By: Kendall Morgan
Texas Exceptionalism embodies the values of Fort Worth and the ethos of a Texan’s drive to settle the American west. At Walsh, the concept of Texas Exceptionalism inspires us to push the boundaries of convention and create a home our residents will be proud of. In this continuing series of profiles, we shine the spotlight on individuals who personify the ideal that anything is possible, heeding the call to be extraordinary in their everyday lives.
Anointed “Boot King” by Texas Monthly, the 95-year-old M. L. Leddy is one of the oldest and largest boot-making companies in Texas. And at their flagship store in the Fort Worth Stockyards, they’re renowned for their authentic approach to western style. The company also crafts hand-tooled saddles and belts and has a full range of suits and jackets that pair fashion and function in a way that makes them ideal for the modern oilman, rancher and rodeo star (not to mention the occasional actor or musician).
Within the shop’s crowded, bustling environs, you’ll find John Ripps, a longtime veteran of the garment industry who originally joined Leddy’s 21 years ago as a general manager. Over the decades, his role has evolved to mastermind of the shop’s apparel, and he collaborates with top American-made tailoring companies such as Oxxford in Chicago, Hickey Freeman in Rochester, New York, and Hamilton in Houston to create custom silhouettes. Beginning his career at John L. Ashe in the 1960s, Ripps eventually moved on to Neiman Marcus before bringing his concept of Cowboyism to Leddy’s. Loquacious and charming, Ripps’ personal style blends Savile Row-ready tailoring with best-of-the-West details such as color-coordinated boutonnieres and a signature scarf at his throat. With his guidance and the edict that “good taste is always fashionable,” any man can express his inner cowboy, beginning with the right pair of boots and a perfectly tailored suit.
Walsh: “Tell us about your journey.”
John Ripps: “Out of high school I needed a job and a friend of mine’s dad ran a lady’s shoe department in an old store in downtown Fort Worth. I was there about six months and the manager of the Young Texan Shop asked me to transfer. I (eventually) went to John Tarleton State (in Stephenville, Texas), and that’s kind of how I got involved with Cowboyism.
“I came back and was going to Texas Wesleyan and (started working) at John L. Ashe, a small quality clothing company, and I was there for almost 20 years.”
W: “After joining Leddy, did your role change over the years?”
JR: “I was hired as general manager, and as time moved along we needed somebody to take care of the apparel. My expertise was in that. When we started this, there was always western wear but it was always a lower price point. We decided we wanted a little better product. I told the owner of the store, if we’re selling alligator boots, why not have the finest coat you can have?
“We had to go out and search somebody who would do what we needed them to do. I didn’t want the typical piece of cloth with leather lapped over the yoke (of the jacket), I wanted something a guy could wear into the boardroom and wouldn’t feel intimidated or be intimidating.”
W: “Who are you inspired by, stylistically speaking?”
JR: “A lot of our clients follow Ralph Lauren, so we try to be in the same zip code as he is. His fabric choices are very tasty—they’re always in good taste. When we’re at market and thinking about our customer, if it has a Ralph Lauren flavor to it, it’s in the right place.”
W: “How has the Leddy look evolved over the years?”
JR: “I always thought there was nothing wrong with a cowboy being elegant, and that’s what we keep in mind. We want it to be in good taste and inviting without being faddish at our price point. You don’t want to spend $4,000 today and have it be out of style next season.
“I also didn’t buy into the skinny look. Our customers are not skinny cowboys, they’re big chested guys. We had a gentleman this morning who bought a jacket because he could get on a horse in competition and not feel restrained.”
W: “How has Fort Worth style evolved in your opinion?”
JR: “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but because of us they’ve stepped up a little.”
W: “How could someone who isn’t Fort Worth get the Fort Worth look?”
JR: “We’ve been on this corner since 1941, and we’ve always had this belief in the look. When they walk in here, we want to Leddyize them, and if that’s not what they’re looking for, then there are other stores on other corners that might fit the bill for them.”
W: “What does the idea of Texas exceptionalism mean to you?”
JR: “It’s a state of mind. We see people from all over the world, literally: China, Russia. It’s amazing when they walk in here what they leave with. The best way to describe it is a warm fuzzy. It’s the ability to create that. We had 20 men in here last night from all over the world for a meeting and they all thanked us as they were leaving like we had really done something special for them.”
W: “How do you define Cowboyism?”
JR: “It’s a frame of mind more than anything else. Without being a cliché it’s the Boy Scout way of being prepared. And treat everyone with dignity and fairness.”
W: “Is it still passed down today?”
JR: “Look at the Walshes as a pretty good example. The Walsh ranch is going to have a lot of neighbors that have a lot of tradition and heritage the Walshes have preserved. As my friend Lyle Lovett says, ‘I know you’re not from Texas, but Texas wants you anyway.’”