BOOTS: THE PERFECT FIT The How & Why

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Few people stop to realize that the Western Cowboy Boot, by it’s very nature is a bit of engineering ingenuity. Boot enthusiasts just know the right boot is darn comfortable, without ever having to consider the mechanics of how or why. Different than virtually any other type of footwear, the Western Boot addresses a unique challenge – how to snugly, securely and comfortably (and dare we say fashionably) contain the foot in a way that gives mobility, support, ease of on and off – without the use of the laces, a zip, or elastic – essentially with no closure mechanism. The masterful, artful way a bookmaker addresses this challenge is the most defining attribute that separates the Cowboy Boot from other footwear.

Now about getting that boot on and off – and how exactly does one judge the perfect fit?
The most common error people make in purchasing a Western Boot – is purchasing a boot that is too large. This stems from the fact that a too large boot of course goes on and comes off easily – right from the outset. Boots are in fact made however to fit a bit snug – particularly when new. The boot should require a solid tug on the pull straps while forcing ones heel into the floor to put on initially. There’s a dead give away when we fit someone in boots – we can tell before our client stands up, or even before feeling their foot if it’s a fit: It’s the whoosh sound that comes when the heel fully lands in the heel socket of the boot That whoosh sound is the air escaping from the heel of the boot – and if we don’t hear it, loud and clear we know either there’s too much room or if the sound is muted – not enough room in the boot. If we can pull the boot off your foot with little effort initially, say with one hand even, the boots are too large. Once on, we check fit by feeling across the instep, or top of your foot. We shouldn’t be able to pinch any leather. This is where in particular we look for snug. Now snug mind you is not “uncomfortable” – boots will go from snug to darn comfortable, but don’t really go from – “this is killing me” to a right fit. Our next key indicator is when you take your first few steps: your heel should lift up inside the boot – about 1/2” or so. This is a new feeling to the client who is just getting their first pair. What happens when you have the snug instep and slight heel lift though is what ultimately makes a boot so darn comfortable. Initial wear of the boot makes the leather across the instep “break” – which is just a fancy way to say soften, or conform to your foot. As the instep breaks, the heel starts to stay down with each step, and the counter – the leather around the heel cup in the boot – literally forms to your foot. A high quality boot will over short time become better than your best custom made pair of footwear, all on it’s own.

A proper Cowboy Boot contains a few other attributes that contribute to it’s unique level of comfort. That heel that may look like a finely stained type of rare rainforest wood – is actually stacked leather, so each step comes naturally with a soft landing. The “strike” of a properly fitting boot – where your weight lands on the ball of your foot is carefully engineered, and that area under your arch of your foot is actually supported by a steel shank nested in-between the outer and inner soles of leather. The tell tale sign of a handmade quality boot is the lemonwood pegs that can only be done by hand – securing the sole to the vamp. The unique property of lemonwood is that it expands and contracts with the leather, where as a nail cannot, and will over time loose it’s grip ultimately compromising the structure of the leather over the top of the boot.

We are all smiles when we get a client in boots who marvels about how comfortable they are. Whether it’s a first pair or just time for a new pair – we are here to get you your perfect pair of boots. Give those trainer’s a day off, or save them for the gym, and discover or re-discover the very coolness of great pair of handmade boots.

Whether you’re a Lucchese loyalist, prefer the refined elegance of Stallion Boots, ultimate comfort of a Rios of Mercedes or fashion sensibility of Old Gringo or Liberty Boots – we’re sure to find you the perfect match and fit!

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GO WEST!

DOGSeems hard to believe we are already in the middle of our third year in business and what a time it has been! There have been so many rewarding aspects of this venture. Meeting the international cross section of clientele that come through our door in Beverly Hills has been absolutely amazing. While having worked in retail for a number of years prior to starting WEST, my previous duties invariably placed me more in the back of house – looking after inventories, vendor relationships, and forging successful top notch sales teams and associates. My previous experience was primarily focused operational and systems side of the business. As is the case in any start up business, the proprietor gets to wear many hats, and so it is I’ve spent equal time in the front of the house here and I have to admit I’ve completely enjoyed the satisfaction of meeting clients and fostering friendships with such a incredibly diverse group of clients. Whether it’s having a client call from Miami or write from Qatar or Singapore to let us know they’re planning a trip back our way, or just to let us know how much they treasure their purchases from our store – those interactions fuel the satisfaction of owning a business more than achieving any monetary sales number could. Having a client remark how they scheduled an earlier flight to LA just have time to come visit us at the store – makes our day more than making a sales goal. There are often days where literally every client through our door is someone we already know and that is a great feeling. I know I beamed a little when a great client, coming from Australia, who’d only once previously physically visited our store, mentioned she’d had her travel agent block out specifically two hours for the family’s visit to WEST during their stay in LA.

