Boots/14 inches/LK1st/jc2nd

By FRANK SWERTLOW

Staff Reporter

Footwear fanatics with oversized wallets have a new option in Beverly Hills.

John Lobb Ltd., the venerable London shoemaker that has created custom-made footwear for kings, queens, potentates and high-rollers since it was founded in 1849, has opened a store in inside the Hermes shop on Rodeo Drive.

Twice a year, Alain Sarazin, a Lobb executive, will travel to the Beverly Hills store to measure the feet of the shop's well-heeled clients. His next scheduled stop in Los Angeles is in June.

Such personalized attention does not come cheap. A pair of handmade Lobb shoes, depending on the leather, starts at $2,700. Riding boots begin at $5,000.

Consumers with less extravagant tastes can choose from a line of 30 ready-to-wear styles, ranging from slippers to sporty rubber-soled half boots. The line starts at $425 for a pair of loafers and soars to $975 for a lace-up.

Lobb sells about 20 pairs of ready-to-wear shoes a month at the Beverly Hills store.

But it is the custom made shoes that have earned Lobb its place as one of the great bastions of maleness, like a suit from Henry Poole & Co., a shotgun from Holland & Holland and a snap brim hat from Lock & Co.

"When you buy a Lobb product, you acquire footwear for the ages," said Alan Flusser, a New York designer and an expert on men's fashion.

Indeed, acquiring a pair of Lobbs can be a lengthy, painstaking process. Measuring takes about 30 minutes. Once the measurements are taken, a wooden model of the buyer's foot is created and sent either to London or Paris, where the shoes are made. A preliminary model of the shoe is sent back to the customer for re-fitting. The shoes then return to Europe for adjustments. The entire process takes about six months.

"The human foot changes over a lifetime," said Laurent Guerrier, U.S. manager for the company, which also has a local outlet at the Hermes shop in Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza. (The Paris-based Hermes took over Lobb in 1976.)

"We gain and lose weight," said Guerrier. "It is not uncommon for someone who is 65- or 70-years old to come back for a re-fitting on a pair of shoes that are 30- or 40-years old."

With occasional re-solings and re-fittings as the client ages, a pair of Lobbs can indeed last a lifetime sometimes, even longer. It is not uncommon for people to inherit a pair of Lobbs from their parents and even their grandparents.

Guerrier declined to list the names of his living clients, although he did say that the ruler of one country recently ordered 120 pairs of cowboy boots. Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II reportedly wear Lobbs. So did Princess Diana.

Other folks who stepped into Lobbs during their lifetimes include the Duke of Windsor, Winston Churchill, Orson Welles, Lyndon Johnson, Gary Cooper, Oscar Wilde, Cary Grant, Aristotle Onassis, Groucho Marx and Douglas Fairbanks.

Steve Shampain, the coordinator of men's ready-to-wear clothing at Hermes, said agents from the William Morris Agency and Creative Artists Agency also have recently purchased shoes at the Beverly Hills store.

And he insisted that most people who buy Lobbs generally doctors and lawyers who are well-established and conservative in dress don't purchase them as status symbols.

"There are no emblems or ornaments on our shoes," he said. "The L.A. client is not on the cutting edge. They are looking for classic fashions and quality."

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