th frame up from the bottom: