Twenty-five years ago this November, on 12 November 1987, Mark Jeffery and Guy West founded the gentlemen’s footwear and accessories company, Jeffery~West. To begin the celebrations of the silver anniversary year Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, home to the largest collection of shoe heritage in the world, will present the exhibition, ‘If we could be heroes’, which will be both a retrospective of the company’s first quarter of a century and a look forward to its next.
To celebrate Jeffery~West is also to celebrate two rich historical lineages which coalesce and are so richly imbued in everything they create. One is Jeffery~West’s long line of heroes who have inspired and given their names to their lasts and styles. Drawn from 300 years of British history it is a roll call of honour and dishonour, men who have walked a thin line between respectability and rascality, men of both influence and infamy, who have poured as much talent and passion into the pursuit of their careers, as their pursuit of pleasure and their pursuit of style.
Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Dr Hannibal Lecter
The rogues’ gallery includes, 17th century Restoration poet, satirist, courtier, and libertine, Lord Rochester, the 18th century Chancellor of the Exchequer, notorious rake, and founder of The Hellfire Club, Francis Dashwood, 20th century rock ‘n’ rollers, Brian Jones, Steve Marriot, Jim Morrison, Marc Bolan, Bauhaus, ‘Lemmy’, and the on screen multi-award winning, off screen renowned hell raisers, actors and friends, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Richard Burton. Also, literary and filmic characters, and alter egos: Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman, from George Macdonald Fraser’s series of novels in which he cuts a swath through the Victorian wars and uproars, boudoirs and harems; Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Dr Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic serial killer, in The Silence of the Lambs; David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust who becomes a victim of his own success, hysterical fans, and excesses of sex and drugs. more
Jeffery~West’s second historical lineage intrinsic to all they do stems from the English town in which they are based, Northampton, whose influence upon, importance and centrality to the country’s footwear and leather industries can be traced back nigh on a 800 years, when King John’s purchase of a pair of shoes in the town set a fashion that others were keen to follow. To draw upon and celebrate all the craftsmanship, quality, pedigree and experience that are available from Northampton’s footwear and leather manufacturers has always been a raison d’être for Jeffery~West.
Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman
But, although they are steeped in the lineages of history and tradition inherent in both their heroes and the Northampton footwear and leather industries, throughout the past 25 years Jeffery~West’s unstinting resolve has been to welt cutting edge styles to that history and tradition, to continually develop innovative new lasts, to combine footwear that is so well made it won’t go to pieces if you look at it twice with overt elegance and fulsome flamboyance, utilising an array of leathers and colours, uncommon to men’s footwear. This approach has also lead Jeffery~West to collaborate over the years with acclaimed artists and prestigious companies which share their ideals to create limited edition footwear and accessories, including Norton Motorcycles, Sailor Jerry’s, Hendricks Gin, Monkey Shoulder, furniture designer, Mark Brazier-Jones, street artist, Paul Insect, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Voodoo illustrator and musician, Vince Ray.
In their designs, Jeffery~West have also added stylistic references to fin de siècle architecture and esoterica, and the ciphers of secret societies, this is also played out in their shops all of which offer a heightened mix of gentlemen’s club, bordello, and oubliette, an enticing theatre of retail, stepping over the threshold of which begins a journey to the furthest reaches of one’s imagination.
Elements of this interior style will be recreated in the exhibition, which will celebrate Jeffery~West’s heroes and creations through displays, imagery, and music. It will also include oral history, as fans and wearers of Jeffery~West shoes are being asked in advance of the exhibition to send in photographs and memories of their favourite Jeffery~West shoes, and events that happened whilst wearing them.
If we could be heroes: An exhibition celebrating 25 years of Jeffery~West, Infamous English Shoes runs from 9 November 2012 – 9 February 2013 at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. Opening times are Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 2pm to 5pm. Admission is free. Jeffery-West