Tony Gaziano and Dean Girling, Gaziano & Girling

Since launching just over 10 years ago, Gaziano & Girling has become one of the most in demand shoemakers in the world. Its store on Savile Row is testament to the emphasis its two founders, Tony Gaziano and Dean Girling, place on super luxury; surrounded by the world’s most exclusive tailors and brands on the street, Gaziano & Girling has incorporated itself into the world of sartorial finery with aplomb – despite Tony and Dean starting their fledging project only a decade ago, in their home workshops.

Dean and Tony were accomplished shoemakers when they joined forces. Dean was working as a freelance shoemaker, mainly picking up commissions from John Lobb – while Tony was designing for luxury shoe company, Edward Green. “I was an independent shoemaker; Tony asked me to make a bespoke shoe for Edward Green, so we got a bit closer then. We had the same sort of ethos of what we wanted to do in the bespoke industry.” The idea was to take the considered approach and attention to detail found in bespoke, and apply it to manufactured shoes. “We wanted to bring a ready to wear shoe to the market that had a very bespoke aesthetic.”

Alongside 100 per cent bespoke commissions, the brand’s manufactured shoes with a bespoke look are another key part of the Gaziano & Girling business, and it is a formula that has allowed the brand to carve a niche in an otherwise competitive market. “When we started, there was a big divide between London bespoke aesthetic and quality, and Northamptonshire manufacturing – mainly because not many people crossed over between the two worlds,” explains Tony. “We wanted to bring to the market a super luxury manufactured shoe that had all the aesthetics of a bespoke, but without the customer having to go through the process of eight months of fittings to get there.” Tony and Dean began to introduce bespoke materials, such as English oak bark soles, into the manufacturing process – as well as craft skills that were not normally used in Northamptonshire.    

The bench made side of the business has been a significant factor in the company’s growth; but far from neglecting true bespoke, Gaziano & Girling has improved its bespoke offering to make it relative to the manufactured side. “You could probably get some of our manufactured shoes that aesthetically look better and are finished better than a lot of bespoke shoes,” says Tony matter of factly. “At the same time as we became successful doing that, we had to upgrade our bespoke offering, because the gap between the manufacturing and bespoke closed.” With the brand’s ready to wear models fetching around £1,000, and bespoke options reaching upwards of £4,000, it was necessary for the brand to justify the three grand difference.

Dean and Tony went about streamlining their business – bringing everything in house to ensure consistent quality across the brand’s whole output. “We got rid of the traditional old London ways of using outworkers, where you’ve got a variety of different standards of quality and aesthetic. We now have a very small, concentrated bespoke team that are producing shoes that are on the verge of art, rather than just shoes.”

Tony and Dean clearly have confidence in their product; not only has their combined experience given the brand a strong platform on which to build, the scale on which it operates means it can make the very best – whether that’s true bespoke, or bench made models. “Because of how small we are in production on bespoke, we can actually position ourselves to be the best in both fields,” says Tony. “We produce the best manufactured shoes, and at the same time, the best bespoke shoes.”

Gaziano & Girling has been able to embrace both bespoke and bench made in a way that other brands can’t. “Other brands don’t have the facility to do that,” says Tony. “We’re the first factory to open in over 100 years. We have the luxury of having our own in-house bespoke team, as well as our own manufacturing plant, which we have complete control over.” Dean agrees. “We’ve got free reign.”

Maintaining the vision the two set out at the very start is vital to taking the business in the right direction according to Dean and Tony; and the fact that the company’s driving forces are themselves at the very top of their craft means that quality is never sacrificed, and corners are never cut. Dean explains that knowledge of the craft makes all the difference. “There are very few shoe companies where the person at the helm – the MD, or whatever – is an actual craftsman, and can actually design and make a pair of shoes. Gaziano & Girling has still got that.”

Of course, retaining the control and vision for the brand is a factor that Tony and Dean are thinking about as their business grows. “The negative aspects of our growth are the demands of running the business trying to pull Dean and I away from the craft,” says Tony. “That’s not what we want; we want to be floor-based. That’s what we specialise in.” He says that for such experienced shoemakers, it would be a travesty to work solely from the boardroom. “Dean was the top in his field making bespoke shoes. He wants to be able to get involved more in the production to be able to execute things the way that he wants to. But obviously, that can be compromised by the demands of just simply running a business.”

With their experience, Dean and Tony believe that the company is unequalled in its offering – and that working on a relatively small scale has allowed them to reach that pinnacle. “In the beginning, our aim was to compete with Edward Green. Now, though our name is still young, there is no competition. We are a margin above those brands now; and we can be, because we probably produce three quarter’s production less than them,” says Tony.

With a dedication to high luxury, there is no better place for Gaziano & Girling to be than Savile Row. The pair say that residing on the street gives the brand cachet – while attracting customers already shopping on the Row for their suits. “Savile Row is known around the world as the mecca of tailoring,” says Dean. “There are no finer tailors than Savile Row tailors. If somebody comes to the Row for a nice suit, you’d like to think that they would like a nice pair of shoes to complement it.” Tony thinks that while areas like Jermyn Street embody British heritage, Savile Row offers a unique mix of traditional and contemporary options. “We felt that Jermyn Street was getting a little bit tired in the way that it was; and Savile Row was a mix of a little bit more contemporary, with Ozwald Boating and a few others. You have a different kind of client up here; you get billionaires walking around, which I can’t imagine you do on Jermyn Street…”

Gaziano & Girling’s star is in the ascendance; and 10 years into the business, Tony and Dean are more sure of which direction to take the brand than ever before. “We built our business mostly on the wholesale side, because we never had retail,” explains Tony. “Now we’re realising that we don’t need to grow the factory and the numbers they’re producing; we need to exchange those wholesale units for retail. That way we can increase our turnover and profits – and the quality isn’t compromised.” The aim is to open further retail stores globally. “We feel that Asia – particularly Hong Kong and Tokyo – would be good locations for future stores. We have a very big following in the Asian market,” says Dean. He notes that the brand also sees a lot of interest Stateside – and that it would be “a dream to have a standalone store in New York.” For now, Gaziano & Girling’s presence in the Big Apple comprises a showroom on 57th.

