This exclusive interview with Tony Gaziano of Gaziano & Girling conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in England during March 2010
What does Gaziano & Girling mean to you?
Well I have to be honest, G&G means the world to me in terms of shoemaking and creativeness, but the business side drives me crazy and is a real distraction. Both myself and Dean tried to create the business round what was missing in English an Italian shoe making: style, the UK manufactures can be a bit flat and uncreative; understated elegance, the Italian makers can be a bit over flamboyant. Therefore, we struck a balance between the two, refined and understated but to the highest quality, while at the same time being a little original by trying to redefine the classic styles.
I feel we did this quite successfully at the start, and as we have grown in confidence the ideas are streaming, so we have a lot to release over the next couple of years, even in other areas, we will be trying to do it with bags later this year. Anyway, in creating this it has almost felt like having a newborn, it tires you out but you love it with all your heart, even when times get rough. It becomes part of you, and never leaves your head for a conscious second. It can be like a love affair or a lead weight. This means I could never pass control to someone else, and let someone turn it into a mass produced fashion brand.
G&G is an honest product and products like ours (and similar like Edward Green and John Lobb) should be exposed more so as to give the public more of an education in quality rather than buying items simply because of what label is in it, so to clarify, G&G means honesty, quality, education and of course, pleasure.
What drew you to bespoke shoemaking?
I was actually trained to be an architect. My father is a property developer and so he sent me college to learn architecture. I got pretty bored with it though, as my heart was not in it. I was interested in the design part but not the materials and construction. I was however interested in clothes and fashion. I lived in Northamptonshire, which is the main shoemaking area in the UK, a traditional position there because of the grazing cattle and tanneries (which are long since gone.) So (and I know it does not sound very glamorous) I went to work in a shoe factory, of course in the design offices. At this stage, I was more interested in clothes and if I would have had an offer back then, my career may have taken a completely different path. The way it turned out though I found that I loved shoes. At the time I was designing for Paul Smith, Oliver Sweeny and other fashion brands, and more than design it taught me about development, which I consider more important. After a few years I simply went deeper and deeper into shoes, to the point where instead of just designing them I felt the need to actually make them. The more I was able to craft the better and easier the design side became. Both Dean and I got to the point where we could completely make a shoe between us on both the handmade and machine made side of shoemaking. We are completely unique in this position, especially amongst the UK makers.
How do you decide on new design styles?
Designs for me are never developed individually, I like to display a story and a spectrum by developing a range, and within that range it has everything. A single shoe is just part of it, this is because many people have different tastes and I like to try to appeal to most guys. I find that to be a good designer I have to completely separate my own taste and try to see things through several people’s eyes. To the point where to be honest, I would only wear a third of the designs we make.
What influences you?
Design influences me, I mean looking at cars, clothes, houses gadgets the list goes on... and analyzing how their team put the ideas together for example the development for a product. When I think in this state of mind it normally triggers me into being creative. It's a bit like a painter or a freehand drawer, they tend to see things in a different way, especially when their at work, the shadows, angles, proportions etc.. It really is a mindset and can be very addictive. I would love to live my life like this but due to the business side I have to have a different head on a lot of the time. Of course, other shoe designers influence me but it is design in so many different areas that really interests and influences me.
How do you look at the future of bespoke?
I think there is a great future for bespoke, most of our team is under 40 years old so it will certainly see my time out. We have a training scheme and so do some of the other bespoke houses. The best system is the French way, they have a great system for developing young talent and all the shoemakers work together rather than against each other, which is fantastic. The UK guys all seem too concerned with protecting their secrets than protecting the craft, so I suspect you can see a few new Parisian companies over the next 10 years. Unfortunately, the Italian bespoke market does not seem to be that quality oriented and there is much more happening in the RTW manufactures in Italy, maybe there are so many shoemakers in Italy that it’s simply harder to stand out.
What ever the case the key with bespoke is the director, your craftsmen can be brilliant, but if there is no one at the top directing the product for each individual customer then the product falls flat somewhere along the line. Bespoke product along with RTW always needs focus and it’s the people that create that focus that make the product.
The above interview with Tony Gaziano 2010 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.