Seiji McCarthy is somebody I’ve wished to cowl on PS ever since we frolicked in Tokyo and I noticed the standard of his work, some six years in the past. However with no prospect of travelling to Japan quickly, I turned to Christopher Berry to go to Seiji and report – on Seiji’s his American type and MTO course of specifically.
By Christopher Berry
I not too long ago had the pleasure of visiting Seiji McCarthy, one among Tokyo’s most attention-grabbing new bespoke shoemakers. I say new, however really he’s been in Japan for 5 years, assiduously honing his craft and constructing a model. He simply tends to maintain reasonably a low profile.
Seiji first lived right here in his twenties, each to grasp the language and to re-connect together with his roots (he’s half Japanese, on his mom’s aspect). Again within the US, he pursued a profession with the NBA (that’s the Nationwide Basketball Affiliation), which took him throughout America and Asia. However then he returned just a few years in the past to pursue shoemaking.
One way or the other, Seiji has managed to make a reputation for himself in a rustic famend for its grasp shoemakers. Some may need referred to as the transfer foolhardy, given the nation already appears to be bursting with names. However I feel that is to misconceive the native tradition. Whether or not or not it’s in footwear, fits or watches, every time a brand new participant enters the sector, everybody pays due consideration – and sometimes the bar finally ends up being raised for everybody.
When Seiji began he shared a part of the higher flooring of World Footwear Gallery, within the Harajuku district of Tokyo. However right now he’s in a brand new atelier – a discreet ivy-clad constructing across the nook, a stone’s throw away from Bryceland’s – and albeit it’s a pleasure to see him thriving in his personal area.
After settling into the jazz café-themed workshop, Seiji explains to me his new made-to-order service. That is faster and cheaper, and presents a excessive stage of worth to those that need bespoke high quality, however have pretty common toes.
The becoming course of is inherently an additive one. First, shoppers are guided into their best-fitting trial shoe. Then, corrections to the pre-made kind are made as obligatory. For every altered location on the final, a further cost of ¥5,000 JPY (£30) is added.
This course of can be achieved remotely, however is just beneficial for those who can match into a regular sized final of a generally recognized model. For instance, one might inform Seiji they had been a 9.5 in, say, Alden and choose a mode and leather-based. The shoe would then be made in a single shot with zero fittings, in accordance with the shopper’s customary Brannock measurement.
For many who are travel-restricted, Seiji is completely happy to satisfy such orders, and does so to good buyer satisfaction. Nonetheless, he at all times advocates in-person fittings when doable.
Bespoke is inevitably the place issues get extra attention-grabbing.
Whereas Seiji’s footwear are as removed from a manufacturing facility product as doable, he locations a heavy emphasis on factory-like ranges of consistency: “I wish to take as a lot guesswork out as doable. If I’ve a gauge that exhibits me how your foot appears, I can think about it in 3D so a lot better. Most Japanese shoemakers don’t work like this.”
Whereas European shoemakers usually favour easy tape measurements and foot tracings, many in Japan and Asia use extra concerned becoming processes, replete with plastic footwear, strain sensors and even plaster moulds. These gadgets can present a 1:1 anatomical reference within the absence of the shopper’s foot, however in Seiji’s view don’t at all times assure higher outcomes.
In his expertise, topographical cross sections of the foot utilizing a gauge are all he must make an correct final, on high of tracings and measures. Though as in lots of areas of craft, finally the correct determination about which instruments to make use of is as much as the artisan, and which they discover delivers the very best outcomes to their clients.
It’s additionally helpful to notice that ‘well-fitting’ footwear are thought-about in a different way right here in Japan than overseas.
For instance, folks take off their footwear with extra frequency, and nobody desires to garner even the slightest detrimental consideration from friends or superiors by spending an excessive amount of time lacing or unlacing their footwear at skilled features. Consequently, Japanese folks usually put on footwear a couple of half measurement too massive, and generally extra.
Right here, folks want to leap out and in of their footwear in a flash, in order that the gears of society might proceed to show uninterrupted.
