Q&A with Duke + Dexter Footwear
Hand-painted footwear with soul
Duke + Dexter is a pioneering British footwear label that designs charming sneakers, loafers and boots in London. From custom hand-painted designs to bespoke embroidery options, their talented team crafts unique shoes for grooms and groomsmen. Emily Williams speaks with Jessica Pickard, Duke + Dexter’s in-house artist, who hand-paints artwork and monograms onto every bespoke order.
TELL US ABOUT DUKE + DEXTER’S BRAND STORY
The brand was founded in 2015 by Archie Hubert and it started with a focus on velvet slippers, which was quite a niche concept at the time. He wanted to elevate velvet slippers to make them cool, contemporary and not just for formal events. Over the last six years, the brand has developed and expanded, but our shoes are still designed in London and made in a family-run factory in Sheffield. New styles have since been added, such as sneakers and boots, as well as the bespoke design service. The brand has worked with leading influencers and photographers, who have all ended up shaping the brand to make it what it is today.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE DUKE + DEXTER TO FIRST-TIME BUYERS?
I’d say that we’re quite adventurous, we take risks and push boundaries within our designs. We’re authentic, sophisticated and create our shoes with a purpose. We really focus on the quality and durability of every style. Duke + Dexter is primarily targeted at professional males between 25 to 45, but we also create bespoke shoes for females that go down to a size five.
HOW DOES THE DUKE + DEXTER BESPOKE SERVICE WORK?
The process starts with a one-on-one consultation via phone or email, after which I will send the digital mock-up design. We would then work together until they are happy with the design.
If there is embroidery required, then that design will be sent to our embroiderers in Sheffield who will bring the design to life. Alternatively, if the design is hand-painted, the shoes will be sent to me and I will paint directly onto the shoes.
HOW FAR IN ADVANCE DO CUSTOMERS NEED TO GET IN TOUCH BEFORE THEY NEED THE SHOES?
We say the timing is around 3 to 4 weeks for any bespoke shoe. For something like a wedding, I would recommend getting in touch before that so that they can try on a pair for the fit first. Before the pandemic, clients would come to visit us in London from all over the world, but if the customer prefers we can have a zoom call or phone call. People also tend to get in contact with me by email or through the enquiries box on the website.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE GO TO SEE THE SHOES IN PERSON?
Duke + Dexter are stocked in different places around the world, but in London the main store is Harrods. For different collections, we are sometimes stocked in Selfridges and places like Levels in Dubai. The main way people can try on the shoes is to order a non-bespoke pair online, try it on and send it back free of charge, then move forward with the bespoke order.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CUSTOMISATION AND SHOES?
With custom pairs, loafers are still the main shoe we customise as it tends to be where clients lean towards. We also customise our sneakers, which is currently our most popular line. We can customise the fabric, colours, trims and soles, and add embroidery or hand-painted designs anywhere on the shoe. For example, we had someone who had their wedding date on the inside of the tongue so it was not seen by anyone but they know that it is there. In terms of colours, we have a broad range, which we are keen to expand on.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MOST POPULAR BESPOKE REQUEST?
It does vary, but I’d say dates and initials on the heels are very popular at the moment because it allows for that personalisation without it being too garish next to their subdued outfit. We have also had lots of wedding logos and family crests, which might also feature on their invitations and around their wedding.
WHERE DO YOU SOURCE THE INSPIRATION IF COUPLES ARE UNSURE OF WHERE TO START?
I will ask them a little bit about themselves and get an idea of their wedding theme. Then I start showing them past pairs that have been created to give them a really good idea of what they might look like. I will give them a range of more subtle designs and monograms as well as more colourful designs. They usually start to get their sense of direction from those examples and I will guide them until we reach an idea they are happy with.
WHAT KIND OF PAINT DO YOU USE AND ARE THERE ANY SHOE CARE INSTRUCTIONS?
We use very specific acrylic leather paint on the shoes which is designed specifically to be very durable, scratch-proof and waterproof. Once the paint is on the shoes, I add a varnish over the top which seals it all in place. When the customer receives the shoes, they don’t need to do anything to the painting as it is already protected. They can protect the suede part with a protector of their choice, if they so wish.
IS SUSTAINABILITY A FOCUS FOR DUKE + DEXTER?
Over the last few months, we as a brand have scrutinised every element of our supply line to understand where the different components of our shoes are sourced from. We want to ensure that every element is sustainably sourced and limits any negative impact on the environment. All of our bespoke shoes are made to order and the main collection of shoes are ordered weekly in small amounts, which means that there is hardly any leftover. They are also made in our UK factory to minimise our carbon footprint and we offset carbon emissions for our deliveries to the customers. We are still learning and moving in that direction.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE MEMORY OF MAKING A BESPOKE SHOE?
I’d probably say my favourite bespoke commission was for a groom who wanted a galaxy of stars to cover the entire pair of shoes. He wanted their wedding logo painted on the back with dates on the heels and words written on the soles of the shoes. Every inch of the shoe was covered in personalised artwork which was wonderful to see. Every tiny part of it had been thought through and it represented him and his wife beautifully. He now wears them every year on his anniversary, which goes to show that Duke + Dexter provide more than just a pair of shoes. They represent a whole lot more and it is a privilege to be able to create that for people. For more information, go to dukeanddexter.com.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Thanks we'll be in touch soon.