Tim Little knows shoes. Leather uppers and rubber soles, blue suede boots and brogues, lasts and laces… As owner and head designer of Grenson, he has mastered modern footwear and then some.
Back in the 1990s Tim was working in advertising, and made the transition to shoemaking slowly, going back and forth to Northamptonshire (home of Loake, Church’s and all that matters in British shoemaking) over a period of two years with individual designs until he had enough for the eight-piece collection with which he launched his own brand, Tim Little, in 1997. His aim was ‘English shoes without the cobwebs’ – modern footwear that united the best craftsmen with up-to-date design.
‘There were English shoes beautifully made, but they were same shoes your grandfather wore,’ says Tim. ‘Or you could get Italian shoes that were attractively designed and packaged, but the shoes weren’t as well made. I wanted Northampton shoes but in a more modern context.’ Key to this was his shop and showroom on the King’s Road, with its battered sofas and exposed brick – a far cry from the fusty, formal shoe shops that prevailed at the top end.
Then, in 2005 he was approached to overhaul Grenson, a venerable English shoemaker that had grown old and staid over the decades since it was established in 1866, but still had impressive assets, not least its factory. The first thing Tim did was look at the archive, where he found Grenson’s top shoe, the Albert. He updated it with a slight kick-up toe and more interesting leather. Then he created what has become the company’s signature look: a classic brogue with oversized patterning and a beefed-up sole. Both styles have been big sellers ever since.
Tim’s pair of brands have expanded year on year, without losing the offbeat English aesthetic that’s key to their success. As well making shoes in the traditional way, Tim knows the tricks to keeping them sweet, so we asked him for his three top tips on brogue maintenance.
Tree of Life
‘After leather gets damp or moist it shrinks as it dries. The stitching will tighten up and the sole will be affected; the different parts of the shoe will also dry at different rates. If you put in a shoe tree it will make sure the shoe retains its proper shape.’
Absorbent trees of unvarnished wood are better than the highly polished kind, and it’s important to use them all the time, not just after a downpour. ‘In the summer a big man loses up to two litres of water through his feet in a day; all the sweat runs off the body and into the shoe.’
Spit and polish
If you really want to protect your shoes you should polish them at least once a week. First run over the shoes (with trees inside) with a damp cloth, then let them dry naturally at room temperature – never by a radiator or a fire. When they’re completely dry, apply a good polish (with a brush – it gets into the pores better), and leave it overnight (if you brush straight off, only 10 per cent will be absorbed). In the morning, polish it off with a brush or a cloth, and your shoes are ready.
Round the horn
The heel of the shoe contains a leather stiffener, which forms the shape of the shoe. If you keep pushing it down with your foot the back of the shoe will get floppy. Using a shoe horn preserves the stiffener and keeps the shoe’s shape.