It seems that while there is a desire to expand, Tony and Dean are seeking longevity – and are committed to improving the business one well-heeled step at a time. As Tony says, “We just want to take our time and produce a super luxury product.”

39 Savile Row

As featured in Mayfair Times’ January 17 edition.

Ben Tish and Simon Mullins, Salt Yard Group

Behind golden hoardings, the new St James’s Market has quietly risen out of the backwater between Regent Street St James’s and Haymarket. A 210,000 sq ft development of office space, retail and restaurants built around a flash central square, it is set to be a focal point in this district. While it is the local business community that will immediately benefit from the development, the hope is that the square will soon become a destination in its own right.

While the retail offering here expands on The Crown Estate’s vision to make St James’s a style hub, building on the arrival of Dover Street Market on Haymarket, it is the restaurants that are the big draw, and are what will ensure that this stretch of St James’s remains in the conscience of London’s spoilt food lovers.

So far, only a couple of the seven proposed restaurants have launched. Veneta was one of the first, opening in November. It is the fifth restaurant from Salt Yard Group – the hospitality company that helped kickstart London’s move towards egalitarian dining with the launch of its first site, Salt Yard in Fitzrovia. Offering expertly-prepared small plates in an informal space, that restaurant can now, some time later, be seen to have had an impact on the way Londoners now eat. “The small plates thing has obviously been going on for hundreds of years, but it’s really taken off since we started,” says Simon Mullins, founder of the group. “We were certainly one of the very first in London,” agrees executive chef Ben Tish. Simon continues, “Our most important thing is that we’re always serving up great food, with staff who know what they’re talking about and are passionate about what they do.”

It was while working for Spanish food importer Brindisa that Simon first decided to open a restaurant. He was initially researching an Italian concept with his partner Sanja Morris; but his time at Brindisa helped him “develop a real passion for Spanish food”, and the pair decided to shelve the idea for a purist Italian restaurant. “We came up with a hybrid, which was to combine Spanish and Italian in the form of an enoteca slash tapas bar.” After finding the site that would soon become Salt Yard, they refined their vision even further. “The venue came with a full kitchen and dining area – so it evolved into a fully-fledged restaurant.”

It is this marrying of Spanish and Italian regional cuisines that has become the group’s trademark – albeit executed with individuality at each site. As executive chef, Ben Tish, says, “They naturally have different vibes to each other because of the area, but with the same kind of service standards.”

Salt Yard opened over a decade ago. The years since have seen four more openings from the group: Dehesa on Kingly Street; Opera Tavern in Covent Garden; Ember Yard in the heart of Soho, on Berwick Street; and Veneta. While the group’s previous restaurants took inspiration from across both Italy and Spain, Veneta marks a change, in that it focuses solely on the culinary traditions of Venice – with Spain not at all represented. But according to Simon and Ben, it was the process of finding a site that dictated the restaurant’s concept.

“We looked at a site on Regent Street St James’s, which has now become Milos. We walked into the space – which is a huge, grand space. Ben said, ‘This place would be great for a Venetian grand café.'” Simon says that the idea stuck, though they didn’t take the space. “A little while later, we started to know more about the St James’s Market development and we really bought into the vision. Then we saw this particular unit – beautiful, big bay windows, tall ceilings. Veneta is a distilled version of the original idea.”

Simon and Ben looked to create a restaurant that would chime aesthetically with the rest of the area. “We felt that it needed to be something grand, because St James’s has this rich, royal heritage. Obviously Venice comes with lots of history and grandeur too, so we felt like it was a good fit.”

Immersing himself in the city’s famous food culture, Ben sought to look past the usual Venetian fare of cicchetti – instead focusing on its abundant fish and, of course, pasta. “One thing that stuck out for me was their focus on fish and seafood. There’s a lagoon there, and they have something called lagoon fish. It’s very specific to the region.” Ben says he was inspired by the sushi-like preparation of these fish. “Crudo – which is raw or lightly cured shellfish with lemon, rosemary and salt – is a big focus there. We wanted to recreate that here, so we introduced the raw bar downstairs.”

While the menu is extensive and covers everything from meats, fish and a section dedicated to fresh pasta dishes and risotto – to a gelato menu on top of the regular dessert menu (“Venice is renowned for sweet things”), it is the raw bar that seems to be making an impact at this early stage, with its fresh, healthy options. “From the feedback we’ve had already, the raw bar is a real hit – in particular this dish which is a crab cocktail served in a spider crab shell, on a special crab plate we designed. That’s been one of those dishes that people have been talking about; it’s been posted a lot on Instagram.” Another difference Veneta brings to the group is the introduction of breakfast, which is available throughout the week; a reflection of the needs of St James’s business community.

Though still early days for Veneta, the Salt Yard Group has more openings on the horizon – even if the concepts are not yet fully formed. “We’re always in discussion with landlords and agents on sites. We haven’t signed anything yet, but we’re looking to do something else next year,” says Simon. “We’ll continue to grow – but for us, it’s always been about taking the right opportunity – only when we’re ready for it – and making sure we absolutely get it right. Going forward, it’ll be the same. Let’s call it considered growth.”

3 Norris Street, St James’s Market

As featured in Mayfair Times’ January 17 edition.