The more things change, the more they stay the same. The famous words of a French philosopher have been taken to heart in the unlikely environs of Northampton, where Crown Northampton have been proudly using the same meticulous methods of making footwear to order since 1908. These days there is a change: your next pair of sneakers could be made there, but always using the same time-honoured techniques. The words of the French philosopher might well resound around the Crown Northampton workshops.
It's no exaggeration to say each pair of covetable sneakers is a pair of masterpieces. There is no stockpiling in anonymous warehouses here. Instead, once each order is received, the painstaking work begins. Every pair of Crown Northampton shoes is handmade from start to finish in Northampton, with no out-sourcing to factories abroad. Leathers are individually selected from long-established suppliers CF Stead of Leeds and The Horween Company of Chicago.
These are the methods because they've always been so. Crown Northampton has been owned and run by the same family for five generations. Managing director Chris Woodford, himself a master shoemaker, is a proud descendant of the firm's founder. "I am sure," he says, "that my great grandfather Earnest would be very proud that his hand-making skills have been passed so far down the Woodford generations." Of contemporary trends he adds, "I've personally needed some additional training in order to design and pattern-cut the more modern day sneaker and stitchdown styles."
Top-sellers today are handmade premium leather sneakers in white calf leather, fully leather-lined with Northampton made soles. Hand-stitched Derby-style sneakers in classic black use the traditions of bespoke, hand welted shoes. More traditionally, Kudu suede is used for the company's signature Desert Boots, made to 1950s patterns held by Crown Shoes themselves. The company's Made to Measure service offers, as it has always done, the opportunity to commission your own materials and colours across all styles.
Crown Northampton are among the few remaining artisans carrying on a 900-year tradition of shoe-making in Northampton. "The joint knowledge of the local model makers, knife makers, leather merchants and component suppliers really have put us where we are today," says Chris Woodford. The history might be compelling but Crown Shoes could not be more forward-looking. Links with boutiques and leading stores, particularly in Japan, have led to pioneering collaborations. At Crown Northampton the future and the past are as one. It's a remarkable story.