Family-owned New York shoemaker E. Vogel has shod the world’s elite for generations.
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Custom clothing has gotten a fashion update and broadened its base in recent years, and footwear has begun to follow suit. In New York, no company better represents old-world shoe craftsmanship than E. Vogel, a family-owned company started by one Egidius Vogel in 1879. From a shop in Chinatown, the company built its reputation with exquisite custom riding boots and is now finding an increasing demand for its custom and ready-to-wear lace-ups, loafers, monk straps, and golf shoes as well.
Egidius’s great-grandson Dean Vogel is now president of the company. He grew up coming into the shop with his father. “I always just loved the smell of leather,” he says. His first cousin Jack Lynch is E. Vogel’s operations manager, and the two have spent their lives working in every corner of the company, learning the business from the inside out, from shipping to cleaning the basement and bathrooms.
Each shoe is made from a custom last, and the process is similar to that for a custom suit. It begins with questions to determine how the customer plans to wear the shoes and then continues with a series of measurements. For instance, if comfort is paramount, the shoemaker might suggest soft leather with a crepe bottom, which is flexible and absorbs shock. If it’s an evening shoe the customer is after, he’ll end up with something considerably sleeker, with a highly polished leather and a leather sole.
One of the advantages of custom footwear is that you don’t have to replace it nearly as often as off-the-rack shoes—provided you take good care of it, as you would any good investment. E. Vogel can help on this front, too, resoling and reconditioning shoes, or patching up riding boots, among other services. Every customer has a corresponding box containing his individual paper patterns, repair records, and more.
A team of 16 experts, each a specialist, carries out the process. Daniel Lopez, for example, is an upper maker (he sews the boots together) from the Dominican Republic who has been working at the company for about 30 years. “A lot of these guys come from families like ours,” says Lynch. “They’ve been doing this their whole lives.”
A storied past and long traditions haven’t prevented E. Vogel from proving its relevance in the present. As much of downtown has morphed from immigrant enclave to fashion hotbed, the Vogel clientele has evolved with it. Time was, most orders were for custom riding boots; today there’s a growing population of local walk-ins looking for custom street shoes.
“People used to come in for polished leather shoes in black or brown,” says Dean Vogel. “Now we have such a demand for low-sheen, softer leathers in grays, taupe, burgundy… Our stock has changed significantly.”
A standard first pair of custom boots takes 10 to 12 weeks to make and costs $1,375. Subsequent pairs, after a last has been created, take a month less and run about $925.