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A Conversation with Tim Little of Grenson

As Creative Director and CEO of Grenson, Tim Little has transformed the label from a small-size English heritage shoemaker into a highly sought-after brand that’s currently stocked by some of the world’s leading retailers. Known for its traditional style, Grenson has seen a resurgence in recent years thanks in part to its storied history and dedication to quality, handmade footwear. We caught up with Little at (capsule) New York to talk a little about brand’s history and to discuss his plans for the future.

When did you first realize that you had a serious interest in footwear and what motivated you to finally start designing your own?
I used to love going to buy my school shoes with my mum, so I always appreciated the idea of shoes. I loved the smell as the assistant took the lid off the box. However my real interest started when I started working and was told that people judge you by your shoes, so I invested beyond my means to make a good impression. From the moment that the shop assistant treated the shoes like they were a bottle of vintage wine, I knew there was something special going on. I had been in advertising for 10 years when I needed to buy some new shoes one weekend. I had continued my strategy of buying the best, so I set off with a big chunk of money burning a hole in my pocket. Every place I visited was drab and old fashioned and the shoes hadn’t changed since my last trip. This was my eureka moment. What if I could bring some fresh design to the wonderful craft of English shoe making?

Before taking over as creative director for Grenson, you were already in charge of your own eponymous shoe line. Were you ever hesitant about dividing your time and energy between the two separate projects? What was it about Grenson that made you feel it was worth the risk?
Yes I was, and in truth my own line suffered for awhile as the Grenson project became all encompassing. Grenson was one of my first ever purchases and I had fallen in love with the brand. I’m afraid it’s no more strategic than that.

You’ve done a fine job of taking an older, more established brand and making it attractive for customers of all ages. How do you find the perfect balance?
Balance is the right word and I constantly adjust the balance between old and new, heritage and directional, by trial and error. Sometimes we do a shoe that is just too forward and too far from what Grenson is all about and it fails. Sometimes the collection felt too traditional and it instantly feels out of touch. Our followers tell us when we go wrong and with social media I have a constant research facility at my fingertips.

It would seem as though there are a lot of guys who just can’t get enough of Grenson right now. What’s so special about the brand and why do you think people tend to gravitate toward it?
People love the history but they don’t want to wear museum shoes. It’s that balance again. Making a modern, relevant shoe from a company with great heritage is the perfect formula. We are also lucky that heritage is all the rage right now, so we have been in the right place at the right time. We just want to keep making interesting shoes and if people like them, then we are all happy.

How do you go about choosing new styles for the collection each season? Do you find most of your inspiration comes from the archives or do you prefer trying something different?
It’s a mix. If we plundered the archive every season, the brand would become a replica brand and we don’t want that. I’ve started collecting Grenson shoes from eBay that chart our history and what you realize is that the company used to be very inventive and the shoes were very directional. It’s only in recent years that companies like us have stopped developing and have rehashed old styles over and over again. We have some really different shoes in the collection these days but we also have a classic English oxford.

Although Grenson has a reputation for being this storied, English brand that’s dedicated to traditional craftsmanship and an array of other fine things, it’s also been the shoe of choice for quite a number of not-so-clean-shaven rock stars. Tell me, if you had the honor of dressing either Prince William or Jamie Hince for their wedding day, which would you have chosen?
Wow, tough question. We have dressed Jefferson Hack, so I could say that we’ve done the Kate Moss connection and I’ll go for William. I feel that William is on the cusp of setting his style philosophy right now and I hope he doesn’t go too old and frumpy. I would love to get him in a pair of chunky brogue boots this winter but I’m afraid it’s a long shot.

What plans do you have in store for the company over the coming months?
We have some nice collaborations with Barbour, Rag & Bone and Albam on the way. We are also launching our first women’s collection which is very exciting, and I’d love to do more retail. Apart from that all I can think about is my vacation!

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