C For Men

DESIGNER GEORGE ESQUIVEL IN HIS LOS ANGELES STUDIO.
LEATHER IS CUT BY HAND.
THE HAND-BURNISHING AND HAND-PAINTING TABLE.
THE LEATHER OF AN OXFORD IS MOUNTED ONTO A MOLD.
THE LONEVOG ARTISAN HAND-PAINTED OXFORD, $2,200.
BOXES OF CLIENTS' MOLDS FOR THEIR CUSTOM SHOES.

By George

by intern

Handcrafted in Southern California, Esquivel leather soles make the ultimate sartorial statement for the well-heeled man.

“I think it’s because I just never had real shoes,” answers George Esquivel when asked why, of all things, it was handcrafted leather footwear that he wanted to design. “You can fake anything else—you can have cheap jeans as a kid, you can have a plain black T-shirt, but everyone notices shoes.”

The Californian grew up bouncing between motels in Los Angeles and Orange County, his father in and out of prison and his impoverished family on the move. Drawn to finer things having always been without, he first experienced the luxury of custom-made shoes in his 20s while on a trip to Mexico, after which he apprenticed with a cobbler in the States. Today, his bespoke shoes (wing tips, derbies, cap-toes and boots) are handmade at his atelier in Los Angeles and reflect his love of Southern California, as well as the state’s sartorial evolution: “Before, California was considered this hippie thing, and now it’s elevated and sophisticated,” he says. Miami Heat forward-center Amar’e Stoudemire, a longtime client, portrays the store similarly as casual, classic and refined. “That’s how I want [my shoes] to be described,” continues Esquivel.

Since designing his first custom pair 21 years ago, Esquivel has shaken up the notion that a well-heeled gent must wear run-of-the-mill black or brown—his creations span from a forest-green leather boot to a reverse raw-denim toe. That innate flair has resonated with an impressive clientele; he regularly takes custom orders from NBA players and the most A-list of actors, and he has made shoes for the founders of Google and for Elon Musk. This fall, Esquivel’s collection includes an oxford collaboration with Pennsylvania tannery Wickett & Craig and, like all of his work, the pieces are the products of careful craftsmanship: sewing, cutting, burnishing and a dyeing process on natural vaquetta leather. Hand-tooled, painted cap-toes top off the artisanal artistry—all amounting to an estimated 30 hours of work. “I’m so in love with this process,” he says.

After seasons of sportswear, Esquivel, who insisted that his son wear proper shoes—not sneakers—to his prom, thinks the pendulum is moving back in the direction of classic footwear. “I recently went to Tyson Chandler’s 10th wedding anniversary,” he says, smiling: “176 people, coolest of the cool; nobody was wearing sneakers.” 8309 W. 3rd St., L.A., 714-670-2200; esquivelshoes.com. • MOLLY CREEDEN.

Edited by HEATHER SEVERS.

PHOTOS: Aaron Smith.