Felix Jouanneau : Bootmaker
Words: Felix Jouanneau
Photographs: Ashley Watson
Felix Jouanneau in a bootmaker who's as true to his craft as anyone we've met. We spent a morning with him in his workshop to get a sense of the process he goes through and to discover what drives his work.
How did you get into boot making?
I have always enjoyed working with my hands and like the smell of leather. A long time ago I went on a trip to Florence, Italy, and saw some traditional shoemakers working. That planted a seed and years later, here I am. I was attracted to boot making in particular because I was interested in making a super hardwearing product that could stand the test of time. One of my favourite parts of this job is being able to see what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day.
When you were training, what was the hardest part of the process to master?
Two of the hardest things to master are making patterns and the laborious hand welting process (stitching the sole onto the shoe). Funnily enough, those two processes are now my favourite things to do.
From start to finish, how long does it take you to make a pair of boots?
Depending on the construction of the boot, it can take anywhere from three to ten days. The longest processes being carving a wooden last from scratch, a complex pattern or a hand welted and stitched sole.
There can't be many people in London or even the UK that still hand makes boots, do you find that’s a help or a hindrance?
I think it's a hindrance. With a consumer society that’s used to replacing cheap shoes after several months of wear, no one sees that a pair of handmade boots is an investment that if looked after, will last a lifetime. The money spent on cheap shoes over a couple of years will amount to more than a pair of handmade boots. I’m hoping that when more handmade boots are on the market, people will become aware of the benefits.
As your boots are bespoke, have you had any unexpected request?
I have a customer from Cyprus who sends me printed canvases to make his shoes and boots. There was one covered in illustrations by Quentin Blake, which made for an interesting pair of boots. The greatest thing about bespoke is the relationship between the customer and the maker – creating something that’s exactly what the customer wants and something that they will cherish.
What are your plans for the future?
Ride motorcycles and make nice boots for ace people.
When you get out of the workshop, do you have any spots about town that you like to ride to?
My favorite place to ride my motorcycle is over to Zeus, a garage in East London, where I can work on my motorcycle (it breaks down most of the time). I also like a quick trip around Epping Forest - it always takes my mind off the boots.
What's the best way to keep an old pair of boots on the road?
Keep the leather nourished by using a good shoe cream or mink oil so that it doesn't start cracking, bring them to me for a new sole before you wear them through the bottom and if the boots become wet, do not dry them by a fire or radiator. The heat will dry out the leather natural oils and cause the leather to crack.
If anyone is interested in your boots, how would they go about seeing them?
Come and visit my workshop, I am there most days. Just let me know before-hand. You can find my details on my website or you can keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the workshop through my instagram feed @felixjouanneau.