Entering Duncan McHarg’s cluttered workspace, occupying the front room of the family home in Clunes, is the start of an enthralling journey of discovery. It is an insight into how a bespoke boot and shoemaker goes about his craft. Being bespoke, means that everything, from hand carving the lasts to making the mock up sample for the client, to the finessed finished product is all hand done and labourious. A fully lined, complex designed shoe can take up to 250 hours to complete, with a simpler design taking around 100 hours. Duncan’s clients need to have a lot of patience and deep pockets as from the time of ordering the shoes, receiving the sample pair, to the finished product can take up to a year. Prices for a pair of hand made, bespoke shoes start at $2,700 (and rising). The more detailed the shoe, the higher the price.
Sitting on the shelves in his workroom, amongst a mass of paraphernalia of tools and drawings of feet with lines and measurements, sits completed boots and shoes, from a tiny one made for a Japanese tourist to a pair of intrically detailed cavalier boots that really belong in a performance of the Pirates of Penzance.
Duncan’s interest with shoes started as a child watching old black and white episodes of Robin Hood on TV. The images of the mediaeval footwear stayed with him and when he read about a shoe that was dug out intact from an Irish bog that was estimated to have dated back to those medieval times, his fascination was piqued. At the time he was making and selling leather work through craft fairs and markets “I decided to replicate those shoes from the bog with one piece of leather, but modified the pattern to support a sole and insole” said Duncan and so began a lifelong passion. When attending one craft show he wore a pair of shoes he had made for himself and people started asking about them. Subsequently, he made a few pair to take to the Australian Craft Show in Sydney in 1997 along with others he had borrowed back from clients to display. He came away from that show having sold $250 of general leather work off the table, but with enough orders to keep him busy for a year. Twenty years later Duncan is still making bespoke boots and shoes and is easily recognised by his individual, one might say eccentric, appearance echoing another period in time. Duncan says, “I’m fascinated by how things were done in days before mass production and technology made us believe that things couldn’t still be done the old way”. Continuing “We are still physically the same, so there is no reason why we can’t do what we used to do”. Duncan will demonstrate “doing what we used to do” at the Lost Trades Fair, 11th to 12th March at the Kyneton Race Course. In addition, Duncan will be running a workshop in Kyneton 25th March – for more information and to reserve a space email email@example.com