Peter van Huet
"Every leg is different"
It’s particularly in equestrian sports that you can still find those beautiful old professions. Where people make artisanal items from authentic materials with their bare hands.
An example of this kind of craftsmanship is found in the making of riding boots.
In 1932 – yes, you read that right, and indeed, 88 years ago, the father of Peter van Huet began an equestrian sports shop in Amsterdam. “Behind the Kalverstraat,” Peter says, “After that, we had a second shop in the van Baerlestraat, nearby the Concertgebouw. At that time, we had our own clothing company where riding jackets and boots were made, to name a few things. Equestrian sports were a whole other scene back then, a lot of fox hunter types, the very chic clique. My father also dealt in riding boots and I’ve also specialised in these over the years.”
Crocodile leather with Swarovski
Peter talks about how much has changed over time. “But luckily there are things that stand the test of time, “he states. “For many decades, riding boot models remained unchanged, they were invariably black or brown, without a zipper. That model needs a wide entry point so that the foot could slide in. This meant that once the foot was in the boot, there was quite a bit of room for movement. It was the Italians who made a zipper on the back of the boot, whereby the ankle area fitted much more beautifully. I am a fan of the of having the zipper on the front inner side or in the middle of the front (Polo boot type). The zipper then has a longer lifespan that way. I'm also someone who urges his clients to use a long shoelace to pull up the zipper. It will last longer because you don’t break it so easily when you pull on the zipper. Nowadays people ask for crocodile leather with Swarovski gemstones. I think that’s wonderful, but do you know what I find more important? That a boot fits well. Because that isn’t always the case.
Peter is a specialist when it comes to measuring boots for size, also for people with problematic legs or feet. “By far the majority of horse riders are better off with a tailor-made pair of boots,” he explains. “There are so few people who are symmetrical, there’s often a disparity between the left and right legs. On top of that, legs tend to vary in size. Often you retain fluids if it’s a warm day or if it’s the end of a day. That can sometimes make a difference of up to one-and-a-half to two centimetres. In the old days, people solved that with elastic, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s nothing but a curse. Elastic is bound to loosen and go all floppy. These days I see so many young girls with incredibly long, thin legs and narrow ankles, but with big feet. Then you have to seek out a compromise if you want to make that work so that it’s attractive. Of course, it’s wonderful that you can customize your own boots nowadays, that you can choose your own colours, prints or gemstones. I also like it when the cash register rings, but what I want is to deliver a riding boot that fits well. If a boot turns out to be too big or small for the foot, if the boot shank is too high or too low, it either pinches the ankle or it’s too loose, then it does not matter how many sparkles you stick on it, it’s just a shoddy piece of leather.”
Lumps and bumps
Peter mentions one of his customers who, up until recently, could only bear to wear riding boots for a maximum of two hours. “At some point her leg had been broken in several places. Everything was held in place with nuts and bolts, and as a consequence of the operations she had undergone, she was left with quite a few lumps and bumps. I measured every part of her leg, and also gave her some homework to do. She had to measure the size of her calves several times per day at home. Ultimately, we succeeded in making her boots that she could wear all day every day, so to speak. If you are able to help someone like that, then that’s a wonderful feeling.”
Peter laughs when asked about how he sees the future of his company. “I am 72 years old. There's plenty of demand for my boots and business is going well, but it will end at some point, of course. My wife passed away not so long ago, that was awful. The work is a distraction for me, I enjoy doing it. Every leg is different, every customer is different, every story is different. But I’m not going to live forever.”