When Paula Gerbase was announced as the creative director of John Lobb, I was wrong-footed. At her own label, 1205, this Brazilian-born, Savile Row-trained designer—who was at Kilgour between Carlo Brandelli and Carlo Brandelli—makes au courant menswear-touched womenswear. Her menswear is very pleasant, too. But what did Lobb need of her?
This venerable Northampton shoe company already seemed in fine fettle. Owned by Hermès since the 1970s—because of Robert Dumas’ fondness for the shoes and a fortuitous property deal in Paris—the label’s factory employs nearly 200 artisans who take nearly the same number of steps to make each shoe.
At her debut John Lobb presentation, Gerbase revealed that she started her brief by impressively immersing herself into the ancient history of her new home. John Lobb was a farmer’s son from Cornwall—which is roughly 230 miles from London. In 1851, despite a foot injury that left him what is described as “crippled,” Lobb walked to the capital. (So, really, his foot can’t have been entirely useless.)
Last summer, Gerbase and her German shepherd, Roxy, set about following in Lobb’s footsteps. This is not Wild: She did not walk the entire route. However, she did spend a week hiking Dartmoor, a rugged West Country landscape that was the setting for The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Gerbase said, “It was a chance to get out into the elements and get really inspired about shoes. I had been buried in the bespoke archive and started already seeing that, historically, a lot of the John Lobb customers had been coming for walking boots. Functional-wear, with an earthiness.”
Gerbase has developed a new last based on a bespoke walking boot from the 1940s and used it to make a calfskin lace-up boot with a single buckle and storm welt. There is also a very light plimsoll—those are made in Italy—which come low-top and high.
A handsome, navy zug leather, whole-cut double monk-strap, and a ghillie evening shoe were other highlights. Gerbase said of her role: “It’s important to know that you can always learn more. And I don’t think enough people know that. I thought there was something I could bring to the brand that felt right.”
She added: “I think you need to have the right values—respect, quality, respect for the customer.” Lobb’s core collections will continue, and Gerbase, when asked, stated, “I have absolutely no interest at all in clothing for John Lobb. They are experts in leather and shoemaking.” Which all seems very right and proper.