Written by DAVID COGGINS
Photographed by BJÖRN WALLANDER
The return to the culture of the thoughtful and well-made can rightly be seen as a virtuous trend. Yes, you might have to hear the word “artisanal” applied to dill pickles, but that’s a small price to pay. Talented people are returning to methods that have succeeded over many years, even longer. Their pursuits stand in contrast to the social media hum, go beyond the latest news cycle and outlast the season’s must-have list. That’s to say, there’s an enduring appeal of things made with care and by hand. Enter Julian Imrie, whose elegant, essential boots, are coveted by men from New York to London to Tokyo.
The specifics might seem inevitable, yet they’re surprisingly hard to come by: careful measurement of your foot, the creation of a unique, wooden last, well-tanned leather, smart hardware details. Each pair takes roughly 35 hours to make and they’re stunning, at once functional and refined. Your bench-made boots may be burgundy and dove grey two-tones that would look at home on a Chekhov aristocrat, or they could be deep, brown, cap-toe work boots, like a master tailor in a Moroni painting.
“We don’t want uniform leather,” Imrie explains, “we want leather with character.”
Imrie explains that historically boots reveal more about men than simply their taste. “The shape was dictated by the work that the man who was going to wear the boots was doing” he notes, “so a carpenter would have a different shaped boot than an architect.” One knelt and worked with his hands, the other sat, drew and met clients. There were other variations for millers, butchers, bakers, miners, plowmen. These days, alas, few tradesmen will lay down $2000 for a custom pair of boots. But you don’t begrudge Imrie for that.
His label, Julian Boots, is a natural progression over years. Imrie, who was born in London, studied sculpture at the School of Visual Arts in New York. That’s not a surprise when you see his boots, they’re beautiful objects in every sense. And, yes, they are sculptural — that’s why Imrie measures your calf too, to ensure the fit works well, right up your leg. In many ways, they can stand on their own.
An initial meeting involves a discussion of what your interests are, and measurements, of course. Imrie will need to know the dimensions of “your little toe knuckle, your big toe knuckle, the arch of the foot, 10” up the leg.” He’ll seek out archetypes — what type of man are you? Then you’ll select from an impressive array of custom leather, in forward colors. “We don’t want uniform leather,” Imrie explains, “we want leather with character.” That means working with traditional tanneries to get high quality hide, from animals that were not injected with hormones.
It should be noted that Mr. Imrie lives up to the billing — yes, he wears an apron when he works — but without any of the fuss or pretension. You trust him to do good work and are reassured by his path after college. As he describes it: “I started with carpentry, farming and plowing, followed by working with leather, fabricating harnesses and straps for the horses, making sandals, fixing boots. After that, I went back to Britain and learned about tanning and making lasts.”
Across disciplines there’s a convergence of talented people taking the long view — the next generation of tailors naturally seek out small scale Scottish tweed mills. For the rest of us, it’s a time to enjoy good farmer’s markets and endure some cleverer-than-thou dinner parties. Somehow craftsmen manage to find each other. In Imrie’s small workshop you’ll find Armenians. Why? There’s a tradition of shoemaking in Armenia — for years they were one of Russia’s chief supplier’s. And, of course, it’s harder to find an American apprentice: “You can’t study architecture and then tell your parents you’re taking up shoemaking,” Imrie notes wryly. That may change, however, as more and more people want to meet the maker.