Written by Anthony W. Madsen Sylvester
The Jazz shoe occupies a unique space. It falls somewhere between understated and characterful. Its clean lines and simplicity speak volumes; it has the utility of a sneaker yet the elegance of a slipper. Because of this, it can be sartorially deployed across the spectrum from smart to casual, day and night.
We have Rose Repetto and her eponymous shoe line to thank for its popularity. In 1947, at the behest of her son, ballet company director and dancer Roland Petit, she started designing and making ballet shoes from a tiny workshop near the National Opera House in Paris. Her creations spring-boarded into national consciousness on the feet of Brigette Bardot’s breakthrough And God Created Woman a decade later, cementing a bond between dance shoes and a certain French savour faire ever since.
Mick Jagger was an early adopter on the men’s side. Perhaps inspired by Rudolph Nureyev, he took to wearing the ‘Zizi’ model , a unisex Oxford, in the mid sixties, the perfect compliment to his bohemian adronygenous appeal. They were there on his feet as he defiantly posed outside Chichester Court after being acquitted of drug charges in 1967 and in band photos in Hyde Park for Their Satanic Majesties Request later that year. They would go on to play an important part of his tour uniform for the next decade in fact.
Perhaps the most iconic wearer of dance shoes is the King of Gallic Cool himself Serge Gainsbourg. A slave to his bunions and and other podial ailments, by the early 70s, he swore to give up shoes and boots entirely and walk the mucky streets of the left bank barefoot unless a solution could be found. Jane Birkin, his muse and partner, was dispatched to find “gloves for his feet” as she recounted in the early 90s, coming home with a soft supple pair of white goatskin Zizis. From then on until his death in 1991, he was never not photographed with them in situ, allegedly going through 30 pairs a year.
Crown Northampton’s involvement with the style came around this time when the company, under their then name Chancery Footwear, were commissioned to make boxing boots and ballet shoes for a dance school. The quality, functional models they turned out remained just one of the curios in their extensive catalogue, and as the company expanded into Japan and the Far East in the 90s, retailers there recognised the potential for rediscovery and reinterpretation, clocking the references to natty dressers like Jagger and Gainsbourg instantly. The Crown jazz shoes became part of the uniform for savvy dressers, paired with everything from vintage militaria to Ivy styles and Comme-style minimalism.
For this years relaunch of the Jazz collection, Crown have taken the same approach as they took to their Sneaker and Stitchdown Collections: take an iconic piece of men’s footwear usually associated with mass production and middling quality, and offer a refined, considered handmade-to-order version with the best materials available. For the new Jazz collection, this translates to Vibram soles and uppers of S F Stead kudu suede and grain leather from the best tanneries around. All made in Northampton by makers with over a century of cordwaining heritage behind them.
Never ones to rest on their laurels, as well as upgrading the make and materials, Crown Northampton have overhauled the designs to boot. Amongst the new styles, they have added a truly unique Jazz GAT trainer to the range, combining the DNA of the jazz dance shoe chassis with detailing based on custom sneakers designed for the German army in the 1970s, for a slimmer more streamlined take on the mil-surp classic.
The relaunched Jazz Collection is now available to buy here.