John Lobb was born in Cornwall in 1826 and moved to London to become an apprentice bootmaker. He set up his first store on Regent Street in 1866 and another in Paris in 1902, making custom footwear for wealthy clients and aristocracy.
The company was acquired by French fashion house Hermès in 1976. Lobb’s family continue to run his London workshop, John Lobb Ltd, independently, but the brand’s stores, By Request service and Paris atelier now operate under the Hermès group.
In 2014, Paula Gerbase was appointed artistic director of John Lobb and commissioned APFEL to create a new visual identity for the brand. The brief, says the agency, was to create a system “which echoed and emphasised the approach of the shoemakers themselves: precise, refined, sensitive to materials and function, and respectful of heritage.”
“The previous branding was quite old fashioned and not very distinct from other footwear brands despite its legacy,” adds APFEL’s Emma Thomas.
The new look combines contemporary designs with subtle nods to the company’s history. The logo is based on an early one found on a shoebox in the brand’s archive which dates back to 1937. Lettering has been refined and serifs removed to create a more modern look, but the distinctive J gives the word mark some character.
The former yellow and brown colour palette has been replaced with shades of russet, navy, grey and white (the russet was also found on a shoebox from the company’s archives). Bags, stationery and packaging feature a range of finishes and print techniques, coupled with black-and-white photographs of the Cornish countryside.
APFEL also devised some abstract patterns inspired by the shoe making process – one from the leather shavings generated when making shoes and another drawn from the rasps to shape shoe lasts (the moulds which shoes are shaped around while being constructed).
The brand’s new website features a minimal design and also aims to tell the story of John Lobb: one section details the history of John Lobb while an evocative film on its homepage (directed by Lisa Gunning) showcases products alongside shots of windy beaches, dewy fields and sunny Cornish skies. A ‘Bespoke’ section also offers a look inside the workshop, highlighting the craftsmanship behind its custom products.
Creating a new look for a luxury heritage brand requires a delicate balance – there’s a need to convey a long history of craftsmanship, but focusing too much on the past can lead to something which looks twee or nostalgic. In its identity for John Lobb, however, APFEL have created a system that looks fresh and new but is sensitive to the brand’s past, retaining some elements of its former identity. The range of finishes and print techniques gives packaging and stationery a luxurious feel and evokes a sense of something made with care and attention to detail.
“It has been a fascinating process exploring John Lobb’s history and archive to come up with new designs to capture that spirit in a contemporary, forward-looking way,” says Thomas. “We wanted to create an identity which felt contemporary yet still respectful of the brand’s history as a British bootmaker of the highest regard since the mid-nineteenth century.”