Seiji and I agreed these societal and office norms are additionally the rationale why males in Asia have a tendency in direction of a extra elongated shoe. Convincing clients to interrupt with this visible bias has not at all times been straightforward. However, with a lot of the world turning into much less formal the tides appear to be lastly turning, and Seiji is having fun with the chance to domesticate and educate clients throughout this cultural shift.
There may be additionally a parallel with Seiji’s personal journey, from idolizing super-slim London footwear to the extra American-oriented kinds he prefers right now.
“After I began as a bespoke maker I wished to make the George Cleverly Churchill-style chiseled toe. However the type I’ve developed since dwelling here’s a lot much less chiseled and much more spherical,” he says.
“Immediately the most well-liked footwear we promote are nonetheless brogues and costume footwear, as a result of Japanese guys usually put on extra costume footwear. However whereas previously I’d promote a brogue with an excellent chiseled toe, now we do issues far more rounded. Now I’ll push folks into grain leathers or suede, or I’ll recommend folks attempt cordovan, which immediately provides that cumbersome, waxy really feel.”
It’s attention-grabbing to listen to this, as cordovan is notoriously one of many harder leathers to work with. With shell, particularly on the heel and toe areas, Seiji likens getting a clear pull over the past to “hog wrestling.”
And even suede skins are tougher, as a result of they must be saved spotless all through the (bodily demanding) making course of. “The supplies I like to recommend probably the most are those which might be the hardest to work with as a maker, however I don’t thoughts. I benefit from the problem. I really like the appear and feel of these supplies for myself and for my clients,” he says.
Whereas many will affiliate cordovan with ready-made footwear, you could possibly argue its sought-after properties are literally higher suited to bespoke in some methods.
On a bespoke final the fabric adapts extra readily to the foot and provides in all the fitting locations from step one. Prepared-made cordovan against this may be tougher to interrupt in, and the ache lingers in our reminiscence (and generally toes) for years.
The creator personally wears a measurement EEE in Alden and might attest to this phenomenon. Lots of it additionally has to do with age. As we become old, our toes unfold out or can turn into misshapen by years of ill-fitting footwear, inflicting additional damage.
Seiji’s vary consists of each English and American kinds, however it’s the creation of an elevated, extra refined model of the latter that arguably units him other than different makers. This informal class actually appears to place the footwear right into a extra versatile class of bespoke, approachable by a greater variety of consumers.
It’s a mode heritage he and I’ve in widespread, having each spend time in school in Philadelphia. “Large leg chinos and button-down shirts – in case you’re from the East Coast, we get born in these items, you understand? Penny loafers, khakis, rugby shirts and jackets.”
Practicality can also be on the centre of the enchantment, for him: “I’m in all probability on the age now  the place I don’t need to even trip the subway anymore. I imply I’ll, however there’s a concentrate on high quality of life stuff. I actually want strolling or commuting by bike.
“I like footwear, however I don’t need to have my toenails break up. I need a pair that’s snug and that I can hold for 20 years. You don’t actually anticipate 20-year-olds to point out up in bespoke footwear. However I’m at an age now the place it makes extra sense.”
There’s little shock that his East Coast beginnings tremendously inform the kind of garments Seiji pairs together with his footwear. With that in thoughts, it would additionally come as little shock to readers that his workshop is so near Bryceland’s, the menswear retailer run by Ethan Newton.
“Ethan actually influenced my type to the purpose that if I hadn’t met him, I feel I’d nonetheless be making British-style footwear. He bought me into classic. I consider him virtually like a Rick Rubin. He helps artists in a manner that’s ridiculous,” says Seiji.
“The type I’ve developed since dwelling right here in Japan is loads nearer to my heritage and much more primarily based on each day life. Ultimately you get again to who you might be.”
Seiji is planning worldwide trunk exhibits sooner or later. Keep tuned to this area and Seiji’s Instagram for updates.
Costs in JPY as of September 8 2022:
- Value: ¥200,000 (£1225, plus ¥5,000 per final adjustment)
- Lead Time: 3-4 months
- Fittings: 1
- Value: ¥400,000 (£2450)
- Lead Time: 1 Yr
- Fittings: As obligatory