For the past two decades, Harrys London has focused primarily on comfort-focused dress shoes: black Oxfords and smart loafers with technical soles and elegantly integrated rubber soles. This season sees the arrival of a new design collection, mature, serious and sophisticated. Sleek satin calfskin is joined by matte suede and navy blue suede. A carefully curated offering of seven leathers includes elevated sneakers, classic Oxfords, Chelseas and even hiking boots.
English shoes have a reputation for being thick, heavy and built like tanks. Harrys’ original offering was a sweet relief for Londoners: work shoes that fit like trainers, making walking to work feel like stepping on a basketball court. Now the brand plays with the chunky shapes and visual heft of classic English shoes while continuing to innovate under the classic uppers, using lightweight Vibram soles to create more substantial footwear that builds on design history. English dress shoes (and their country cousins, the hiking boot) while emphasizing comfort.
This is the first collection under the brand’s recently appointed creative director, Graeme Fidler. What he tries to achieve are practical shoes, inspired by a sense of patience, sincerity and a slow evolution in design. The essence of the original Harrys loafer is still there, but now the brand presents a more unified and refined point of view: not apologizing for the size and shape of English shoes, or trying to make Italian loafers out of them, but draw inspiration from athletic and outdoor shoe technology to create strong visuals with an easy ride.
Fidler, a graduate of Northumbria University, trained as a designer in the North East of England and still has the laid-back, down-to-earth manner for which the region is renowned. He cut his teeth at Ralph Lauren in New York, designing for the fledgling RLX sub-brand and working on the Aspen ski school collaboration with legendary executive Read Worth. “We would sit and talk for hours,” Fidler recalled, “and wonder how he had the time.” But he came to understand that it was essential to the method: a patient, slow design that put people’s well-being first. “[Worth] knew that if he cared about the person, the product would be taken care of. Fidler developed his own slow design philosophy at British brand Aquascutum, then Swiss label Bally, before joining Harrys. In each case, he says, his role was to move from idea to product, from inspiration to substance.
The key is to embrace practicality and change, not to let tradition become a constraint. “We take pride in technology, take pride in innovation, offering something to suit every day of life.” The brand’s acqua suede is infused with water repellent throughout, rather than just coated with a waterproofing spray. On a recent rainy day in London, Fidler says, a colleague said the suede looked soaked but her feet remained totally dry. The Evans, a classic black derby, features the brand’s exclusive Technogel sockliner and a custom Vibram sole. “Vibram is a very good partner for us,” says Fidler, citing the Italian rubber sole specialist who is credited with inventing the first rubber cleated soles. You can find the soles on everything from construction boots to the glove and barefoot style FiveFingers shoe. The outermost of the new models, the Eccles boot, has the heft to work like a mountaineer, with a chunky Vibram rubber sole and substantial ankle support, but is finished in soft Acqua suede. Another boot, the handsome Cliff model, combines serious engineering with soft, textured suede to go anywhere, do anything from a boot that’s formal enough for the office but wouldn’t whiten when worn. a walk in the woods.
The core collection, Fidler says, is “subtle, durable lace-ups and loafers in concrete gray and chocolate brown to match the tailoring and denim. … But I no longer imagine it as the only city. I wanted to open the offer. Rather than making supple shoes, Harrys now imagines sturdy models and softens them: butter-coloured suede work boots, trainers with merino uppers, suede chukkas with a rubber sole rather than a clumsy double welt, oxfords with gel insoles. Trainer Thomas is another example. “We filled it with Primaloft and removed the foam, it’s a responsible design, and the nappa leather is so soft, it’s almost like a kid’s glove.”
Beyond design work, Fidler is now back at his alma mater as a design teacher. “When I speak with students, I always try to present the product sold in Dover Street Market or in a department store in New York. The challenge is to imagine that they created the product even though it was just out of their sketchbook. … I always say: imagine when it’s on the podium, imagine what it looks like on the rail. His message to the next generation of designers is the same he stands for: find a path from idea to substance, slowly and with determination.