He had what many would call a dream job as lastmaker at John Lobb in London, but wanted more and left the giant to make bespoke shoes under his own name – and succeeded. Meet Nicholas Templeman.
This article was first published on the Swedish menswear site Manolo.
I knock on a robust exterior door in the middle of a long row of houses in Islington, quite central in London. Nicholas Templeman, wearing a freshly ironed white shirt under a dirty apron, open the door and welcomes me in. He excuses the mess and we step carefully between toys and dolls’ carriages down a narrow staircase to the basement. Down here in the smallest room of the house he has built up his own workshop. In the window which is leveled with the ground in the courtyard, he has his workbench, and the walls are crowded with lasts, tools and materials. Plus his two bikes that also are squeezed in here.
It’s indeed quite different from John Lobb’s large and well filled premises at St. James Street.
– But I like it better here, which is the most important thing, Nicholas Templeman says.
33-year-old Nicholas Templeman was born and raised here in England’s capital. After high school, he began studying art, and has a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art at the University of Brighton. What he was most interested in during art school was to work with prints and lithography, and especially the artisanal pieces of the technology. He realized it was the craftmanship he wanted to work with, and when he was on his way home from school one day and passed a shoe shop with tools and lasts in the shop window, he came up with the idea to start working with shoes, another subject he had long harbored an interest in. Nicholas called John Lobb to inquire about tips on how he could go about to get into the shoemaking business. At Lobb they wondered if he called about the job advert where they searched for an apprentice, which Nicholas had not had a clue about. Nicholas went there and talked more with them, they liked him and his attitude, and two weeks later he began his apprenticeship.
– Of course it was a great opportunity, an opportunity I am extremely grateful for.
The year was 2007, Nicholas was still young, and had a great hunger to learn quickly.
England is the country where the manufacture of bespoke shoes is most clearly divided. All major businesses have lastmakers who meet customers, measure them and then produces the lasts after their feet and their preferences of last shape, closers who stitch the uppers, and makers who does the bottom work, builds the shoe and the finish. Nicholas Templeman thus learned the lastmaking profession. He went as an apprentice for two years before he got a full-paid full-time job, and got to start working with clients lasts properly. At John Lobb he worked for several years as one of seven lastmakers who work in-house, so to speak, along with two closers. The bottom making is now done solely by freelancers, most work from home across London and the UK, but some have their workplaces in Lobb’s premises.
– This is a company that has existed since 1866, and it’s a very old-fashioned firm with all the pros and cons that brings, says Nicholas.
As lastmaker you are responsible for the contact with the customers, both in the own shop and at trunk shows around the world, not only to meet them when the order is made, but it’s also the one who delivers the shoes to the customer. Here John Lobb’s problems became obvious for Nicholas Templeman. As he describes it all, it’s the quality control that occasionally fail, which means that they way too often deliver shoes that are substandard.
– It’s not very fun to be the one who stands there and gets yelled at by a customer for a problem that you yourself noticed six months ago, but nothing was done to fix it.
When he and his wife had their second child in 2014, he saw the opportunity to take maternity leave to build up his own workshop, make sample shoes, build a website and launch his own brand: Nicholas Templeman Bespoke Shoemaker.
– It was now or never, that’s how I felt about it. The ability to have control in a completely different way, to be responsible for yourself, that’s what attracted me to go on my own. And there were no hard feelings between me and those at Lobb, they have said that the door is always open for me there if I want to return.
Today, Nicholas Templeman’s business has been around for two years, and it has exceeded his expectations. Partly because he had the attention from members on the menswear community StyleForum, where members made him go to the United States. It’s on the other side of the Atlantic where he currently has his largest customer base, and twice a year he goes over and have trunk shows in a number of cities.
He does of course lastmaking and also pattern work etc and the final finish, while the closing and making is done by freelancers in London. The house style is in many ways more towards the French, a little neater and smoother than the traditional British look. Prices start at just below £3 000, which is a bit below the major UK bespoke brands.
When I’m visiting Nicholas among other things are working to polish up the final finish on a delicate pair of lazyman adelaides with lizard facings. When he is finished with the shine on them and they are ready to be delivered to the customer, he then goes on to start with the very first parts on another client’s shoes. From a shelf he picks two so called rough-turned lasts from the last factory, they have a set size and a certain form, but is only roughly shaped so all final work will then be done by Nicholas. He walks over to one wall and pulls out a guillotine-like tool called a clog knife or lastmaking knife. With the blade he will shape the lasts down more precise, before he goes over to the rasp and finally sandpaper.
– It took a while to get the hang of it with this a bit clumsy knife, but now I appreciate the feeling you get with it. And the feeling of working with a craft.