Q&A – Thomas Collette,commercial director of John Lobb bootmaker

Different stages of shoe-making

“John Lobb, the luxury footwear brand for men is coming to India”, we heard through the grapevine! We dug deeper into what this means for the Indian audiences in an exclusive interview with Thomas Collette, the commercial director of John Lobb, on his visit to Mumbai, as part of the series of first few launch events across the country. All the excerpts from the dialogue are highlighted in quotes below.

Thomas Collette, Commercial Director, John Lobb (Europe, Middle East and India)
Thomas Collette, Commercial Director, John Lobb (Europe, Middle East and India)

What is John Lobb?
John Lobb is an English brand which is around 150 years old and has been making bespoke shoes and boots by hand, for men since 1866. Essentially, the DNA of the brand would be exceptional quality, fine craftsmanship, comfort, durability and elegance.

“We have a long heritage and tradition of craftsmanship, since 1866. Everything started with a family run business of bespoke shoes until 1976, when it was acquired by the esteemed Hermes group, which took it worldwide.”
The John Lobb family exclusively operates out of London, while the Hermes group is expanding the brand globally, making it available to a larger clientele outside of London. The John Lobb operations handled by Hermes offers ready-to-wear, by request and bespoke services all over the world. The ready-to-wear range started in the year 1981.

It was a natural step of development and expansion, for both John Lobb and Hermes.

What makes their shoes so special?
“Everything started with bespoke! It’s the quality, the craftsmanship, the style, the tradition, the attention to details all inherited from the bespoke know-how over years that is definitely the difference.”
Think of a pair of handmade shoes that reflect your personal style, made by a small and rare bunch of extremely skilled bootmakers, working meticulously over a period of three-four months, to craft out the perfect pair that fits just you. It takes 190 steps to create every single pair of John Lobb shoes. This, coming from the firm that has been designing for the royal families of India (since 1920’s), Dukes and Duchesses, queens and kings, renowned musicians and philosophers alike, is what sets a pair of John Lobbs aside. The attention to detail and quality makes all the difference.

Different stages of shoe-making
Different stages of shoe-making

“Quality is something essential for us, for John Lobb, and for Hermes in general. Not just in the process of making the shoes, but also in the choice of leather. We have the best full-grain leather sourced from select suppliers from France and Italy. Once the leather is tanned, it is sent to Northampton where the shoes are made in the factory. Northampton, enroute London is extremely well-located in the UK, and has really been the heart of shoe-making since decades due to the easy availability of natural resources. At one point, it used to be home to 240 shoemakers!”

Step 046
Step 046

What would be the range of products and services being introduced to India?
Like I mentioned earlier, there are three signature services that are offered to the clients, namely ready-to-wear, by request and bespoke signatures. “By Request” is what is being offered to the Indian clientele. It is a service that allows the buyer to choose a particular make from the models on offer, and change the type and colour of leather (around 100 choices here) and a few prominent elements like stitching and buckles, the width of the shoe and the type of sole as per preferences.

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“By request, which we can also term as ‘made-to-order’, would mean personalisation on the ‘ready-to-wear’ range of 35 designs (out of 150 designs) that will be introduced in the initial phases to India.”
They will be launching the collection with their casual loafers that start from 45,000 INR and formals from 70,000 INR up to 6 lac INR and exotic leather shoes for 7.5 lac INR.

They will be retailing belts, wallets and socks as well.

“Behind every order, there is a little story because its all about details and is something personal. Our clients love the brand, and we are sure it would appeal to the Indian audiences as well.”

Bespoke William shoe
Bespoke William shoe

What would be the method of approach for a client?
There being no physical structure such as a store or display, my next question was to understand how one makes that first contact with John Lobb and what entails the request for order process.

“The education, the training and the communication to the client is extremely important. We would be housing 35 samples of different sizes and styles, leather swatches, and different soles along with the portfolio of designs book, for the client to see and choose from.”

