Visiting George Esquivel’s spiffy new atelier Downtown Los Angeles feels a little like stepping into a Wonka world for shoes. With the cobbler’s team of skilled artisans quietly crafting leather soles and uppers at pristine stations inside Esquivel House, it’s hard not to reach for one of Esquivel’s iconic gold metallic boots and scream, Veruca Salt-style, “Don’t care how, I want it now!”
Esquivel is a favorite among the very-well-heeled in Hollywood, sports and business, and he has the “lasts” to prove it. Foot-shaped molds in a corner of the all-white space are marked in Sharpie with names of his illustrious clients: Brad Pitt, Janelle Monae, Emma Stone, Madonna, LeBron James.
George and I have known each other for years, ever since we met for a Forbes profile in 2014, and his personal story is as head-turning as the thigh-high bespoke boots his clients adore him for. He grew up in Orange County, living in motels and navigating 13 different schools, with a drug-addled father who eventually went to jail for murder. George found a path forward in footwear, hand-tooling boots for rock ‘n rollers and eventually for prominent sports and entertainment customers and boutiques such as Barneys and Colette in Paris.
Today, Esquivel is as happy as I’ve ever seen him. He and Shelly, his wife of many years, welcome appointment-only guests to their Arts District location as if they were hosting an afternoon soiree. On the way in, visitors walk by a custom mural by Los Angeles graffiti artist Retna. Inside, champagne bottles are uncorked and George giddily shows off the vintage sewing machines (also painted white) and heel pressers that are part of the Esquivel magic. Although much of the brand’s work still gets done out of a production space in Orange County, there’s plenty to see here: leathers being distressed to the patina of an antique steamer trunk; wingtips are hand-stamped and hand-painted; Esquivel’s signature fabric shoelaces are cut and finished before your eyes.
Custom boots and shoes at $1,000 and up are the wow items but I love George’s new Esquivel X line, a more earthly ready-to-wear sneaker release with proceeds that benefit the nonprofit Giving Children Hope.
You’ll also find candles by Lola James Harper, Nick Fouqet-designed custom hats, and George’s own collection of travel accessories for The Beverly Hills Hotel. There are Paris-made scarves, too, and vintage jewelry pieces by Will Hanigan Pearls and Cheryl Dufault.
Look closer and you might find one of those Wonka golden tickets. Esquivel House makes you feel lucky like that.