Seiji McCarthy is somebody I’ve needed to cowl on PS ever since we frolicked in Tokyo some six years in the past. However with no prospect of travelling to Japan quickly, I turned to native author and buddy Christopher Berry to go to Seiji and report – on Seiji’s American fashion and MTO course of particularly.
By Christopher Berry
I lately had the pleasure of visiting Seiji McCarthy, considered one of 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 fairly 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 facet). 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 a couple of 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 might need referred to as the transfer foolhardy, given the nation already appears to be bursting with names. However I believe that is to misconceive the native tradition. Whether or not or not it’s in footwear, fits or watches, each time a brand new participant enters the sector, everybody pays due consideration – and infrequently 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 house.
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 degree of worth to those that need bespoke high quality, however have pretty common ft.
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 essential. For every altered location on the final, a further cost of ¥5,000 (£30) is added.
This course of can be accomplished remotely, however is barely really helpful for those that can match into a regular sized final of a generally recognized model. For instance, one may inform Seiji they had been a 9.5 in, say, Alden and choose a method and leather-based. The shoe would then be made in a single shot with zero fittings, in keeping with the client’s acceptable dimension based mostly on these discussions.
There’s one closing possibility, the place a trial shoe is distributed as a part of this distant MTO service, for an additional ¥70,000. For many who are travel-restricted, these choices all work effectively, to good buyer satisfaction. Nonetheless, Seiji all the time 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 reveals me how your foot seems to be, I can think about it in 3D so significantly better.”
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 client’s foot, however in Seiji’s view don’t all the time assure higher outcomes.
In his expertise, topographical cross sections of the foot utilizing a gauge are extraordinarily helpful for reaching match, on prime of tracings and measures. Though as in lots of areas of craft, finally the right choice 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 of in another 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 unfavorable 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 few half dimension too giant, 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 could proceed to show uninterrupted.
Seiji and I agreed these societal and office norms are additionally the explanation why males in Asia have a tendency in the direction of a extra elongated shoe. Convincing clients to interrupt with this visible bias has not all the time been straightforward. However, with a lot of the world changing 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’s additionally a parallel with Seiji’s personal journey, from idolizing super-slim London footwear to the extra American-oriented kinds he prefers right now.
“Once I began as a bespoke maker I needed to make the George Cleverly Churchill-style chiseled toe. However the fashion I’ve developed since dwelling here’s a lot much less chiseled and much more spherical,” he says.
“At present the most well-liked footwear we promote are nonetheless brogues and gown footwear, as a result of Japanese guys usually put on extra gown footwear. However whereas up to now I’d promote a brogue with a brilliant chiseled toe, now we do issues rather more rounded. Now I’ll push folks into grain leathers or suede, or I’ll counsel 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 more durable, as a result of they must be saved spotless all through the (bodily demanding) making course of. “The supplies I like to recommend essentially the most are a number of the hardest to work with as a maker, however I don’t thoughts. I benefit from the problem. I 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 would 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 appropriate locations from step one. Prepared-made cordovan in contrast might be more durable to interrupt in, and the ache lingers in our reminiscence (and generally ft) for years.
The writer personally wears a dimension EEE in Alden and might attest to this phenomenon. Quite a lot of it additionally has to do with age. As we become old, our ft unfold out or can turn out to be 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 aside from different makers. This informal class actually appears to place the footwear right into a extra versatile class of bespoke, approachable by a greater diversity of shoppers.
It’s a method heritage he and I’ve in widespread, having each spend time in school in Philadelphia. “Vast leg chinos and button-down shirts – when you’re from the East Coast, we get born in this stuff, you already know? Penny loafers, khakis, rugby shirts and jackets.”
Practicality can be on the centre of the enchantment, for him: “I’m most likely on the age now  the place I don’t need to even trip the subway anymore. I imply I’ll, however there’s a give attention to 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 cut up. I desire a pair that’s snug and that I can maintain for 20 years. You don’t actually count on 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 vastly inform the kind of garments Seiji pairs together with his footwear. With that in thoughts, it is going to 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 fashion to the purpose that if I hadn’t met him, I believe I’d nonetheless be making British-style footwear. He obtained me into classic. I consider him nearly like a Rick Rubin. He helps artisans in a approach that’s ridiculous,” says Seiji.
“The fashion I’ve developed since dwelling right here in Japan is loads nearer to my heritage and much more based mostly on every day life. Ultimately you get again to who you’re.”
Seiji is planning worldwide trunk reveals sooner or later. Keep tuned to this house 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 12 months
- Fittings: As essential