I’m a big fan of the blog A Suitable Wardrobe. Although my own sartorial interests lie on the casual side of menswear, I find Will Boehlke’s musings about classic and bespoke tailoring very inspiring. Many of his ideas and principals regarding colour, pattern and texture are applicable across every gentleman’s wardrobe.
One of my favourite regular posts from Will has been his Suit & Sock installments. I start pretty much everyday with an idea to wear one thing in particular and then dress the rest of the outfit around it. More often than not, that item is either shoes or socks. Socks often dictate an outfit as it can depend on what’s available on that day (i.e. not stuck in the laundry). I never don a pair to coordinate with anything else I’m wearing, but rather to compliment another garment (co-ordination being one of Will’s biggest no-nos. A man should look like he took care to look good, but didn’t try too hard).
You’ll notice there is a lot of Fair Isle in this particular collection of shots. It’s obviously a great winter pattern, adds a flash of visual interest to the ankle (make sure what’s going on up top isn’t too brash as well – don’t want to over cook your ‘look’!) and it often has plenty of colour to work with for the rest of the outfit.
So with this post – rather than a total rip of an idea – please think of it more as ‘Stitched & Stitched after A Suitable Wardrobe’. A casual man’s whimsical and light hearted homage to the serious business of classical menswear and colour matching. There’s more to come down the line – I’m already looking forward to Summer so I can break out some socks and sandals combos. Regardless of my missus wincing every time I mention it, I’m convinced they’re going to be the way forward.
I finally dipped my toe in to the world of Alden last week with the purchase of a pair of their Cordovan Longwing Bluchers (Derbys to UK folks) from Northern Ireland’s finest; The Bureau. It’s been a long time coming. I reported a while ago that I find American styles too long in the toe, which is still the case in my regular size, but after trying a few Alden styles on at Browns London I found if I took half a size down they’re about spot on (Alden’s U.S. 9.5 comes in roughly just under a U.K. 9, but about the same length as a U.K. 9.5). A little snugger in width than Tricker’s, but perhaps a better size for me than I normally take to be honest.
The bigger satisfaction though was finally getting my feet in to some Horween Color #8 Shell Cordovan. I’ve been eager to compare it against my Comipel Cordovan Tricker’s and the difference in appearance is quite something. There’s more on that topic and also some more information on Comipel vs Horween at the bottom of this post.
So on to the Longwing Bluchers, which are, for my money, the quintessential American shoe. Especially in horse hide. Horween Cordovan shoes are Alden’s bread and butter and after much deliberation (and a lengthy enquiry trying to get Tricker’s to make a pair of short Stows in the stuff) I’ve decided that there’s no company I’d trust more to make a fine pair of shoes with this material. With a few options of the Alden Longwing Bluchers out there, the detail of the MTO antique finish leather soles swung it in The Bureau’s favour. The added detail of the dark stained welt on this particular pair (which I think was a one off supplied in error by Alden) really sets them apart. It’s a detail I’m going to look to add to a lot of my shoes when they’re next due resoling. The material sings on this style and Alden certainly seem to get more out the material than other manufacturers.
It’s worth noting I don’t find Alden’s finishing on the welt particularly neat when compared to that of Tricker’s (which is seamless on every pair I own). The join is a little messy where the welt meets back on itself. It’s a small aesthetic detail that doesn’t affect my overall satisfaction with the shoes (or the performance). I guess shoe makers focus more energy in to different areas than others. The welt is also cut square at the top of the rib (i.e. the edge of the leather piece) and is seemingly left unfinished (which is actually a detail I like) unlike Trickers where the top of the welt looks ‘sealed’ and rounded. The double stitching on the welt is a detail I also like in Alden’s favour, especially the choice of red for the thread stitched into the upper.
Last but not least, the colour. As regular readers might be aware, I’m a big fan of the rouge noir tones of Color #8. If there is a deeper, richer, more complex colour out there in the leather world, I certainly haven’t found it. This is also a colour that benefits Cordovan immensely as the nature of the leather means it creases lighter rather than darker in the stress points, showcasing the subtle points of difference between Horse butt and Calf skin. The benefits between colour and material are mutual as this lighter creasing means we get to see the full range of reds contained in the colour as the shoe wears. It’s the colour that keeps on giving.
