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 model and MTO course of particularly.
By Christopher Berry
I just lately had the pleasure of visiting Seiji McCarthy, considered one of Tokyo’s most fascinating 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 moderately a low profile.
Seiji first lived right here in his twenties, each to grasp the language and to re-connect along 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 just a few years in the past to pursue shoemaking.
By some means, 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 sneakers, fits or watches, every time a brand new participant enters the world, 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 ground of World Footwear Gallery, within the Harajuku district of Tokyo. However right this moment 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 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 needed. For every altered location on the final, a further cost of ¥5,000 JPY (£30) is added.
This course of may also be accomplished remotely, however is simply really useful for those that can match into an ordinary sized final of a generally recognized model. For instance, one may inform Seiji they have 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 accordance with the client’s customary Brannock measurement.
For individuals who are travel-restricted, Seiji is glad to meet such orders, and does so to good buyer satisfaction. Nevertheless, he all the time advocates in-person fittings when attainable.
Bespoke is inevitably the place issues get extra fascinating.
Whereas Seiji’s sneakers are as removed from a manufacturing unit product as attainable, he locations a heavy emphasis on factory-like ranges of consistency: “I wish to take as a lot guesswork out as attainable. If I’ve a gauge that exhibits me how your foot appears to be like, I can think about it in 3D so a lot better. Most Japanese shoemakers don’t work like this.”
Whereas European shoemakers sometimes favour easy tape measurements and foot tracings, many in Japan and Asia use extra concerned becoming processes, replete with plastic sneakers, 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 all he must make an correct final, on high of tracings and measures. Though as in lots of areas of craft, in the end the correct determination about which instruments to make use of is as much as the artisan, and which they discover delivers the most effective outcomes to their clients.
It’s additionally helpful to notice that ‘well-fitting’ sneakers are thought-about otherwise right here in Japan than overseas.
For instance, individuals take off their sneakers with extra frequency, and nobody needs to garner even the slightest unfavourable consideration from friends or superiors by spending an excessive amount of time lacing or unlacing their footwear at skilled features. Consequently, Japanese individuals sometimes put on sneakers a few half measurement too giant, and generally extra.
Right here, individuals favor to leap out and in of their sneakers 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 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 sneakers to the extra American-oriented kinds he prefers right this moment.
“Once I began as a bespoke maker I wished to make the George Cleverly Churchill-style chiseled toe. However the model I’ve developed since dwelling here’s a lot much less chiseled and much more spherical,” he says.
“At present the most well-liked sneakers we promote are nonetheless brogues and costume sneakers, as a result of Japanese guys sometimes put on extra costume sneakers. However whereas prior to now I’d promote a brogue with an excellent chiseled toe, now we do issues far more rounded. Now I’ll push individuals into grain leathers or suede, or I’ll counsel individuals strive cordovan, which immediately provides that cumbersome, waxy really feel.”
It’s fascinating 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 during the last to “hog wrestling.”
And even suede skins are tougher, as a result of they need to be saved spotless all through the (bodily demanding) making course of. “The supplies I like to recommend essentially the most are those which can 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 sneakers, you might 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 proper locations from step one. Prepared-made cordovan in contrast will 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. A variety of it additionally has to do with age. As we become older, our toes unfold out or can change into misshapen by years of ill-fitting sneakers, inflicting additional damage.
Seiji’s vary contains each English and American kinds, nevertheless it’s the creation of an elevated, extra refined model of the latter that arguably units him aside from different makers. This informal magnificence actually appears to place the sneakers 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 frequent, having each spend time at college in Philadelphia. “Large leg chinos and button-down shirts – in the event you’re from the East Coast, we get born in these items, ? Penny loafers, khakis, rugby shirts and jackets.”
Practicality can be on the centre of the attraction, for him: “I’m in all probability on the age now  the place I don’t need to even journey the subway anymore. I imply I’ll, however there’s a concentrate on high quality of life stuff. I actually favor strolling or commuting by bike.
“I like sneakers, 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 sneakers. 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 along with his sneakers. With that in thoughts, it should 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 model to the purpose that if I hadn’t met him, I believe I’d nonetheless be making British-style sneakers. He received me into classic. I consider him nearly like a Rick Rubin. He helps artists in a manner that’s ridiculous,” says Seiji.
“The model I’ve developed since dwelling right here in Japan is lots nearer to my heritage and much more primarily based on day by day life. In the long run you get again to who you’re.”
Seiji is planning worldwide trunk exhibits 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 needed