As he celebrates 25 years of iconic shoe design, Justin Deakin reveals what fans like Kanye West and Harry Styles can expect by way of celebration
Justin Deakin shoes have built up quite a cult following. His shop in Shoreditch, opened in 2011, is East London’s (and maybe even all of London’s) go-to for the ultimate in English gentleman’s shoes. Meeting Justin at his store, there’s no doubt about his style: with a vintage leopard skin adorning the wall and a statement printed in the window reading ‘make the right noise’, he has truly established his own coveted international signature. There’s something about the space that oozes luxe, but is welcoming at the same time. I’m in shoe heaven – even if it is mainly men’s shoes.
Talking to someone who has owned and loved a pair of Justin Deakin shoes, they’d probably point out the signature touches that distinctly set them apart. From the gold dots to the gold heel tabs, Justin has made sure to fashion a brand that is manifestly his. In his own words, Justin describes his brand as ‘distinctive, British luxury that has its own feeling and attitude. There’s always a place for a well made, stylish pair of shoes, that’s timeless. That’s always going to be a part of a London gent’s attire’.
There’s also no doubt he is a busy man. As we begin our chat, Justin cringes apologetically as three very dapper men enter. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he says. ‘These guys are some of my top clients, and they’re really fantastic, I’ve been expecting them.’ No problem, I say, as I get to see the designer in his element – it’s one of his client’s birthday celebrations this weekend, and so Justin sets about helping him choose the perfect pair especially for the day. His knowledge of exactly what is available and the makings of each shoe shine through as he discusses them with his clients, who aren’t just customers, but close friends.
As we settle back down to chat, Justin takes me through the process of making sure that his shoes are consistently the best quality. It’s not just the look of the shoe that boasts luxury – they simply last (if taken care of), because Justin chooses the best of the best when it comes to factories and tanneries.
‘You’re competing with every luxury brand that’s out there and it’s very important that they’ve got a particular way of doing things or a particular hand-made process that only they’ve got,’ he says. ‘If I’ve got a shoe and there’s a way that I can improve on it through different factory processes, then I’ll always do that.’
In his early days, Justin collaborated with a friend in his hometown of Leeds, who was studying fashion in college. The two sat down with a Yellow Pages – ‘the pre-Internet days!’ – to set about finding the right factory for their creations. ‘The first factory we went into was where we ended up making shoes in. The first collection was really terrible, the shapes were all wrong, and the guy who owned the factory, Richard, let us get into the factory and learn while we were making.’
Then, in 1997, Justin won Shoe Designer of the Year and was featured in the British Design Museum for his fashion brand Stride. ‘There’s only Nike, me, and Christian Louboutin, and I was in there for maybe a year,’ he smiles.
Now, for the 25th anniversary of his time in shoe design, Justin has turned attentions to sportswear, creating a brand new line of luxury sneakers, due to be released in August. I’m lucky enough to get a sneak peek of a couple of his black pony skin designs, and they’re extraordinary. ‘I’m really chuffed about these, they’re brilliant,’ he beams. ‘This represents a new era of footwear.’
His clients range from Kanye West (once buying 11 pairs in one visit) to Harry Styles, through to the CEO of Pret a Manger. ‘We have a real mixed bag. We also have a lot of graphic designers and a lot of IT people because we’re in that area.’ And the choice of Hanbury Street for location? ‘It was a little grittier,’ he answers. ‘I used to live around this area years ago and it was too soon then. And then something came up and I got this off plan. I didn’t even have a look at it, they just showed me the plans and I knew the street so I said I’d take it, and the East End was definitely the right call at the end of the day.’
We pause again, momentarily, as Justin dashes out to shake the hand of another customer, passing by to admire the new additions in the window and to thank the designer for their last purchase. ‘I work on the shop floor a lot, and people get quite amazed that I’m in. Because unless people ask, I don’t say. I’m just a guy that works in the shop,’ Justin says with a twinkle in his eye.
This one-on-one approach has led to a timeless tradition of Justin’s – a decanter of Chivas Regal 18 years, ready to pour for special customers. ‘It really is like old-style retailing. We talk, we get on first name terms, and people sit and have a whisky and relax and enjoy the shopping experience.’
So what does the future hold for this designer, who seems to have almost achieved everything one could dream of in this industry? He says what is most important is staying authentic, a little out of reach, but also the best quality money can buy. ‘I hope that the business grows in a nice organic way,’ he concludes. ‘I want to keep doing what I do well.’ And another 25 years down the track? ‘To be still around! And to be a beacon for good quality and original design.’
Words: Phillipa Rust
22 Hanbury Street E1 6QR; 020 7247 0985; justindeakin.com