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This industry inspires veterans and rookies alike

For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of a very enjoyable afternoon at the Drapers Independents Awards on November 7 was seeing womenswear veteran Irving Goodman receiving his statuette for lifetime achievement in the indie sector.

In his case, the designation of a lifetime of achievement is accurate because this eveningwear specialist, who is probably best known for his time running the Medici label, started in the business as a child, assisting his dressmaker mother after school in the 1930s. Now an extremely good advertisement for being 80 years old, he has racked up 65 years in the industry proper and is still enjoying himself with his latest venture, a designer bridal
brand called Eliza Jane Howell.

In his short but moving address at the awards luncheon, Irving’s passion for this fascinating and addictive trade of ours was all too obvious. A strong contender for the best-dressed man at the event, Irving gave us all a start when he produced from inside his trouser waistband a huge pair of cutter’s shears and revealed that they were used in a uniform factory in south Wales by his grandfather, who bequeathed them to Irving on his deathbed. He still uses them.

I was reminded of the charismatic Mr Goodman on Tuesday evening this week when I attended the prize giving of the Footwear Friends Annual Awards at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, south London. For the fourth time, this footwear industry charity ran a national competition to find young companies that are deserving of financial and mentoring support. The same sort of creative drive and entrepreneurial passion that has kept Irving Goodman in
the trade for almost seven decades was in evidence among the 20 hopefuls who had entered the awards this year.

The top accolade went to a 30-year-old London-based Brazilian, Diego Vanassibara, who trained at Cordwainers college and makes striking men’s shoes that feature lacquered Javanese wood as decorative features. Despite being only in his second season, he is already selling to retailers such as Joyce in Hong Kong. No doubt the £5,000 first prize will assist his cash flow.

The second prize of £2,500 went to a self-taught shoemaker called Jadd Friedman, who runs a cottage industry making beautifully crafted, mainly casual men’s styles, using vintage machinery, under the Suffolk Shoes brand. A former banker, Amanda Collins, took the third spot and £500 for her simple but original Save Your Sole concept, a removable stick-on sole protector. A free stand at the Platform trade fair in Las Vegas went to Nicola Sexton, who has developed her own wholesale line after opening a shoe shop in Bury St Edmunds. Interestingly enough, all four winners have no footwear tradition in the family, but were all bitten by the irresistible bug that affects
so many in the industry.

Events like Footwear Friends remind me of the amount of talent that exists in the business and it is always interesting to speculate who might prove to have longevity and substance. Ticking both those boxes is Sir Paul Smith, whose 43-year career is being celebrated at the Design Museum in a major retrospective called Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith, which opened this week and runs until March. In a radio interview with the BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz on Tuesday the designer reminded listeners that you have to be patient to achieve success but “unfortunately these days everyone wants to go like a rocket”. Smithy’s mantra has always been to produce garments that are “easy to wear, but make you smile”.

In 1983 I interviewed Paul and legendary photographer Bruce Weber when Paul was the only UK stockist of Weber’s first monograph. The designer was his usual dapper self and Bruce, as usual, was wearing a bandana on his bald pate. A photo I took of the pair appeared in The Face with the unforgettable caption (and I salute the unknown sub-editor who dreamt it up): “Paul Smith (hanky in pocket) with Bruce Weber (hanky on head).”

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