I feel I must add a special mention to The Bureau for all their great customer service (especially concerning my indecisiveness regarding the welt). They have all the expertise and knowledge of a specialist shoe dealer with the added bonus of curating a great menswear store as well. Cordovan is a big purchase for any shoe lover and their open and honest opinions both in the past and recent times have been very informative and helped shape my buying decisions.
To conclude: I’m chuffed with my purchase – the comfort, style and material has quickly elevated them to one of my favourite pairs. For those thinking about it I can highly recommend a pair of Alden’s. I don’t think this will be my only pair for long.
Us Brits haven’t really had a lot of exposure to Cordovan compared to our friends over the pond. Many people over here still think it’s simply a colour of leather. I did a lot of research before purchasing my first pair of Cordovan shoes recently and I thought it would be good to share the information I compiled for those who are thinking about buying a pair. Below is what I regard as the essential knowledge for a first time buyer to be aware of. I’ll keep adding to this list anything further I find of interest and think might be useful as well as anything I experience with my own pair (especially in regards to the Comipel Cordovan). I’m happy to add anyone else’s comments, thoughts and experiences of Cordovan to this post in order to make a well rounded guide.
THE SHELL: Cordovan is horse leather cut from the horse’s hind. Three pieces known as ‘shells’ are taken from each horse suitable for making shoes, hence one of the reasons Cordovan shoes are so expensive: one horse equals one pair of shoes (well, one and a half technically).
CREATION AND COLOUR: The creation of Cordovan is a long, painstaking process over a period of six months. It’s a very difficult leather to colour as the dyeing is done by hand. A common complaint about Cordovan is often the poor colouration of the material, either from the outset (it may be uneven or patchy) or fading over time. The difficulty of the colouring however is no excuse for poor colouration upon purchase as Cordovan customers are charged a high premium for the material and should accept nothing less than perfect.
LIMITATIONS: Cordovan is a tough and resilient leather, but due to its thickness it’s difficult to stitch and sew by hand and limits the amount of styles available in the material. For example the ‘beefroll’ on a beefroll penny loafer would prove too difficult to bend and sew for most shoe makers, thus making the style too hard to create.
WEAR: Cordovan is softer, more pliable, and comfier than calfskin and it ripples rather than creases. Cordovan shoes require regular rotation and shouldn’t really be worn more than once before being given a rest. It’s worth keeping shoe trees in your Cordovan shoes in between wears.
THE SHINE: The natural oils, fats and greases ‘stuffed’ and ‘curried’ in to the leather during the tanning process (as well as its generally thicker, oilier make up compared to that of calfskin) means that Cordovan naturally remains glossy and shiny without adding any polishes or creams. In fact to use anything such as this may actually ruin the surface and cover up its beauty. Buffing with a soft cloth and brushing with a stiff horsehair brush is all that should be needed to maintain the shine. A little polish paste spread very thinly over the shoe may be needed every once in a while.
CLEANING: To clean, only a damp cloth should be used. I’ve heard rubbing Cordovan with a very slightly damp cloth and then buffing over and over (for 30 minutes or so) is also another great way to bring out the shine.
SPEWING: White marks can form on new Cordovan at creasing points. This is called ‘spewing’. This is totally normal and can be wiped and buffed away.
WATER: Despite being harder wearing and more water proof than calfskin, water can cause problems for the surface of Cordovan. Small ‘welts’ can appear where water has made contact. These are normal and should disappear when the leather is totally dry. If they don’t disappear the marks should come out with buffing and brushing. Persistent welts can be removed with the back of a teaspoon wrapped in a soft cloth.
