When working on any new content or product launches at Crown Northampton, we always look for a solid entry point where we can combine our company's history and tradition alongside classic modern style and progressive thinking. This thought process extends to the models, photographers, and creatives we work with. We always aim for any projects we work on to be fun and free-flowing whilst focusing on the core messages that we are trying to deliver. Never forced or following trends, we like to work with like-minded individuals whose abilities we can trust, bringing their own skillsets to the table. Brand consistency and interesting viewpoints are key to our creative process.
MAKING PROCESS - Leather
The leather is first reviewed for any areas where there may be imperfections in the skin. These areas are then excluded when cutting the upper. This process needs experience and a keen eye to retain stringent quality checks whilst minimising leather wastage. And always make sure you show any visitors what's under the bonnet of your machinery!
Our focus for the first half of 2022 has been firmly on the relaunch of the Jazz Collection, but the initial planning started back in early 2020. The Jazz Collection is a very unique proposition overall. When compared to our Sneaker and Stitchdown Collections and to a slightly lesser extent, the Slipper Collection, it can look like a little out of place due to its pared-back dance shoe-inspired styling. However, as explained in previous content pieces, the original Jazz styles were the first designs that were ever created by Crown Northampton for the directional Japanese market. The continued popularity and success in the region formed the solid foundations that have allowed all further collections to follow and grow under the brand. Notably, the Original Jazz Regent Wholecut provided the design direction for our original sneaker the Upton Wholecut from which the Sneaker Collection grew from. This ultra-minimal Jazz DNA has trickled down into many areas of the Crown Northampton brand, construction, and mindset.
MAKING PROCESS - Clicking & Skiving
The knife is then placed on the best quality areas leather of the skin and the upper is cut along with all other parts of the footwear pattern - The 'Clicking' process. Once complete, the leather is then 'skived' in the relevant areas. A process that encourages smooth flowing lines, by thinning down the edges of the leather in the relevant areas. This reduces any unnecessary raised seams, lumps and bumps so the upper can be folded, sewn, and cleanly constructed.
For the re-launch of our Jazz Collection, we wanted to ensure we worked with like-minded individuals that would really understand the elevated level of the premium materials that we have chosen to use and to spotlight the versatile nature of the range. Our photographer Alex Natt regularly shoots with some of the UK’s most interesting fashion brands and individuals, one of which happened to be the very affable Richard Biedul who he suggested we work with. A man of great taste and stature within the menswear sphere, Richard's partner Melissa Jane Tarling is a talented, sought-after stylist and art director in her own right who was also ideal for the brief. All in all, they were the perfect choice to help us build, style and front our unisex Jazz Collection.
MAKING PROCESS - Sewing the uppers
The upper is passed on to our skilled sewers who machine or hand sew the upper into a complete shape that is now starting to resemble a shoe. At this point, the internal lining will also be secured to the upper if a lining is a part of the design. Some of our footwear is self-backed, simply meaning the back of the upper will be used as the internal lining. Tea break optional.
As their occupations would suggest, the duo both have an extremely sharp eye and an impeccable sense of style which carries the perfect blend of classic, progressive and understated. They have overseen the creative direction of several large campaigns in recent years covering modeling, styling, and end-to-end concept delivery. With valuable, industry experience like this on hand, we were very pleased when they both agreed to come aboard and work with us on the Jazz re-launch campaign.
MAKING PROCESS - Lasting, roughing, cork filling and sole laying
The sewn upper is then heated and machine toe lasted under pressure to form the shoe shape and pull the leather tight to the last. Once in its final shape, there is a brief stage of hand lasting and the shoe is 'roughed' in preparation for attaching the sole. Cork filler is added to the middle channel underneath the shoe which sits in-between the base of the shoe (insole/lining board) and the outsole. This cork filling process is usually only found in high-quality, hand-made dress shoes and acts in a similar way to memory foam, adding comfort and support as your foot gradually beds into the shoe, leaving a subtle and lasting personal imprint of your foot. Once the cork has dried over a few hours, the shoe can be sole laid and bag pressed which attaches the sole unit with pressure to form a strong bond. For the relaunch of our Jazz Collection, we have decided to use high-quality Vibram outsoles which are custom cut and importantly, can be resoled at a later date when required. This upgrade ensures that all of our footwear collections - Sneaker, Stitchdown, Slipper, and now Jazz, can be resoled at our Northampton factory, with long-term sustainability in mind. And it's worth mentioning that our shoes cannot be used as phones, but Vibram soles do make for good bunny ears.
As the saying goes, 'Knowledge is power', so we invited Richard up to our Northampton factory (Melissa was unfortunately away on work at the time but we'll get to meet her further down the line) to get a feel for how our brand operates and to understand how our owner and Master Shoe Maker Chris Woodford works. All images are from a day spent learning and hanging out in the factory, following the journey of how a pair of Jazz Regent Wholecuts are made from start to finish. The day trip takes in all processes including leather selection, skiving, sewing, lasting, cork filling, sole cutting and laying, all whilst having a cuppa tea and a bit of a lark about in between.
RICHARD'S TAKE FROM THE DAY
It’s 10:30 am on March the 31st. The snow is falling, and we have arrived at the home of Crown Northampton. This is my first visit to the factory in preparation for the upcoming Jazz Shoe collaboration that has been percolating for some months.
As we are led up the stairs, I’m instantly struck by something rather unique (not the leak in the roof) but the sight of the 5th generation owner of this 100-year-old family business, sitting quietly in the corner of the factory floor in a state of zen-like focus…skiving leather uppers - Chris Woodford. (I later find out he was one of only two people on duty that day trained on that particular machine; so rather than leaving his team to struggle on, he wanted to carry some of the burden).
This is the beauty of Crown Northampton and of Chris Woodford. They share a beautifully unassuming dedication to quality.
Channeling his own learning from years on the factory floor, Chris has been creating designs based on his knowledge of hands-on manufacturing and bespoke detailing for the last 20+ years. To say Chris was accomplished would be an understatement, and to say he was masterful would be to miss just how grounded and personable he was. He is half mad-professor, half master-craftsman (and he gives one hell of a guided tour).
At every step of the intricate process, Chris tells me that he only wants to use the best [locally] sourced materials and to utilise a skilled local workforce, to create what is arguably pound for pound some of the best footwear collections in the world.
The Jazz re-launch collection is now available to buy here.
Also, take a look at the recent 'Jazz Talkin' piece written by Tony Sylvester; delving into the history of the jazz shoe category and the surrounding culture and the musical artists that adopted the style as an everyday staple.
PHOTOGRAPHY - Alex Natt & Ben Lloyd
Special thanks to Richard Biedul