"There's two things in life you should spend money on: your bed and your shoes, because if you're not in one, you're in the other."
Engaging, charming and difficult to argue with, George Glasgow has the salesman's magic patter down pat - which is no surprise. Whether at the GJ Cleverley shoe shop in central London where he's worked for 40 years, or on one of his biannual overseas odysseys into new territory, he meets demanding gentlemen of means who are prepared to spend a couple of grand on a truly personal pair of shoes.
"I always say to people, 'My feet, your feet - no two pairs are the same,'" he explains a few days before leaving for a three-week tour of duty in America. Fully bespoke hand- stitched shoes are snugger and lighter than those bought off the shelf - being measured to fit a specific individual means they're fitted round the heel, thinner in the middle and generally closer to the form and contours of the foot than other men's shoes. Making them takes around three months and a lot of labour too, and that, plus the price, is partly why they have such a select modern audience; and why shoe trees - crucial for putting a pair on properly - are more often seen on antique stalls than in home hallways these days.
"A lot of younger guys will go for the label and the label will sell anything," Glasgow says. "Our clien- tele don't want to be dictated to like that, or limited to what's being pushed at that time. I'm still seeing customers that I first saw 30 years ago." These days, they come to the shop in London's Royal Arcade, with its on-site work- shop where the bespoke shoes are made. Cleverley first set up his own shop on a street round the corner in 1958 - having already established his name during his years at nearby shoe-maker Tuczek, where he'd developed the flatter-toed Cleverley style that Nureyev, Churchill and Bogart soon made famous. "I'm the happiest guy in the world," Glasgow says. "I can't wait to come in each morning."
Nevertheless, for a couple of months of each year, he's not moving between the Mayfair shop and his Chelsea home, but visiting customers across the USA in a series of what the Americans call trunk shows - "New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Houston, Palm Beach, we do eight to ten now. I've been going there for 32 years, and I've been going to Japan for 20. When I first went to Japan they'd probably never seen English shoes like this, so it took a little bit of talking but then everybody went mad for them."
That's not to say it's all about keeping up endangered traditions - the Cleverley range includes foot- wear of all kinds, and was recently updated with several intricate styles based on those created by another Cleverley, one whose well-heeled list of famous admirers, including Hubert de Givenchy and the Rothschilds, rivalled that of his less reclusive uncle. "I worked with George," Glasgow explains, "and George had a nephew called Anthony, and Anthony was a shoemaker himself. He worked from home and he had a very, very prestigious clientele. People used to say George's toe shape was square but it wasn't - as George used to say, it was just 'suspiciously square.' What Anthony did, he defined that a little bit more and made it more of a chisel."
It's probably just as well that he had the same surname. Uncle George - like Glasgow, John Carnera and the rest of the team to whom he entrusted his name - was not diffident about the virtues of making shoes his way. "George always said, 'people who know about shoes come to Cleverley.'"