PRODUCERS: As mentioned in my M.T.O post, Horween (based in Chicago) is widely regarded as the best manufacturer of Shell Cordovan. They supply many of the finest shoe manufacturers with Cordovan, Alden being perhaps the most famous maker of Cordovan shoes with the Horween product. Many English shoe brands use Horween Shell Cordovan for their M.T.O shoes (and some R.T.W models) such as Alfred Sargeants and Crockett & Jones. Brits and Europeans can expect to pay a large premium for Horween however, which may explain why Tricker’s use Italian manufacturer Comipel to supply their Cordovan. My own Cordovan boots are Comipel Cordovan and I’m very happy with how they’re wearing so far. I’ve seen complaints that the surface isn’t as splendid as Horween and that it has a metallic odour. In my short experience I have not found this to be the case at all. The Mogano colour material looks to be every bit as nice (if not nicer) than some Colour 8 Alden’s I’ve seen in person and when compared side by side with Horween’s Whiskey Cordovan I would take Comipel’s Mogano everytime (however it’s only really fair to compare similar colours). Comipel’s colour range is more extensive and unusual than Horween’s, but Horween has the iconic Colour 8 which I think is the finest Cordovan colour of all. To the best of my knowledge Tricker’s do not and will not produce shoes in Horween Shell Cordovan.
FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE: People have good and bad experiences with bench made shoes in any material. They are hand made products and are open to human inaccuracies. People are of course hyper critical when paying a higher price on rarer materials which is why Cordovan often comes under scrutiny. My advice would be to take as much as you can onboard from forums and blogs, but nothing beats handling the leathers in the flesh to decide for yourself if it’s worth the extra expense. Many people think not, but I fall on the other side and think it’s a leather with a shine like no other and worth having at least one pair of shoes in this special super-durable material.
RAIN REACTIONS: I’ve noticed that a complete soaking in a heavy downpour is actually better for the leather than a brief splashing in a light shower. The reason being that when individual droplets hit the material they cause it to ‘welt’ (as previously noted). However, when it’s evenly soaked it swells evenly and dries smooth. An even soaking from a downpour yesterday has somewhat ‘reset’ the material and has gotten rid of any previous persistent ‘welts’. Finding this has put my mind at rest about one of my biggest concerns over Cordovan. ***Added 06 01 2011***
COMIPEL VS HORWEEN: Now with a pair of shoes in Cordovan from both manufacturers I feel I can give a better comparison. Here’s some notes on the differences I’ve noticed between my pairs:
Comipel is thinner than Horween’s product and has a definite difference when creased. Comipel ‘ripples’ much more than Horween Cordovan which has a sharper crease (whilst still not a crease like calf skin).
The Comipel has an almost ‘satin’ finish to it whilst the Horween is pure gloss. The Horween leather on my particular pair far out shines the Comipel, although I think I’ve got a particularly shiny example of Alden Longwings. Some of the Color #8 Alden’s I tried on at Browns the other week had a pretty dull surface (duller than my Comipel’s infact). It goes to show it’s total swings and roundabouts. Choose wisely.
Whilst not the same, the Color #8 Cordovan creases a lot lighter than the Comipel Mogano Brown (probably Comipel’s closest match).
One thing I will say in favour of the Horween Cordovan is it’s much more evenly coloured. The Comipel Mogano Brown, although a slightly lighter colour is a little patchy.
There has been very little difference in wet weather performance. Both have ‘welted’ in exactly the same way and frequency. The only way I really got rid of the welting on my Comipel leather was when it got saturated in a storm. The material swelled evenly and dried evenly to a dull finish. They shined up with a cloth and some elbow grease right back to normal. I would say (from a few wet weather performances) that the Horween leather retains its shine much more effectively. I need to buff the Comipel back every few wears (regardless of whether they get wet or not).
In terms of the actual leather performance and wear I couldn’t make a clear decision between the two – for me it’s simply the iconic Color #8 that swings it in Horween’s direction in this comparison. ***Added 22 02 2011***
A NOTE ON TRICKER’S USING HORWEEN. A couple of weeks ago I made an enquiry at Tricker’s Jermyn Street regarding a pair of MTO Short (5 hole) Stow Boots made in Horween Cordovan Color #8. Tricker’s informed me the DO NOT use Horween Cordovan. The reason they told me they gave it up was because they were not satisfied with the supply coming from Horween as not every piece was suitable for making shoes. They would however make a pair if I supplied the Horween Cordovan myself. The exercise would have proved too expensive and too big a risk considering Tricker’s reluctance to touch the stuff, so I gave up the enquiry. For those who would be interested you can buy Horween Cordovan direct from their UK agent A&A Crack (based in Northampton). The price to supply enough Cordovan for a pair of boots was around £170 (two pieces of Grade II Cordovan). I still might buy a piece myself as I’m interested in perhaps making a wallet out of it at some point. ***Added 22 02 2012***
I found out an interesting fact about Color #8 during my visit to New York’s Leffot. Alden apparently stain their Color #8 a slightly ruddier colour than the original material Horween provide. Alden’s treatment also adds a glossier sheen to the leather. Having seen a few examples of the original Color #8 it is much closer to Comipel’s Mogano than I originally thought. This goes to explain some of the inconsistency I’ve witnessed between certain brands using this shade. ***Added 16 05 2012***
I’ve fancied a pair of Cordovan shoes for some time now and after trying a few pairs of Alden Cordovan options on down the years I decided to take a risk and opt for a pair of Tricker’s instead. The reason being I find the American styles are much too long in the toe for my taste. As I have a slightly wider foot I tend to end up with half an inch room in the toe on most shoes, but with Alden styles it feels more like an inch.
