George Esquivel has quietly carved out a name for himself as the premier shoemaker in Los Angeles: His handcrafted shoes command prices starting at $495 for ready-made suede oxfords to upward of $19,000 for bespoke crocodile boots. Each year Esquivel’s small team of craftspeople produces 3,000 to 5,000 pairs of footwear for a client list that includes Emma Stone, LeBron James, Laura Dern, Brad Pitt and Bruno Mars and retailers such as Fred Segal and Barneys New York. The 47-year-old designer, who served a two-year stint as creative director for luxury luggage brand Tumi, also has a proclivity for collaboration: His label has teamed up with the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, haute hat maker Nick Fouquet, The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Spare Room, the buzzy gaming lounge inside The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, for which he creates high-style bowling shoes.
Esquivel operates out of a nondescript warehouse-style office complex in Buena Park. Yet behind the generic exterior is an atelier that sustains the old-world tradition of artisanal shoemaking, now a rare trade in the United States. Premium leather and exotic skins are sourced from Italy, France and Spain, and each shoe panel is individually hand-cut, skived (a thin shaving of the leather to facilitate smooth folds) and stitched on site; then lining, buckles, zippers or elastic are sewn in. Completed upper panels are scrupulously massaged onto a last (“Too tight and it won’t stretch, too loose and it will look sloppy,” notes Esquivel) before a welt, soles and heels are built in from the bottom of the shoe. Specialty finishes—hand-burnishing, hand-tooling or personalized patterns, names and dates that can be burned into the leather with a hot pen—add another layer of character. Even the brand’s signature shoelaces are stitched by hand. Recycled corrugated cardboard shoe boxes have handles crafted from upcycled leather remnants, while shoe bags are sewn from unique deadstock fabrics.
Bespoke Esquivel designs (starting at $4,500) involve lasts adjusted to exacting foot measurements with multiple prototypes, as well as particular colors, heel heights, toe shapes, finishes, extra padding to accommodate special needs and personalized details. A handmade metal shoe horn, encased in leather and stamped with a monogram, accompanies each order.
The shoemaking process ranges from approximately six hours of manual labor for a women’s mule (the simplest style and currently the number-one seller) to up to 30 hours for an elaborately burnished hand-tooled bespoke boot. Burnishing alone can take up to six hours, Esquivel notes, pointing to shelves filled with stacks of binders that contain hundreds of proprietary step-by-step recipes to achieve varied colors and effects.
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