On the other side of the business – working with the craftsmen, artisans and vendors who have all absolutely gone the extra mile to support us has been equally and absolutely amazing, and WEST’s success is as much theirs as ours. For virtually every product in our store – we can proudly say we know the craftsmen behind the product. This makes us the privileged purveyor to carry their story and their passion to our clients. While so many retailers pursue the direction of private labeling their own brand on their goods, which renders the actual creator anonymous- we pride ourselves on sharing the story of the artist and craftsmen behind each item we offer. Granted many of our goods may well be collaborations together with our vendors, we humbly recognize they are the experts in their craft. Our brand if you will is our curating of the goods – as they travel from artisan to end user, and providing our clients with the opportunity to appreciate, own and enjoy the most exquisitely crafted and endearing goods we think they will find anywhere. All this – delivered with a fair measure of fun, irreverence and genuine gratitude is our mission – what else could be more satisfying!

Keep in mind when you become obsessed with and choose to own that terrific Italian Campomaggi bag, or boots hand made in Texas from the likes of Stallion, Rios of Mercedes or Lucchese – or Italian footwear from Alberto Fasciani, French Sartore or from our silversmiths: Clint Orms, Jeff Deegan Designs, Comstock Heritage and jewelry from Venice Beach local Paula Rosen – you are supporting truly niche and passionate craftsmen. Virtually nothing in our store is a commodity that is readily obtainable at any number of outlets across the country or on-line. Hopefully we’ve hit a right mix – offering the discriminating client goods that are truly special, in many cases, wearable art, backed up by genuine passionate service. If we’ve done our work right, our WEST store is our living room, where you are our guest, and we are here to provide not just unique shopping but a bit of entertainment, catching up and camaraderie. We look forward to the months and years ahead as we expand our worldwide family of friends, clients, and purveyors of artfully chosen goods. Look forward to seeing you soon!

Meantime – Happy Trails,

James

IF OUR GOODS COULD TALK

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Get to know WEST even just a little and you’ll quickly learn we are passionate about the goods we purvey. We work in a bit of world of contagion – our suppliers are themselves the craftsmen and artists who produce what we buy and are passionate about what they create. We absorb that passion as we come to learn about the design and production process – which often includes collaboration in producing goods that are uniquely our own. That appreciation and passion- for materials, design, function and craftsmanship becomes instilled in every member of our team. Our “sales staff” aren’t as much sales staff as they are just people eager to share the knowledge and appreciation they’ve learned about the goods we offer.  Our goods really don’t take much “selling” – as much as simply letting people in on the appreciation of how well our goods are made.
But enough of all that – Let’s have a quick survey at some of the history steeped in a few of our hallmark goods:

Rios of Mercedes Boots Company est. 1853 in Mercedes, Texas – uses only the most top quality materials, and construction processes, which is why a Rios boot takes up to 5 times longer to make than a mass produced boot. The boots are designed, made, shipped all from the same facility in South Texas.

Faribault Woolens – In 1865, the year Lincoln died and the Civil War ended, a horse powered mill opened on the banks of the Cannon River, in Faribault, Minnesota, processing local wool into wool batting. The mill provided blankets to the the US Military for two world wars. The historic company temporarily met it’s demise during the recent financial crisis, closing it’s doors in 2009, but reopened in 2011, calling many of it’s former dedicated employees back to work, and reestablished itself by reintroducing many of its former historic patterns and styles.

Dell’Ga – est. 1880 by 20 year old Enrico Dell Orto making harnesses and bags for carriages in Seregno, outside Milan, Italy. Dell’ga is a maker of highest quality leather bags, briefcases and duffles, and has over the years provided the production work behind many of today’s most iconic fashion labels.

Lucchese Classics – est. 1883 in San Antonio, Texas, now located in El Paso. The most iconic name in Western Cowboy Boots and like Rios of Mercedes, uses only the highest grade skins and materials.  Each hand that touches a boot during it’s construction belongs to someone who is every bit as much an artist as craftsman.

So if our goods could talk – they’d tell you a bit about all that. But then you wouldn’t need us to speak for them. In their own way though our goods do speak- just hold a pair of hand made boots, a wool blanket, a leather duffle, a sterling silver hand crafted belt buckle and you’ll understand – these good do speak in their own way – no translation or explanation needed.

WEST also represents a fine set of “younger” artisan/craftsmen – whose heritage begins with their very own selves. But don’t let their “youth” fool you, this group is just as dedicated to their craft as these trans generational companies. More about these younger artistisans in our next post.

