The Creeper Report (or how I sourced a Brit classic)

Remember I posted about my travails trying to source a pair of George Cox brothel creepers? Well, I've got them now, and let me tell you they are not easy to buy. 

I've written in detail about the history and significance of this shoe on my other blog. Here's the TL;DR version: 

  • The design is an icon of British urban fashion dating back to the 1950's.
  • It was made fashionable in the 70's and 80s by McLaren and Westwood.
  • Copies of the shoe are available everywhere. And I mean, everywhere. 
  • A large brand selling mass-produced replicas is very trendy indeed.
  • The latest designer to pick the style up was Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent (see find below).
  • The original shoe is still made at the same factory by the same independent family business as it has been since 1949. 

Here's the clincher though. In terms of fashion marketing, George Cox are virtually silent. Most of their output exports to the Far East, where they're very popular among stylish ladies and gents. The only place you can buy them in the UK is a hole in the wall in Camden Town, which is where I bought mine. See below for pictures.

Honestly, I've never come across anything so far under the radar. I guess the American equivalent would be discovering that everyone in the US had forgotten about the Schott Perfecto motorcycle jacket and the only way you could buy one was from one tiny store in the East Village because they were all being exported to Berlin and Tokyo. It's hard to imagine. 

I wonder if this is a strategy to keep their independence by sticking to a sustainable business model that works for them and refusing to play the fashion game. Selling to mavens and enthusiasts has kept them in business for sixty years and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Still, I can't help thinking they could be bigger than they are.

The other thing I'm pondering are my own feelings about branding and authenticity in fashion. A major selling point for me is the story of an English bench-made shoe that resonates strongly with my London style heritage. But then there's the the nature of the brand identity. I can see why a replica from Underground or Saint Laurent would be so much more appealing to the fashion crowd than the original. 

The shoes, though, are amazing. Beautifully made. I'm delighted.

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15 Comments

  • shevia replied 3 years ago

    That is absolutely fascinating. Both the story itself (who would think that exporting to the Far East is the way to sustain independence) and your reaction in terms of questioning your feelings about branding and authenticity. Is picture #4 your shoes? The Saint Laurent shoes look identical. Which has more cache and to whom? A lot to think about. The shoes are fabulous regardless.

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    shevia, isn't that the question though? How much is the worth we assign to these things bound up in the brand values we associate with them? And you're right, #4 are my shoes. Comparing them with the Saint Laurent shoes really is a game of spot the difference. 

  • Suz replied 3 years ago

    Amazing. The history in itself is fascinating, but your own reflections about the whole process of sourcing the shoes and your love for them are even more interesting. I adore the shoes and can easily see why they feel like a signature item for you. Fabulous. 

  • viva replied 3 years ago

    The "similarity" between yours and the Saint Laurent is astounding.

    I would like a pair of every version in the George Cox photo.

  • kkards replied 3 years ago

     i can totaly understand why they wouldn't want to cultivate the fashion set.....if you are a small company and you do one thing, even if you do it really well, or especially if you do it really well, you are probably not set up for the ups and downs of the fashion world. lets say you sell 10,000 pair a year and then you become "hot", now you have to hire more people to keep up, then what happens when you "cool off"?
    anyway, great shoes! love the 2 tone pairs!

  • rabbit replied 3 years ago

    Very interesting, and thanks for sharing.  Sometimes I wonder how much is an issue of patents, and how much is a small family business wanting to stay that way.  I also wonder about sporty luxe designer shoes recreating classic sneakers, but in that case I think the sneaker companies tend to reintroduce old looks to the marketplace fairly quickly.

  • Angie replied 3 years ago

    FASCINATING. Thanks for sharing approprio, and I'm glad you're delighted with your new creepers. They were meant to be. 

    There is a lot to be said for fashion exclusivity. This keeps the item special - which is aspirational because most people strive to be unique (perceiving it as better than following the crowd so to speak). Designers tend to achieve exclusivity with an unreachable (for most) price point. But if the item is more affordable, a reduced supply is the way to go. 

  • Summer replied 3 years ago

    That is so fascinating, approprio.  You are certainly dedicated to finding unique additions to your wardrobe.  Sourcing your shoes from a niche business such as this gives your style extra cache, I think.

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    Thanks for your wise feedback ladies. I'm still puzzling over this.

    kkards: that's absolutely true. It's likely that Geo. Cox's survival until now is largely due to the fact that they've stuck to what they're good at and never grown so big that they'd crash and burn, which was what happened to Dr Martens in the 90's. 

    Angie: that's a great point about exclusivity, and one I've been thinking about too. That shop is tiny but it's also legendary. I remember it being there when I was a teen, and it's the same as it ever was. The combination of provenance and a single point of sale in a very hip location means that there's always going to be a steady stream of enthusiasts making the pilgrimage. It makes a certain kind of sense. 

    But none of this explains the promotional aspect of the mix here. Even if you factor in the scale of the business and the history of the product, it's still surprising that they've carved out such a niche in Japan and have been all but drowned out by Underground in the UK.

    rabbit: yes! sneakers are a good example of how these designs cycle in and out of fashion. For instance, I do believe we have Ms Philo to thank for the return of Vans slip-ons and Adidas pool sliders. Who buys which, I wonder?

    and viva, I hear you! I might well be back for those shoes on the far right of #2 next year...

  • replied 3 years ago

    Fascinating reading Approprio. They are amazing and beautifully made shoes. worth all the hunting down I'll bet. I can't believe the similarity of the YSL ones. Having seen the GC on you once in action I look forward to seeing a few more outings for them. Enjoy!

  • Classically Casual replied 3 years ago

    Your writing reminded me of the film Kinky Boots....about a family owned British shoe company struggling to stay relevant and in business. Hope you enjoy your creepers for a long time!

  • DonnaF replied 3 years ago

    I was just about to mention Kinky Boots as well!  I just saw the movie on DVD; didn't get a chance to see the theater production.  A company that specialized in brogues was going under -- and was saved from demise by downsizing and specializing in flamboyant footwear for transvestite entertainers.

  • approprio replied 3 years ago

    CC, DonnaF: I enjoyed Kinky Boots too. Such a fun movie, and who knew Chiwetel Ejiofor could wear a frock so well! 


    I'm very intrigued by the way the shoe industry has changed in the UK. It's smaller than it used to be, but quite a few brands seem to be surviving by occupying little niches like this. And Dr Martens did manage to keep a small factory going. 

    Diane G: I was so hoping you'd come back with some local knowledge about the Northampton footwear industry! I guess you're the on other side of Birmingham though?

  • replied 3 years ago

    Yes, I'm about 70 miles further north west on the edge of Shropshire and I've never been to, or through Northampton, though I've heard that it's got quite a shoe making heritage.

  • jackiec replied 3 years ago

    Fascinating. I really appreciate your write up. Agree with Angie about exclusivity. I'm so happy you got your pair. Simply gorgeous. Enjoy :)

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