Also, with a brand like that, there would be zero bad surprises. So, basically the first step would be to get in touch with the John Lobb team based out of Mumbai and Delhi, which would be the Regalia Luxury Retail LLP team headed by its founder, Mr Pratik Dalmia. The team would then plan a visit to your residence/office premises (Pan-India) with the samples of styles, leather swatches, soles and pictures to capture exact details such as size, width, style, colour, leather type, sole type and other preferences. Once an order is confirmed, it would be shared with John Lobb team at Northampton, where they would begin the shoe-making process as per shared specifications. The delivery time would range between 3-4 months for a pair of shoes.

Pratik Dalmia, Founder, Regalia Luxury Retail LLP
Pratik Dalmia, Founder, Regalia Luxury Retail LLP

“The first step would be to get to know your shoe size, with the help of samples of shoes from the collection, with some of them in varying widths to understand the comfortable width proportions. Once the size is ascertained, then you’d move on to the choice of style/model, with the available samples and pictures of all the models. The second step would be the selection of the style you want. The third step would be the choices of colours and leather with the help of leather swatches. The next step would be the selection of sole. The quality of service is of utmost importance and we would ensure that we deliver service any client would find if he’s going into a store.”

Personalisation Process
Personalisation Process

Post sales servicing scenario?
Although I’m sure that if I were to buy a pair of John Lobbs, I would also like to care for them personally….but, if I couldn’t find time or just wanted someone from John Lobb to do it for me, would that mean it goes back to Northampton? Or I want the shoe sole to be replaced. Who do I get in touch with? This is what Mr Thomas Collette had to say to this –

“We are all about quality, service and support. And shoecare is extremely important at John Lobb. It’s not just about selling shoes. We really encourage our clients to take care of the shoes as well. If you’re looking for an after-sales service, we have ‘the butler service’ where we partner with the top hotels in the world, train their butlers according to our know-how on caring for the shoes and extend this service in the John Lobb style to our clients. If you require a new lace, shoecream or any other shoecare product, you simply get in touch with the team at India and it is shipped across in an express way.”

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However, if you are looking at a change of sole, it needs to be sent back to Northampton for that. And this would maybe need to be replaced after 10 years or so, if you take good care of your shoes. Well, the average lifespan of these shoes can range upto 25-30 years even. I don’t know of any other brand that can boast of a perfect upper condition post these many years.

Philip II and City II
Philip II and City II

This would be an excerpt I pulled out from their Facebook page, that instantly drew my attention. Noel Allen, talks of his long-term relationship with his John Lobbs…..

“I have many pairs of John Lobbs which are now well into their second decade – like old friends we have become even more comfortable with each other over time!”

Who would be viewed as John Lobb’s close competitor here?
I was almost expecting the reply I received, that there is essentially no competition because the quality is very different, even the clientele would be.

“In India, we are the first ever high-end shoe brand that’s launching itself in the country. In a way, there is no competitor here. The shoes on offer here are more fashion luxury products, John Lobb is not a fashion brand. The quality is not the same, nor is the communication of the brand. John Lobb’s welted shoes are of a higher quality and a different construction (Goodyear Welt), which also allows them to be re-soled, lending them a longer life. Also, we provide the personalised service, where other brands don’t.”

To sum it up, George Dickinson, the Managing Director of the firm in the 1950’s, spoke the ‘truth’ about John Lobb in the year 1976 –

“To tell the truth, it is impossible to define the John Lobb style. The lines, the arch, the proportions merge into a balance so rarely found, that it seems to come from a mysterious equation, between the pleasure of the eye and the comfort of the foot, between the model that gets you dreaming and the one that gets you walking, between desire and need….it is this equation that we call elegance.”

Some of the iconic world-famous bestsellers on offer are the ‘Lopez’ in the Loafer category, the ‘Philip II’ in the Oxford category, the ‘City II’ in the Oxford and the truly original design ‘William’, the double buckle bespoke shoe introduced in the year 1945.

Smitten, ofcourse!! Too bad they don’t offer anything for the women clientele. Gentlemen, if you’re feeling indulgent, I’d say gift yourselves this exquisite pair that would prove to be everyone’s envy. Sounds like a shoe right out of dreamland, giving you a feeling of owning a very special colonial piece of vintage. “Time’s the charm” – as John Lobb puts it across so simply by way of a short film!


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