Do You Make Custom Boots?

blogThat question might seem straightforward enough, but we find it works best if we qualify what we do so far as designing and building a boot together with our customer. In our mind a true custom or “bespoke” as we are likely to hear these days – boot or shoe would be built on a last that is made specific to the customer’s feet. We can certainly facilitate a customer getting their own custom last made – and for boots this generally involves a day trip to the Lucchese factory in El Paso, Texas. From then forward – Lucchese will have and hold a custom last for the customer, on which any future boot orders would be built. In our mind – a custom boot comes from a custom last.

That said – quality bookmaking begins first and foremost with high quality, anatomically correct lasts. The best boot makers have arrived at the top of their craft in no small part due to their investment in lasts that allow their boots to fit, and fit well – a wide majority of feet. Once we determine a proper size, and select the boot maker who’s fit and style of boots are the best match, our process of designing a special order boot with a customer begins. With a little hand (or foot) holding from us, the customer gets to select leathers for the vamp (the foot) and and shaft, or upper of the boot. Sometimes these leathers may be the same, though often they are different. A caiman alligator vamp may be paired with a mad dog goat leather upper for example. Knowing the properties of different leathers is crucial in this phase. Some leathers, referred to as “pull up” may change dramatically from what is seen on a swatch and how it appears when stretched over the last to form the vamp. The choice of leathers marks just the beginning of the boot design process. The height of the upper can vary from around 10” as in a Roper style, up to 18” for a boot that stops just below the knee. The shape of the toe, the height of the heel, and color of the sole and heel are all selected. On the upper, also referred to as shaft, or quarters, the design is also chosen – this can be a “corded” style where actual cord lies underneath the leather lending a raised design pattern to the upper, or a stitch pattern or combination of the two. On stitch patterns the colors of thread, down to each individual stitch row and how many rows of thread are specified. Inlay or overlay leathers can be built into the shaft, and these are often hand cut by the most experienced leathers workers. The top of the boot usually has a “scallop” which eases boot entry, but even the depth of the scallop can be specified. A boot design with no scallop at the top is referred to as stovepipe. Pull straps can be located in the inside of the shaft – old style – or on the outside and come in different styles, including Mule Ears which extend all the way to the heel of the boot. Side seams can be “covered” meaning they are on the outside of the boot – and thus can’t be felt on the inside where sometimes they can irritate at the ankle. Alternately quarters can be sewn together by whipstitching, either up the side or back of the boot. Whipstitching can also extend across the top of the collar.

These are only few of the design choices in building a boot. At WEST we get to scour the skin rooms at our vendor’s factories, and because we usually only make a single limited size run of a design, we can select the most premium and highest quality skins that are often not available in large quantity. For inspiration we seek out archives of vintage designs, not to merely reproduce but but update to incorporate a mix of modern and old elements. Sometimes when we believe we might be going a bit too far out on a limb on a colorful design – we’ll order just two pairs – thinking these will be at least good conversation starters with customers. Invariably those styles are the quickest to go out the door.

Customers can provide their own inspiration as well as logo, ranch brand, you name it – to incorporate into their boot design. Once put into production you can expect your special just for you boots to be ready in the neighborhood of 8 – 12 weeks.

The Perfect Fit

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What’s the most important measure of a great pair of boots?

We encounter it almost every day – a customer’s amazement at how comfortable a proper fitting, well made pair of boots can feel. Note the terms proper fit and well made. A well made and proper fitting boot is not only comfortable, but a piece of footwear that places the body in a natural, slightly athletic and healthy stance of roughly 60% weight on the ball of the foot, and 40% on the heel. This is something a sneaker cannot accomplish. This revelation is often new for our customers who have formerly only measured a boots fit by virtue of being able to get it on and off, and comfort was only a secondary afterthought. We aim to change that mindset – one pair, one happy customer at a time. So just how should a great boot fit?

A quality boot should feel snug across the instep initially, but not tight. The arch of the foot should naturally fit in the widest portion of the boot. In your first steps you will want to feel your heel lift about 1/2 inch when trying on a new pair of boots. The heel lift will decrease as the leather breaks across the instep and toe of the boot, and the heel cup forms to your foot. These are the hallmarks of determining a proper fit. One should never get hung up on the numerical size or width of a boot in deciding if a boot fits. Each boot and footwear maker has their own set of lasts from which their products are made – and the numbers can vary across brands. If a boot is initially too narrow in the toe box or instep – depending on the leather it can often be stretched just about one width. Meaning a D can become an E, which is about 1/8 of an inch. Some skins are more likely to stretch or are more forgiving than others, which also comes into play in how a boot will ultimately come to fit. We are able to offer widths and sizes we may not necessarily have in stock. Through our close relationships with our vendors we can readily bring in try on boots in a variety of sizes, from AAA widths to a size 15.

