Alden Tanker Boots: The thinking man’s Indy boot? They’re not nearly as iconic as cinema’s most famous work boot, but I’d like to think they’re what Junior might favour for a Marshall College Ball if he were to put a little more thought into it. I certainly thought long and hard enough about them. I saw a few restocks come and go at Context and Leffot, always feeling annoyed that I’d missed out. So when I paid a visit to NYC’s classiest shoe store last May – the aforementioned Leffot – I decided to put my name down for a pair already in production. Almost ten agonising months to the day I ordered them (a year since Leffot placed the production order) and after an egregious shafting from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, they arrived at my desk. I opened the box to a gloriously muscular Cordovan boot in that deepest and richest of colours; Horween’s Color 8.
Here’s some info about them lifted from Context’s website…
“The Tanker Boot is made on the Barrie last which was supplied to the US military from WWI through WWII. The Mock and Norwegian skin stitch toe detail is done completely by hand (Alden is the only American shoemaker skin stitching by hand) using two needles and two threads- no more than 6 boots are completed per day.”
Quite how they managed to keep up with War demands at a completion rate of six per day I don’t know, but what it does mean is a lengthy wait for those keen enough to purchase a pair these days. They’re by far and away the nicest shoe/boot I own so I can certainly say they were worth the wait. I can also say they were worth the cost… *just* (minus Her Majesty’s sneaky cut). Would I do it all again? Maybe not. But then that’s what makes them so special…
I was recommended this product for Cordovan shoes when I visited NYC’s Leffot last May. Up until then I’d been reluctant to use any products on Cordovan; just a slightly damp cloth and lots of elbow grease. There’s a great fear with Cordovan that you can ruin the surface with normal polishes as they cover up it’s natural lustre. This stuff however is perfect. The mink oil feeds and conditions the leather and brings out the shine of the surface with half the effort of buffing without product. And the shine lasts just as long.
Saphir also produce a specific Cordovan cream which I’m curious to try although I’d only ever buy the colourless version. That said, when I quizzed the guys at Leffot about any other products (even Alden’s own Cordovan Paste) they reassured me that Saphir Renovateur was all I’d need, and it seems to have done the trick so far.
I also use Renovateur on calfskin shoes, though it doesn’t quite bring the shine up on this type of leather like ordinary polish, it does help condition it to keep it supple and healthy.
It’s taken a while to get around to posting this, but here is a stunning wallet given to me by my wife for my 30th birthday made in my favourite material (you guessed it!) Horween Cordovan Color #8. She commissioned Hellbrand Leatherworks in California to make it.
Hellbrand Leatherworks began life in 2006 when Ed Ratanun, one of Hellbrand’s founders, disappointed with the quality of modern luxury leather goods, decided to take it upon himself to create leather products with enduring quality made the old fashioned way; by hand, with hard-won skills, and with the highest quality leathers. Learning his skills from master leatherworker Jarvis Hellbrand, Ed started to create leather goods ranging from wallets, watch straps, and sunglasses cases to briefcases and messenger bags.
The pieces are all made with Horween leathers either using their hard wearing and weatherproof Chromexcel leathers or their super tough Cordovan. Emma (my wife) commissioned Ed to make this wallet and could spec everything from thread colour to internal leathers. Ed’s customer service was absolutely outstanding, even sending progress shots as the wallet was being made.
Keeping it simple and purely Cordovan was definitely the way to go and the contrast stitching is a beautiful touch. Thank you Emma for such a perfect gift and thanks to Ed for such fine craftsmanship. I’m looking forward to many years of use from it.
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.