I come from a fashion and textiles background, and while I’d never designed shoes, when I married Jonathan Jones, the owner of Northamptonshire shoemaker Crockett & Jones, shoes naturally became a big part of my life.
The company was founded in 1879 by brothers-in-law James Crockett & Charles Jones, and it has always made women’s shoes, but the women’s collections are only a small percentage of the business now. After the war, 60 per cent of the production was women’s shoes, then by the 1960s it had dropped off to only 20 per cent, and it’s now only about five per cent.
After we opened our own shops we were able to build the women’s collections more, but generally they were graded-down men’s shoes, as the lasts were very masculine. Women have differently shaped feet to men, so when I started to design for the company, I particularly wanted to change the lasts and make them more feminine and suitable for a woman’s foot.
We’re quite restricted with what we can do, because the factory is set up for men’s manufacturing, and as they’re welted shoes, they’re a heavier type of shoe. I tend to look at the men’s styles first and think, ‘How can I make that more feminine?’ Over the past few years we’ve sourced lighter-weight leathers, softer leathers and lighter-weight soles for the women’s styles, and Jonathan’s been trying to find more flexible soles so they’re not as rigid, because the leather soles can be very hardwearing but stiff.
All the materials in the factory are also for men’s shoes, so we’ve got to source the women’s materials separately, and a lot of them come from quite niche suppliers. For example, we’ve got a very good lace supplier in France that will often inspire me.
I introduced satin laces for some of the women’s designs, such as the Alice brogue, the Luna Derby and the Flora Oxford, because it softens and feminises the shoe, and it’s nice to have that more feminine detail to really set it apart from the men’s. For the suede Angel chukka boots in the current collection, I added a little pop of colour with the laces, so you can have satin laces or the traditional cotton lace, depending on your preference.
When I’m designing, generally I have the type of shoe in mind, and sometimes I’ll do a little sketch or I’ll go around the factory for inspiration. I often go into the showroom and have a little look at archive styles from the 1920s and 1930s – the men’s shoes from the 1930s are very elegant; they had such narrow feet then.
Thinking about women in the City, they often don’t want to wear high heels, but they still want to look smart, as they need to go from meeting to meeting, walk across town and up and down stairs etc. A lot of women carry a pair of trainers in their handbag, but changing shoes on the street corner isn’t ideal! This is why we’ve developed smart women’s styles with the City sole, which was made for men originally, but I thought we should also do it for women because it’s less slippery than leather soles. Some key styles available with the City sole are the Rachel Chelsea boot, the Holly Jodhpur-style boot and the Lisa Derby shoe.
Each shoe is made in the Northampton factory from start to finish, using many manufacturing processes that have remained the same for over 100 years.