What makes a handmade boot or shoe more comfortable than a mass produced product? The details! Lucchese is famed for it’s twisted cone last. A Lucchese last mimics almost precisely the contours of the human foot – which is not symmetrical. Pulling leather over this type of last in the making of the boot can only be done by hand. A machine cannot yet perform this task to the same standard as an skilled craftsman’s hands. Other attributes of the hand made construction process include the use of storied lemonwood pegs in place of nails in securing the vamp of the boot to the sole. Lemonwood expands and contracts at the same rate of leather, thus preserving the integrity of the boot better than nails ever could.

In our opinion, a great pair of boots is not just the fantastic looking pair that sits in your closet; it’s the pair that to grab to wear every chance you get – and that’s because it not just looks great, but it fits and by virtue of it’s top quality construction it’s comfortable.

Don’t take our word for it – come see us and try a pair for yourself.

Coming up next – the process of designing and making your own special pair.

A Western Store in Beverly Hills, Part II

Lasting

 

Step into WEST and you’ll be immediately greeted with the warm, inviting smell of leather. But, this isn’t just any leather you’re smelling. It’s leather from the finest tanneries and markets around the world, hand lasted, tacked, stitched, sewn, and ultimately finished and added to our selection of luxury leather boots, bags, and belts.

Step into WEST and you’ll notice cowboy boots all lined up in a row atop wood shelving. But, these aren’t just cowboy boots. These are works of art- leather that’s cut, carved and tooled by hand, with expressive stitch patterns run through vintage Singer sewing machines, with stacked heels and soles pegged with lemonwood. Artisans and craftsmen have passed these skills down from generation to generation, keeping tradition alive as they carefully produce what fills our shelves.

So yes, we could be called a cowboy store in that we carry “cowboy” boots. But just as Ferrari undisputedly builds a fine race car, the lucky few who own one are more likely to drive it down Rodeo Drive than race at La Mans. Likewise our fine boots have entered the rarified world of things worth owning due to the exacting detail of their creation.

Whether western or urban in style our boots are steeped in time honored fine craftsmanship of Texas, Leon  and Italy, three locales keeping the tradition of “handmade” quality leather goods alive.

So, No Hat, No Cattle, No Problem – an appreciation for the finest quality goods- be it boots, shoes, belts, buckles, knives and leather goods is the only requirement to place these items in your life.

A Western Store in Beverly Hills?

We know; we’ve heard it, “What’s a Western Store doing in Beverly Hills?”…..  But hold on a moment – talk to any long term Beverly Hills resident, and he or she will fondly recall the days when horses rather than Bentleys dominated Rodeo Drive, and the infamous Bridal Path leading “From Beverly Hills to Sea and Mountains” cut a swath through the center of town.  The rise of Hollywood and the surrounding area is inextricably tied to the celebration of the American West that dominated film in the early decades of the 20th Century.  At WEST we pay tribute to those earlier times by purveying some of it’s most enduring symbols:  finely crafted boots, intricately made sterling silver buckles and jewelry, hats made exclusively of beaver fur felt.  Yet time marches on – you will find many of our designs are thoroughly modern, fit for any lifestyle, and what we have really captured and preserved from the past is the devotion to quality that inheres in hand made goods by artisans that are passionate about their work. So, we hope you will check us out!

We proudly offer boots by iconic bookmakers such as Lucchese, Stallion Boot Company, Liberty Boot Co. and Rios of Mercedes along with Italian produced exquisite boots and shoes from Alberto Fasciani and France based Sartore.  In our display cases you find sterling silver and gold Western style and contemporary belt buckles from Clint Orms, Comstock Heritage, Jeff Deegan Designs and Chacòn.  Knives from William Henry Studio are in a class of their own, and if you haven’t yet been introduced to these fine instruments, we need to get one in your hand – that goes for gals as well as guys!  We have a eclectic mix of jewelry pieces ranging from diamonds on leather from Michelle Marocco for Niyama to semi-precious layering pieces by Venice beach local Paula Rosen. Top quality and smartly designed travel bags, briefs and other leather goods from Moore and Giles of Virginia as well as Italian produced Campomaggi and salvage leather based pieces from Silent People round out our offerings.  All offered in a place where the overall objective is to kick a bit of fun into the shopping experience.

So, Yeah – there’s a Western store in Beverly Hills!  Come check us out – have a Whiskey or a Beer, browse, visit, try on some boots or just say Howdy.