The Hippo


Jul 5, 2020








Molly Grant has been spicing up these classic Oxfords with bright colors, prints and laces. Kelly Sennott photo.

Learn more about The Cordwainer Shop

Where: 67 Candia Road, Deerfield
Contact: 463-7742, the

Always in style
Cordwainer Shop’s classic, handmade footwear

By Kelly Sennott

If you don’t know The Cordwainer Shop exists, you might miss it while driving on the Deerfield dirt road where it’s located. 

It’s tucked on the other end of a 300-year-old farm-turned-bed and breakfast called Wild Orchard Guest Farm. The inn has the charm of an old colonial home, furnished with early American antiques and American crafts, and Molly Grant’s shoemaking studio is no different. Most of her styles and techniques in designing, hand-cutting and stitching are very similar, if not identical, to those used when the family business began in the early 1900s.
“People go crazy over these,” Grant said while holding up a traditional Oxford shoe in her studio. 
The Deerfield interview with the innkeeper and shoemaker occurred just before Christmas, and Grant was up to her eyeballs with work, with 16 pairs to finish that day. The shoes, despite their classic make, have always been popular. 
“People will come to shows and say things like, ‘Oh, Oxfords are in!’ But they’ve always been in style,” Grant said. “I think [people like] the nostalgia of the style and how fun you can make it now.”
There are at least nine different styles of Oxfords you can purchase through The Cordwainer, and they’re characterized by a slight difference in cut. Grant also makes dress shoes and patterned shoes, men’s shoes and sandals, and each style, as true with the Oxford, comes in many variations. Her slip-ons have names like “Venus” and “Lara” (named after the Dr. Zhivago character), “Emma,” “Daisy” and “Molly” (named after the current cordwainer herself), and they’re shaped around lasts (wooden foot-shaped molds) that were originally crafted in the early 1900s. 
The Cordwainer in Deerfield was started by Grant’s father-in-law, Edward F. Mathews, while he first attempted to work as a traveling bookseller for the Tabbard Inn Library. During the venture, his feet ached, as described on the website, and his quest soon changed to find comfortable footwear. He started the business in the 1930s, first in Boston and then in Deerfield.
His son Paul Mathews eventually inherited the family business. He was working at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen Fair in Sunapee when he met Grant. She was a juried member for her leather bags, which she’d been crafting since her early 20s. They connected instantly.
“We became friends, and then he asked me if I wanted to start traveling with him. I did, and then we ended up getting married,” Grant said.
Before she turned to shoes, Grant already had 15 years experience working with leather. She’d apprenticed at the Black Swan Leather shop in Portsmouth and had been sewing since she was very young. She jumped into the family business headfirst.
“Leather’s very fun to work with, but you need to have some knowledge about it and some skill,” Grant said while descending the shop’s creaky stairs into the finishing room. 
About 10 pairs of half-finished shoes hung on the wall, ready for the final touches, and a handful were stashed in an oven, being softened.
“I spend a couple days a week, usually, down here. These are all the customer shoes I’ve got to finish working on today,” she said, gesturing to the footwear on the wall and the pairs splayed (though orderly) on her workbench. There were all sorts of colors: plum, kiwi green, brown, bright orange and fire engine red. Some sported bold stitching with contrasting colors, and others were highlighted with snake skin, carving designs and bold prints. 
Paul died six years ago of cancer, but Grant continues to run The Cordwainer (and her stepson runs another shoemaking business right down the street from her). She works long days and with customers who’ve known The Cordwainer for a very long time. Most, she said, are over the age of 40 and are looking for custom-made, comfortable walking shoes that look good with slacks.
Others relish the intricate detail and longevity of The Cordwainer’s products; the bright colors and patterns are features Grant has added the past five years, which most recently captured the eye of Hollywood actress Amanda Seyfried during a trunk show gallery event in Massachusetts last year. (Other celebrity clients The Cordwainer has seen, said Grant, include Bill Murray, Julie Christie, Carly Simon and Demi Moore, among others.)
Grant said each pair is guaranteed for five months of wear, and they’re re-soleable; when they’re worn out, customers can send shoes back to be revitalized. (This is the difference, Grant said, between cordwainers and cobblers; cordwainers design, while cobblers repair. The Cordwainer still does a great deal of “cobbler” work, but the company primarily designs and makes shoes.) The materials also guarantee long lives, with top-of-the-line leather, rubber bottoms and kangaroo lacing.
Each shoe requires a tremendous amount of work, and if you want a pair, you’ll need at least $500 (on the lower end; the more details, the higher the price) and a half year, as Grant often works on a six-month backlog. 
She has a few apprentices (including leather artist Claire Renaud, who sometimes carves patterns in the shoes), and works back and forth with fellow shoemaker Mandy Chantasiri, who was also at the studio the day of the interview. Chantasiri does a lot of cutting and pattern work, while Grant does sewing and finishing work. 
Grant hosts workshops as close as Deerfield and as far away as Minnesota. Most of her time is spent with the shoes, however, it’s the people she remembers most.
“More than the shoes, I remember the customers. I remember their names. I got a call the other day from a woman whose husband only orders sandals,” she said. “They haven’t ordered since 1995, yet I remember them.” 
As seen in the January 8, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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