Typically whenever one enters a spanking new establishment, the aromas that greet you reflect the freshly installed materials of the construction trade – wallboard, grout, flooring, woodwork, and most of all paint – prior to any of these surfaces being imbued by the mostly human scents that eventually season any public environment. Thus it was refreshing when I visited the new Frye store on Spring Street in Soho before it opened to the public that the unambiguous redolence was that of leather – despite work still being done on the space at the time. Perhaps this should be of no surprise for a manufacturer of shoes, boots, handbags and accessories made of cowhide, but it nonetheless lends the location an immediate olfactory atmosphere of authenticity and venerability.
And it is those very qualities that permeate the brand itself, one that is as durable in the world of footwear as the individually crafted items they make. Begun in 1863 by John A. Frye, the Frye Company is the oldest continuously operated shoe company in the United States, and was operated directly by the Frye family until 1945, some 50 years after the founder’s death; currently Frye’s parent company is Jimlar Corporation, a pioneer footwear importer founded in 1957. Though long adopted by New Englanders and others heading west as America expanded continentally over the duration if the 19th Century, Frye boots and shoes gained a more international foothold when the firm outfitted the US Armed Forces during World War II – earning a reputation among veterans for a peerless endurance and comfort that made them continually sought after once the war was over. Later, when Frye re-introduced their Campus Boot, based on their 1860s original, it became as much of an heirloom article to the younger generations of the 1960s and ‘70s as previous Frye styles had been to homesteaders and soldiers – so much so that The Smithsonian Institute chose a pair of Fryes to display as an archetypal expression of America during the Sixties. They remain on display today.
A better place for Frye boots and shoes, however, is on your feet. Unlike a lot of consumer brands which are often driven and shaped by marketing campaigns, price-point targeting, quarterly corporate earnings figures, and outsourced factory operations, Frye maintains a dedication to craftsmanship and quality above all other virtues, in a way that still reflects the frontier American values from which the company arose.
Likewise, the flagship store is not intended to be the first of many in a franchising operation, but rather a unique outpost reflecting the spirit of the Frye name. As Frye Creative Director Michael Petry explained to me at the press preview, up until now Frye products have only been available by mail order or directly from retailers who stock only limited numbers of the items Frye manufactures – thus making the Soho flagship store truly unprecedented in the history of the company. There, customers will be able to choose from the over 800 items Frye makes in one place, in person, and in comfort – the store has an accommodating array of lounges in its ample space.
Frye, 113 Spring Street (between Greene & Mercer streets)