There is an English idiom: “You cannot know a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” And no man has known true luxury until he has walked a mile in a pair of bespoke shoes designed and built by the American custom shoemaker, Perry Ercolino.

by Christine Gardiner

There is an English idiom: “You cannot know a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” And no man has known true luxury until he has walked a mile in a pair of bespoke shoes designed and built by the American custom shoemaker, Perry Ercolino.

Mr. Ercolino is a third-generation artisan. His grandfather was a leatherworker from the Avelino region in Italy, and Mr. Ercolino learned his craft in his father’s workshop. He describes his father as a patient teacher who taught him shoemaking methods, attention to customer service, and the value of a hard day’s work. But even at the age of eighteen, Mr. Ercolino was a man with a vision. Having mastered his father’s trade, he followed the American dream to California, where he graduated from San Diego State College. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for a firm making custom shoes for the Hollywood crowd. In 1980, he traveled to Milan to formalize his study in design and to perfect his art. Today he works in bucolic Doylestown, PA and maintains a studio in New York City. Arguably the finest men’s shoemaker in North America, Mr. Ercolino crafts custom shoes for an elite and discerning clientele.

Mr. Ercolino is an artist. He lives and works by fine measures. His designs are timeless and elegant, a sublime balance of comfort and style. His commitment to quality and service is unparalleled, and his prices reflect the superiority of his product. Calfskin shoes begin at $3,800 a pair. Boots and exotic skins cost more. Much of his business comes from repeat customers, who insist that his shoes—an ultimate status symbol—are worth every penny.

Mr. Ercolino’s portfolio is extensive. His classic dress designs include loafers, wingtips and monk straps. His country collection is more casual, though no less elegant. He is best known for traditional English designs, but Mr. Ercolino can work in any style, and his business is expanding to meet the needs of a younger, more fashion-forward clientele. He offers his customers a wide selection of the finest leathers in the world, including rare and exotic skins like alligator, crocodile and ostrich.

Every pair of his shoes is a singular work of art, because every element—toe-shape, heel height, color and finishing—is made to order. Mr. Ercolino meets personally with each client to determine a vision for the shoe. Some clients bring him a picture or shoe to replicate. Others do not have a particular style in mind. Mr. Ercolino interviews each customer at length about his wardrobe and lifestyle. Together shoemaker and client collaborate to design a shoe that perfectly complements the client’s attitude and attire. The possibilities are virtually limitless, and the end result is a pair of shoes unique in the world.


Mr. Ercolino takes over a dozen meticulous measurements of each foot to ensure an exquisite fit. He makes imprints of each foot both standing and sitting to gauge how the foot expands “at rest” and “at work.” Finally he examines his customer’s shoes to determine patterns of wear and deterioration. He incorporates all of this information into his design.

Once the vision for the shoe is determined, Mr. Ercolino sends the foot measurements to England, where a skilled artisan translates this information into a pair of “lasts.” The last is a replica of the foot, carved from a block of solid wood, upon which the shoe will be built. The last determines the shoe’s fit, and a custom-cut last ensures a custom-fitting shoe. The last also gives the shoe its shape; thus an elegant last is an essential element of an elegant shoe.

Upon receipt of the lasts, Mr. Ercolino drafts a pattern and builds a pair of trial shoes from negligible leather. Again he meets with the client, this time to determine that the fit is perfect and the design meets the customer’s highest expectations. With information gleaned from this fitting, Mr. Ercolino returns to his workshop to make whatever subtle changes to the pattern are necessary to ensure a perfect, personalized fit.

Only then can construction process begin in earnest. Mr. Ercolino cuts the leather uppers, fits the pieces together and hand-fastens them to the last. Then he builds the shoe’s infrastructure. Every element of the shoe—including those the client will never see—is constructed from the finest leather. Mr. Ercolino then attaches the sole, a process that requires seven hand-stitches to the centimeter. Each pair of shoes is finished with hand-painted waists and natural waxes. Finally the shoes are hand-stained and polished, a procedure that can take a full week in itself. All told, the process requires over sixty hours of skilled labor. When every detail is perfected, Mr. Ercolino personally ships or delivers the finished shoes, along with custom trees and flannel bags, to the customer.

The end result is a work of art, a pair of shoes with unparalleled function and beauty. Mr. Ercolino’s shoes appear to be an extension the man who wears them, and they are designed to age gracefully. Wear builds their character, and if the client takes proper care, the shoes will provide comfort, support and beauty for decades.

Much of Mr. Ercolino’s business is repeat customers, because once you have experienced the function and beauty of a bespoke shoe, it’s hard to accept anything less.

At sixty, Mr. Ercolino is handsome, youthful and fit as a fiddle. Business is booming. He loves what he does and has ambitions. He has dreams of developing a line of shoes for women. Eventually he would like to retire to an arts college, where he could pass his tremendous knowledge and passion to a generation of young designers.

To date, Mr. Ercolino has designed and built shoes for hundreds of America’s most powerful and influential men. The next time you see a picture of Barak Obama walking across the White House lawn, take a look at his feet. He may be wearing his pair of Mr. Ercolino’s custom shoes.