Foot Fault

Despite what SEIKO would have us believe in their recent press campaign time pieces are not the first thing a woman notices when she meets a man. Nor are they the sole accoutrement that sets us apart from every other member of our species that packs a truncheon in the tackle box. In fact ten minutes of spying in any bar or café will spell out, in no uncertain terms, that when women meet men the second thing they do after looking at their faces is shift the focus of their gaze straight down. In a single instant women trace everything about you ¾  your style, individuality, sense of humour, compassion and most importantly wether or not they would ever want to bounce up and down on top of you screaming like a banshee until they were spent ¾  from the outline of your shoes.

Many a man about town has been half a chance of getting his end away until his footwear fell foul of feminine scrutiny and tripped him up. If only women would actually yell “Foot Fault.” Guys would have half a chance of rectifying the situation but instead they will just glance at your rivers and put a line through your name in the little black book in their head.  As Samantha from Sex in the City said Women will forgive most things except bad shoes. That’s the bad news. The good news is thanks to a chance meeting between two brothers and a nurse from New Zealand in the aftermath of an horrific earth quake that measured 6.9 on the Richter scale in Armenia in 1988 Australian men can now buy some of the most beautiful and well crafted shoes in the world for a fraction of the price their counterparts in London and Paris pay.

Italy has always been credited as making the best shoes on the planet but a little known cobbler fact is that many Italian shoe companies have Armenian designers.  Armenia has a long history and tradition of shoe making in fact during the days of the Soviet Union as much as 60% of Armenia’s GDP was provided by leather goods most of which were shoes.

Levon Karapetyan had just turned 15 when he took a summer job helping out in the factory of the renowned Armenian shoemaker Spartak. In the beginning he was Spartak’s assistant cleaning up after him and running errands. But in time Spartak noticed his talent and one day pulled him aside and said, “I won’t teach you the craft. You have to steal it. Any one can learn. If you are to survive in this business you must steal the skills from me.” And that he did by seventeen he and his brother had started what would go on to become G & L (Gevorg and Levon) shoes. In the beginning their whole business was run by word of mouth or in their case foot. People would literally see their friends in amazing shoes ask where they bought them and come banging on G & L’s door. Often when customers arrived and were greeted by the teenage cobblers they would ask them to go and get their father the shoemaker.

By the age of 20 they were making shoes for the President of Armenia his ministers and their wives. The brothers made a decent living this way and were considering a job offer in Paris from a major shoe manufacturer when the Earth Quake struck. 50000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of people were seriously hurt. Many of which suffered spinal injuries. Upon seeing the level of destruction and human misery the brothers wanted to give something back to their community and approached the Red Cross. Within days they had set up make shift workshops in hospital wards teaching paraplegics the tricks of the shoe trade. “It made them feel like they were useful and kept them busy” Levon said. It was during one of these workshops they met a nurse from New Zealand who was working for the Red Cross. She told the brothers she had never seen such amazing craftsmanship and offered to help them immigrate to New Zealand.

In 1994 they arrived in Christchurch not speaking a word of English and knowing only two things for certain. 1. If they had gone to Paris they would have been designing for someone else and they definitely didn’t want that and 2. New Zealand had recently been inhabited by cannibals and there was a chance that they might be eaten.

Despite this, the brothers took the risk and set about the meteoric task of establishing the brand in a country where they didn’t speak the language and knew only one person. As it turned out the nurse had a friend who owned a leather goods shop that sold belts. The brothers reasoning that they were in a wild frontier land made a pair of cowboy boots with the small amount of quality leather they had been able to bring with them. A week later they received a call from the shop owner saying the boots had been a huge success every body loved them, so much so that someone had stolen them out of the shop window. Apparently as the shop owner had never sold shoes before they didn’t realise that you don’t put pairs on display together. Luckily there was enough leather for another pair and the orders started to roll in.

After only six months, Gevorg and Levon were approached by New   Zealand’s LAST footwear company who also wanted G & L to design for them. But the brothers wanted to keep their name and maintain control of their brand. So a deal was struck were by G&L shoes were sold through LAST stores. The only hurdle now was getting residency in New Zealand. In order for this to happen G & L’s shoe making skills needed to be officially verified and no one in New Zealand was qualified. So LAST flew John Clark of international mega brand CLARKS from London to evaluate the craftsmanship. What he found was quite unlike anything he had seen before. G & L had actually created a new way to make shoes that was a hybrid of the English and Italian manufacturing styles. English shoes were essentially heavy fully stitched affairs, which though very strong and well made, were limited by their very construction, to be bulky and traditional and therefore quite conservative. They were built for longevity rather than fashion appeal. The Italians on the other hand made lightweight glued fashion shoes often using cardboard as filling that were only intended to last one season. What G & L did, by using superior leathers and construction techniques, was achieve a light fashion shoe like the Italians that wore with the resilience of a heavier English one. So impressed was he by what he saw that CLARK asked if he could include the brothers technique in a book he was writing about the history of shoe making.

After 8 years in New Zealand the brothers decided it was time for the business to grow. They had an impressive client list (many of whom were Australian tourists) but as it was really only the two of them hand making the shoes they had reached their manufacturing capacity. Gevorg returned to Armenia to open a factory and Levon moved to Australia to open a retail shop in Sydney’s exclusive William Street Paddington and later Melbourne’s Prahran. The Paddington shop whilst littered with astonishing shoes and boots has an authentic European studio feel in direct contrast to the Greville Street store, which is a much more luxurious and glamorous boutique.

Apart from the obvious quality of G & L shoes and their unique manufacturing process there are two other attributes that set them apart from other shoemakers in Australia. Unlike most shoe stores G & L manufacture men and women’s shoes. A list babes like Jackie O, Bianca Dye and recent miss universe Jennifer Hawkins are regular customers. So the special lady in your life will love it. And as G & L shoes are all hand made they can virtually make to measure. In most cases if you like one of their styles but you’d prefer it in a different leather or colour in 2-4 weeks you can have it. If you wear orthotics they can build a similar sized arch into your shoe. In fact if you like the toe of one shoe and the heel of another they can join them together or even help you design your own from scratch. At 3 to 5 hundred dollars a pair the shoes aren’t cheap but quality never is and considering an identical pair of G & L shoes in Europe cost the same in Euros as we pay in dollars they’re a steal.

The epic story of how Gevorg and Levon came to be crafting and selling their wares in Australia is extraordinary but it pales into insignificance when you see their astounding range of incredibly beautiful shoes. Trust me if you’re wearing a pair of G & L shoes every where you go women will be staring at your feet licking their lips and yelling “LET” in order to give them a moment to prepare for your penetrating serve.