No business like Boyce handmade shoe business

Posted: November 14, 2013

The Winchester Star

Kathy DiToto (right), owner of DC Leather, and Paul Davies pose at the business.
Paul Davies, the “London Shoemaker” and manager of DC Leather and Crafts in Boyce, carves a wooden shoe last — a mechanical form that has a shape similar to that of a human foot — in his workshop. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

BOYCE — There aren’t too many real shoemakers around today, said Paul Davies of DC Leather and Crafts in Boyce.

And he should know, because he is The London Shoemaker.

Where other places may advertise “handmade” shoes, much of what is turned out is actually made on a machine, he said.

But you can get the real deal at 15 W. Main St. in Boyce.

Owner Kathy DiToto and Davies, the store manager, agree that their little shop is “unique,” because much of what is in it is made to fit the customer.

There are the handmade shoes, couture dresses that you won’t see someone else wearing at that holiday party, custom-made men’s shirts and a variety of jewelry and accessories, including handmade leather purses.

Davies, who has been creating custom-made shoes for 25 years, said that process is laborious.

First comes measurements of the customer’s feet. Each foot has to be done because left and right feet don’t always mirror each other.

Then, Davies carves a wooden form, to those singular measurements.

He cuts out leather — color and texture chosen by the customer — and fits it to the form.

Then, the future shoe wings its way across the Atlantic.

Handmade shoes pass through several experts, Davies said. He is the first, building the form, called a “last,” that duplicates the foot. And, he’s the second, a “clicker,” who cuts the leather and fits it to the form.

Then, a “closer” supplies the bottom of the shoe, and finally, a “bottom maker” puts on the sole that will contact the ground.

The final two steps are done overseas, where Davies uses experts he depended on for those services when he worked in London.

“These shoes will have traveled over 5,000 miles before the customer gets them,” Davies said.

And, when they return to him, there will be another fitting and he will do any adjustments needed to ensure a perfect fit.

You could say that Davies, who also works for Journeyman Saddlers leather shop in Middleburg repairing boots and shoes and other items, is a perfectionist.

“I can spend anywhere from two to three hours cleaning a pair of shoes,” he said.

That may be why the Vogel and Dehner companies, makers of custom English riding boots, have authorized Davies to take measurements for their product, so they can ensure their customers get the fit they expect.

Davies also creates custom-made leather slippers, with designs that are meaningful to the owners. A horse and rider leaping a fence is a fairly simple project compared to one where the customer wanted the insignia of his yacht club worked in.

On the distaff side, DiToto follows her own creative flair, designing jewelry. The shop also showcases Middleburg designer Wendy Pepper’s handmade dresses and jackets.

“I like her flowing style,” said DiToto, adding, “They are truly unique.”

She is currently working on a design for a “little black dress” that can be used as an all-purpose garment to dress up or down to fit the occasion.

“I’m trying to create a certain style.”

And, under Davies’ influence, DiToto is playing with leather.

She has her own line of purses and bracelets and is inventing her own leather jewelry, including earrings.

“I’m starting a horse theme,” she said, holding up a leather earring featuring two horse heads touching with a cutout between them, in the shape of a fox head.

“I’d like to try leather painting, too.”

Davies said he enjoys working with customers who want to “design something different.”

And, he added, customers who like quality and don’t mind waiting for it.

It can take six months to have a pair of custom shoes built, Davies said. But with decent care, they will last for years.

All the materials for items in the shop come from the United States or Europe, with the exception of the sheepskins, which are a product of Australia.

They can, Davies said, put sheepskin on anything.

While the shop’s soaps and scarves, cufflinks and ties won’t break your bank, Davies said having his own shop in London’s Mayfair section for many years has accustomed him to quality luxury goods when it comes to his own specialty. He doesn’t settle for less.

Custom leather work does not come cheap, he explained.

His handmade slippers can cost about $300 and custom shoes closer to $3,000.

Davies hopes DC Leather and Crafts will attract people who want the ability to exercise their own creativity.

DC Leather and Crafts is open from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and by appointment other days by calling 540-837-2016.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com