"The John Lobb shoe is precious and travels from generation to generation. When a shoe costs more than Rs 1 lakh it's like a piece of jewellery," says Atul Nanda, a Delhi-based lawyer. Nanda has been a customer of the European shoemaker for the past 15 years, much before its debut in India in June this year with its 'By Request' service (it allows clients to customise shoes from available styles).John Lobb's odyssey in India dates back to the early 1900s when members of Indian royal families were its clients. Owned by French luxury house Hermes Group, John Lobb has designed and custom made shoes for the wealthy and famous since 1866. Its customers in the past have included the likes of Frank Sinatra, George Bernard Shaw, Dean Martin and Aristotle Onassis, to name a few.
The 'By Request' service will allow clients to personalise their shoe within their global "JL Ready-To-Wear range", according to Thomas Collette, Commercial Director for Europe, Middle East and India at John Lobb. "However, what we call 'Specials' (exclusive models designed for a specific store or market) is something we love to offer to our clients, on top of our existing collections. As soon as we will know more about the market, no doubt we will be able to offer the same to India." The price of shoes in its 'By Request' range is between Rs 70,000 and Rs 7.5 lakh.The company is planning to scale up its India presence. It gradually plans to introduce its popular Bespoke (made to order) service in India. It allows customer to decide every detail, every colour about their footwear. "Introducing Bespoke in India is obviously on our mind. However, this offer will come at a later stage," says Collette. John Lobb has been making Bespoke boots since its inception. In its Paris workshop, highly qualified craftsmen create unique shoes according to the customers requirements. Each pair of Bespoke shoes requires an average of 50 hours of work by craftsmen and the entire process takes about nine months.
It starts with a craftsman taking a series of foot measurements, while the client chooses the model, shape, type of leather, the height of the heel and other details. The client returns for a second appointment to try on a mock-up of the shoe. This allows the craftsman to further refine the last, a metal or wooden form over which a shoe is shaped. The final fitting and delivery of the shoe is done in the third meeting. Every pair created in the Bespoke workshop is designed to last several years. A John Lobb shoe is durable - it can be worn at least 7,000 times.
Indeed, a Bespoke shoe has a relatively complicated manufacturing process as compared with Ready To Wear (RTW) or By Request shoes. It has a specific last created for it -the shape of the foot is sculpted in hornbeam wood. "For RTW/By Request, we use existing lasts depending on the shoe style, and the size produced," says Saskia Porretta Menne, Sales and Marketing Coordinator for Europe, Middle East and India at John Lobb.The Bespoke service doesn't have a fixed price. The final price depends on the style, leather and other specifications of the customer and can exceed Rs 10 lakh. "However, the starting price is Rs 5.5 lakh for a first pair of John Lobb Bespoke shoes," adds Menne.
John Lobb Bespoke shoes are an extension of the personality of the wearer. Pratik Dalmia, President, Regalia Luxury Retail (John Lobb's partner in India), says there's certainly a big market for the Bespoke service. John Lobb's By Request launch has exceeded its expectations in terms of orders from the clients, he says.
"The target customer for Bespoke is different from the customer who buys By Request shoes," adds Dalmia.
THE MORE THE MERRIER
Many of John Lobb's global competitors - Maison Corthay, Berluti and Gaziano & Girling - have hardly any presence in India. But some of its rivals including Tod's, Zegna, and Gucci, do have limited operations in the country. While Tod's and Gucci operate at a similar price point as John Lobb, Zegna's "Made to Order" shoes are slightly more expensive. These luxury brands offer bespoke services mostly through workshops and events. These services are generally not offered through retail stores since they are targeted at the super-rich. Bespoke shoes are typically costlier than other categories, such as "by request" and "ready to wear".
FULL COVERAGE:Luxury Special 2014