I say ‘take a risk’ as Tricker’s don’t have the years of wide ranging experience with this specific material that Alden do. They also don’t use Horween Shell Cordovan like Alden. Again, Horween have such vast experience manufacturing this leather that it seems unlikely others would produce a product to match.
Tricker’s acquire their Cordovan from an Italian manufacturer called Comipel, and while they don’t have the rich history of Cordovan production that Horween do, their leather seems (to my eye at least) every bit as beautiful and is actually offered in a much larger range of colours. While some of Horween’s colours are iconic, the colour range is quite limited and I’ve not been impressed with all the examples I’ve seen in person. I’ve seen shoes made with the Whiskey shade that looked indistinguishable from Calfskin for example.
For my M.T.O shoes I decided to go for the most comfortable style of Tricker’s I’ve found for my feet; the Polo Chukka on the W2298 last. It’s close to Alden’s classic chukka and I prefer Cordovan on simpler shoes such as this as the creases and ripples are more noticeable and highlight the material’s sheen. I find brogueing or any other decoration can detract from the beauty Cordovan (unless it’s Horween’s Colour 8 which seems to have a special richness and luster that is only exaggerated further on Alden’s longwings).
I chose a dainite sole with a Barbour welt and contrast stitching so wetter weather wouldn’t be a problem (more on that shortly…).
I kept the style simple opting for Tricker’s beautiful Mogano brown Cordovan which has a conker like surface and colour. It’s similar to Horween’s amazing Colour 8, but without the redness. The colour and style means this is going to be a good all rounder, working with many outfits varying from smart to casual. The finishing touch is the inside lining in British Racing Green.
As always the order was placed with Stitched & Stitched favourite; The Shoe Healer. Doncaster’s finest gave very sound advice and honest opinions about Cordovan which was all taken on board when deciding the style. I’m going to write a little more about Cordovan in one of my next posts which will hopefully offer up some advice and thoughts for anybody thinking of purchasing a pair of shoes in this unique leather.
As it’s getting close to autumn, I’m about to once again be stepping out in my first pair of custom made Tricker’s, ordered through Stitched & Stitched favourite; The Shoe Healer. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as wearing a pair of shoes you’ve ‘created’ yourself and, at the time, this model was only a fraction more expensive than ‘ready to wear’ options.
I ended up looking at a custom made option as I’d missed out on a pair of Tricker’s Scotch Grain Allan boots with a red dainite sole that I’d longed after for a while from The Bureau Belfast. When I went to order them at last, they’d sold out of my size. So with that style in mind, mixed with a long term want for a simpler pair of Tricker’s in black, I went about designing my own pair.
Rather tragically, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I chopped up The Bureau’s product shot of the Allan boots in Photoshop to make the shoe I was after. It was my first time buying custom made shoes, so I figured if I had a clear visual reference for Tricker’s to match to then nothing could go wrong. I realise this was totally excessive as I would now be completely confident consulting with Richard (The Shoe Healer) on shoe style and materials with his expertise as a guidance (kind of how men have been ordering bespoke shoes for centuries really).
The chopped up image I gave to Richard to match to resulted in a classic Tricker’s Matlock in Black Scotch grain with natural leather and black dainite sole with brass coloured eyelets to highlight the natural leather of the sole.
