Carmina makes wonderful, beautiful shoes.
Of course that sounds like a highly subjective opinion, and it is. But compared to the other dress shoes in my closet — Alden, Crockett & Jones, Edward Green, Vass, and Saint Crispins — Carmina holds a particularly pleasing place, unique among them: an elegant shape, with a light but sturdy construction and refined finish that fits well in most smart situations.
For example, Aldens are comfortable, but their American lasts are heavy, both in structure and in shape; Vass’ F last is stylish, but construction is similarly heavy; Crockett & Jones’ shapes are nice, but I wish the finishes were superior (though their Handgrade level is a worthy level up); Edward Green shoes are exceptional in all details but can be a bit pricey for some, and Saint Crispins even more so, due to the extensive handwork.
The construction of Carmina shoes combines traditional techniques with a modern interface. Each pair visits 30 or so specialized artisans, using hand tools and machines to assemble them. Traditionally in Spain, shoemaking tasks would be divided by gender: women would stitch the parts and men would click the leathers and assemble the shoes. Since many employees have stayed in the business for generations, this is still the case at the Carmina factory. The company makes all types of dress shoes in a myriad of lasts (over 200!), has leathers from all over the world (Janus and Horween, among others), and with customization, practically anyone can find the perfect style and fit for their shape and personality. To top it off, you can easily choose most options via their website. For more in-depth information, see the page on their process here.
I met the people behind the Spanish brand Carmina a couple of years ago at Pitti, and despite the frenzied atmosphere I found everyone in the booth to be warm, personable, and welcoming. A few months ago I had a wonderful video chat with Carmina herself (the brand is named after the founder’s granddaughter) and was utterly charmed by her easygoing and sincere personality. Shortly thereafter, the brand started work on a new model and offered to send me a pair for review: model 80791.
For some time, Carmina has been a Styleforum affiliate, and for years they’ve put together made-to-order group buys, utilizing feedback from users to create new models, sometimes from scratch. Model 80791 in the Forest last was recently voted the most popular design, so Carmina set about executing it, and allowed me to choose the details, which are as follows:
- Boot shaft, upper, and cap leather: bourbon cordovan (from Horween)
- Lining: Whiskey calf leather
- Sole: Single sole in Rendenbach leather with chestnut edge finishing
- Eyelets: Vintage gold with speed hooks
- Laces: Brown flat
- Size: 7.5 UK (I’m generally a 8.5 in US sizes)
Many of these details (other than the last) can be customized to suit your tastes. For example, double leather soles are an option, or if you live where inclement weather occurs often, you can choose a hard rubber sole (similar to Dainite), a softer pebbled rubber sole, and even a lugged sole. A seemly endless range of different leathers and colors can be chosen for the three parts of the boot.
Less than two months later, the shoes were shipped, and I’m simply enamored with them. Firstly, the bourbon cordovan is simply stunning. A tone or two lighter than Alden’s whiskey color, I chose this to go with cream or light grey flannel. Cordovan is more robust than most leathers and has a natural luster that requires little upkeep, which is right in line with my care — or rather, lack thereof — of the shoes in my closet.
Next, the shape of the shoe, which is on the Forest last. Arguably the most important feature of any shoe, its form will dictate its style, its appropriate context, and ultimately how it fits your foot. Carmina’s Forest last is such that it will snugly secure the heel and arch, while the instep and forefoot and toe box are comfortable to accommodate a high instep and splayed toes, all of which makes it a suitable fit for most feet. All of this, while drawing a graceful shape, with a moderately tight waist and soft almond toe that renders it competent in smart settings. The channeled hand-painted J Rendenbach soles are admirably done and should be able to take a heavy pavement pounding (once I start going outside regularly again), and having my name hand-written on the inside is a flattering finish — admittedly superfluous, but it does make me smile.
Put side by side with my Alden boots on the Plaza last, one can easily see the difference with the Carmina boots: the shape is more refined, in part due to the waist being tighter and the outsole cut much closer to the shoe itself.
Being that it’s the middle of summer, I likely won’t be wearing these anytime soon, but once the flannel and tweed come out, I’ll be dusting these off for cooler temperatures. Really, with the multitude of lasts, hundreds of leather and color combinations, and sole options, Carmina makes something for everyone at a relatively accessible price.
This is not a sponsored article. The writer received the items for free in exchange for an honest review. Carmina is an affiliate vendor of Styleforum and you can see their thread here.
To read Styleforum’s review policy, please click here.
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