Chay Cooper, the manager of the Alfred Sargent factory, has been in New York City during this week of wintery weather. If you were able to make it past the slush and snow, you were in for a treat. If you missed the trunk show, read on.
Alfred Sargent is rolling out its new Handgrade line of ready-to-wear shoes made in its Northamptonshire UK factory, which employs some 80 workers. Chay was given the go ahead by Paul and Andrew Sargent, great-grandsons of the founder, to design and launch this noteworthy new line of shoes. He's spent almost two decades working at Alfred Sargent and has played a key role in designing and producing the Handgrade line.
For those used to buying John Lobb or Gaziano & Girling, you might be familiar with A&S's previous shoe offerings made for other brands and wonder what the fuss is about. Simply put, the new Handgrade line is made to an impressively high standard and displays an unusual level of thoughtfulness in design, aesthetics and functionality starting with the last all the way to the shoebox (more on that later).
There are eight new Handgrade models ranging from slip on loafers to whole cuts based on three brand new lasts – almond shaped (AS19), soft square (AS48) and square (AS53). Despite the different toe shapes, the lasts are essentially interchangeable from the perspective of fit. So if you fit one of the lasts in a certain size and width, you should be able to fit in the same size and width in the other two lasts.
The introductory pricing is 450 GBP (inclusive of VAT). What you get for the 450 GBP is a host of thoughtful details, the sum of which I believe is unique at this price point: a bevelled edge (instead of the typical straight edge) along the sole, bevelling and shaping along the sole, a fiddleback waist, a three-layer set of nails instead of steel toe taps and the inner sock and liner in the same color or finish as the upper.
Each pair comes in an oversized box that has been intelligently redesigned so that each shoe sits on its sole (instead of its side) in its own subcompartment. At the front of the box is a leather pull, which allows the box compartment to be pulled out like a drawer. This is useful if you store and stack your shoeboxes and need to access them without pulling them off of each other and taking the lids off. It's remarkable that no one else has thought of doing this. And each shoebox is made by hand.
Finally, for an upcharge, AS can do a made-to-order variation of virtually any of their RTW models. If you have been pondering a move to high quality English handgrade shoes, Alfred Sargent should be on your short list. They have reentered the high end men's shoe market with a remarkably good offering especially at this introductory price (i.e. which will increase at some point in the future).
Updated May 2010
- AskAndy thread on new AS Handgrade line
- AskAndy thread with Handgrade shoe pictures