Step into the doorway of E. Vogel Custom Boots and Shoes to Measure and it's immediately clear you're not in an ordinary shoe store. Since 1879, this family-run business has been making custom footwear for both costume designers and individual customers. With a sample room that shows you examples of endless varieties, you can choose your leather, lining, soles, and even toe shape. They use only superior materials and craftsmanship -- cutting corners isn't in their vocabulary.
Jack Lynch, whose great-grandfather started the business, recently gave us a tour of the shop. While we chatted about recent projects -- he produced shoes for the Metropolitan Opera and, currently, the movie "The Great Gatsby" -- we poked around the three-floor factory, where 20 expert shoemakers make patterns, sew, and "last" (stretch the leather by hand over the boot). To finish, they use wooden trees to mold the shape of the leg. These methods date to his great-grandfather's era, and he has the century-old machines to prove it.
For those who can't make it there, I asked Jack Lynch how to tell if shoes are well made outside of his store:
1. Make sure the leather is full grain with no corrections and clean with no blemishes or fat wrinkles.
2. Ensure the lining is made with leather.
3. Look at the workmanship: Is the stitching straight and uniform? If the boot or shoe has a top cap, is it straight? Are the edges trimmed and finished properly?
4. The balance of the shoe is very important. The heel and the sole should be balanced correctly and not slanted too far in either direction.
For a flawless custom-made shoe and a look into a centuries-old family business, visit E. Vogel -- tucked away on Howard Street in Soho.
E. Vogel Shoes
19 Howard St.
New York, NY