I was walking past John Lobb the other week and I noticed they had shoes displayed on top of copies of a monograph entitled ‘The Last Shall Be First: The Colourful Story of John Lobb’.
I purchased a copy from Amazon, but have yet to start reading it (and as my reading habits go, expect a review in 2015). In the meantime I thought I’d share this image of the back cover which I thought was a clever and unusual introduction to the book.
I’ve always been a Trickers man myself and never been a great believer in Alfred Sargent as I find that on the ‘country shoe’, large volume production level, Alfred Sargents do not match up to the quality of Trickers. I think Trickers are a more robust and hardy shoe. Superiority of quality shifts however when you get to Alfred Sargent Hand Grade. This, from The Shoe Healer’s website, sums them up pretty nicely:
“Attention to detail is evident in every aspect of AS Hand Grade shoes. The finest Calf Leathers carefully selected and Hand Cut, the stunning ‘Fiddleback Waist’, worked by hand on an Oak Bark Sole, finished and ‘Finger Polished’ to exacting standards. AS Hand Grade are unquestionably at the pinnacle of true English Hand Made Shoes.”
Astonishing quality aside, the styles of the hand grade collection are very formal and the only pair that really grab my interest are the stunning double monk straps pictured.
Of course with such amazing quality there is a nausea inducing price to match. The fact that The Shoe Healer doesn’t publish the prices should prepare you for the kind of figures to expect, but rest assured you won’t find a better price than Richard can offer and that the shoes themselves are worth every penny – these are the next level of craftsmanship.
Great idea here from one of Stitched & Stitched’s good friends over at Noncollective. A classic pair of heather grey Vans is given a nice heritage twist with the addition of leather laces. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to rip this idea off, so I resign myself, with his permission and in the spirit of Noncollective, to share the creativity. Enjoy.
“The Noncollective team is a secret society of young templars and music alchemists with a taste for the obscure, whether European records, Japanese commercials, Belgian waffles, Algerian pop stars, Twin Peaks, Italian porn stars or teutonic beats and even topless girls in denim shorts. They like spending their days lazing under the Mediterranean sun while listening to Brazilian guapas singing about love. When night falls they like to fill the dancefloor with the sounds of Italian disco divas on acid and watch the dance floor beauties go crazy. In real life the Noncollective is a group of friends scattered mostly around Europe who get together all sharing the same passion for music. It is a superb example of what a handful of people can achieve armed merely with their love for everything out of the ordinary.”
After nearly three years of pretty solid use one of my favourite pairs of Trickers was looking a little worse for wear. The shoe in question was a classic brogue stow boot in Marron antique. Over the course of their use the double leather sole had started to delaminate slightly and spread at the front the shoe. The rubber heel component had also worn away well into the leather.
Rather than take them to Trickers who tend to have long lead times for resoling and would no doubt recommend to unnecessarily replace the welt (which was in decent condition) I took them to my man in Doncaster; The Shoe Healer.
I’m going to write in more depth about Richard and his excellent team at The Shoe Healer in the coming weeks, but first I wanted to mention about the excellent job he did resoling these particular boots.
For the resoling I chose a red Dainite sole (due to their excellent durability and striking colour) mixed with a natural coloured leather. In order to achieve this Richard and his team took the edge off the Marron antique painted sole, cutting it back to the leather’s natural finish. Then they stripped the old heel and outsole away, retaining the welt and added a new leather outsole, the Dainite rubber, and added the new heel. The original Marron antique colour is retained at the top of the welt which makes for a pleasing, crisp colour change in to the edge of the natural leather.
Richard also replaced the stitching on the welt to the sole, which a lot of cobblers won’t do as not many have the machinery and skills to carry this out. On my brogues they’ve replaced it with a matching brown thread, but they mentioned they’d been tempted to finish it with a contrasting cream thread which I’ve seen them do on other examples to great effect. I kind of wished they’d gone for it and next time I might specify this.
The result has transformed an unremarkable, shabby pair of Trickers in to a fresh and unique pair of boots of my own creation and at almost a third of the cost of taking them directly to Trickers (who in my past experiences are always unpleasant and awkward to deal with).
More on The Shoe Healer soon, but in the meantime check out their website and their gallery of custom made Trickers they’ve produced for an international customer base.