Life Skills

Commissioning and fitting  – Permanent Style

  • Dec 15, 2023
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Commissioning and fitting  – Permanent Style

In Japan earlier this year I started the process of commissioning a pair of bespoke loafers from Seiji McCarthy. 

Loafers are often tricky to make bespoke, and bespoke as a whole I’ve found a little inconsistent, so why did I take this leap with Seiji? 

Largely it was because he offers something different – a particular love of American footwear such as that made popular by Alden, which he really understands and also executes beautifully. One of my favourite ever designs is the full-strap loafer from Alden on the Aberdeen last but it’s never been a good fit for my feet. This was my opportunity to get a better version. 

(That’s an example of Seiji’s below, followed by my Aldens.)

But there were other reasons too. Seiji has ready-made models of his shoe that you can see in person, unlike some makers; he’s an interesting one to cover because of that design angle and because he offers MTM and MTO alongside bespoke; and, a much underrated factor, we get along. 

Seiji is a little older, highly educated and professional. He studied at Stanford and the LSE before working for the NBA, leaving to study shoe design in Italy and then shoemaking. 

We’re more similar, in terms of cultural background and education, then I am to most craftsmen, and I’ve found that’s both nice and helpful: at a superficial level, the chat is better; at a deeper one, it’s easier to discuss concerns with someone you relate to. 

I didn’t realise until we met in New York this past October that Seiji initially studied to be a shoe designer. He had thought his connections at the NBA might help as a market for the shoes. 

That didn’t really work out. Turns out a young, financially flush sports star doesn’t want to wait several months for a pair of dress shoes made by a brand no one has heard of.

But Seiji found his niche with bespoke shoemaking in Japan, where he lived in his twenties and returned to seven years ago (he has a Japanese mother and American father). He was also helped (as many bespoke makers have been) by Ethan Newton – the model of loafer I commissioned is even called the ‘Ethan’. 

Seiji has also just moved to a bigger workshop space (the photos here were taken at his old one) and has taken on two apprentices.

The initial measuring session (most pictures shown) was interesting, particularly Seiji’s emphasis on tracing the profile of the foot (above). From a customer point of view though, the most practical thing was trying on sizing shoes (below). This really makes it easier to communicate issues of fit – almost like having two fittings rather than one.

When we had the actual fitting in New York this past October, the shoes looked good. As per my recent Ugolini article, I was specific about what worked well for me during both sessions: there needed to be enough room for those toes to move. 

Initially the shoes felt a little tight at the front, but Seiji ripped out part of the insole in order to lower my foot, and that was better. (Not that the final shoes will lack this insole – it was just a good way to see what room was needed.)

There was a little discussion about how much height to have over the big toe vs the others, given they are so much lower. To an extent you can shape the upper to give space to one and not the other, but it’s also one piece of leather and will move around. In the end we opted for a little more room rather than less. 

And after the initial fitting, Seiji cut the shoe apart at various points (making it look like a woman’s sandal) in order to see where my foot was sitting inside. 

Not every shoemaker does this, but I did see the advantage here, as Seiji pointed out that my heel was sitting off the inner edge of the insole. He also showed me where you could see on my ready-made shoes that my heel rubbed on this part of the lining. 

Adjustments will be made, and I should have my final shoes early next year. 

On this experience I would certainly recommend Seiji, particularly given how hard loafers can be to fit. But I’ll do a full piece next year. 

If anyone would like to read more about him, we also commissioned a feature from a Japan-based writer here in 2022. And there is a nice piece here on how Japanese shoemaking in general has changed in recent years. 

Seiji now travels to the US once a year for trunk shows – currently New York and San Francisco but with plans to add others in the future. 

Pricing and order types:

  • MTO/MTM starts from JPY 280k (includes lasted shoe trees)
  • MTM is the MTO base price plus an additional JPY 5k per adjusted area on the last
  • Bespoke starts from JPY 450k (also including lasted shoe trees)
  • This is ordering in Japan. Trunk show prices are around 15% higher. 
  • Due to delays coming out of Covid, as well as high demand, MTO/MTM delivery is one year and bespoke trial fitting is one year with delivery a year after that
  • But new apprentices are hoped to bring MTO/MTM delivery down to six months and bespoke trial fitting to six months and delivery six months after that

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