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American soldier on a Harley Davidson motorbike c. 1917

American soldier in France during WWI, on a Harley Davidson motorbike c. 1917, not unlike the characters in the story

One of the many pleasures of being a bespoke boot-maker is meeting our customers and hearing the stories – like this one that led to the making of our very first pair of Aviator boots. Some years ago we were approached by a man from La Rochelle who had discovered a pair of withered old boots when he was cleaning out the attic at his grandparents’ house shortly after the death of his grandfather. When he brought them downstairs and showed them to his grandmother she recognised the old boots at once and told him the story behind them.

It turned out that back in 1917, when the Americans under General ‘Blackjack’ Pershing arrived in France to join the war, an American officer had been billeted with his grandfather’s family. The officer apparently cut quite a dashing figure, riding around on his Harley Davidson motorcycle and wearing a pair of tall American cavalry officer’s boots. The grandfather, a young boy at the time, deeply envied the look and style.

When the war ended, the American gave him the much-admired boots as a parting gift. They were treasured. Despite being well worn over the years they were never thrown away, but instead found a place in the attic with other old boyhood treasures. There they remained for the better part of fifty years.

By a curious twist of fate, the man who found them – the grandson – also rode a Harley Davidson, and a vintage model to boot (so to speak). Having learned the story of his grandfather’s boots he was hoping we might be able to produce a pair just like them, for him.

Intrigued by his story, we set about trying. It wasn’t easy. The leather in the old boots had mummified over the decades and was as stiff as a board. To be able to open them up properly and get an idea of what we were working with we had to soak them for a nearly month in a secret proprietorial mixture of neatsfoot oil and other leather softening ingredients.

Once we were able to gently pry them open, and take stock of the design and details, we were able to recreate the boots precisely. In the end we were able to deliver our customer not only a fine pair of vintage boots just like the ones the American officer gave his young grandfather all those years ago, but the restored originals as well.

He was thrilled with the result. So were we. So much so that the Aviator boot has been a part of our line of historical boots ever since.