I’ll admit it: I didn’t get what people saw in shoes.
Who looks at shoes? I thought. The first thing people see is your face, then what surrounds it. End of story. For me, it was all about the suit. Shoes were just an afterthought.
When I first joined Styleforum ten years ago and scrolled through page after page of inspiring photos of menswear, I was baffled at all the shoes. Closeups, lovingly framed with mystical bokeh, as if prepped for their senior portrait. My feelings were ambivalent; I couldn’t help but be impressed at the intricate craftsmanship apparent in the pictures, but at the same time I couldn’t fathom the amount of interest in something that covers such a small percentage of your body.
Hardy Aimes famously said, “It is totally impossible to be well-dressed in cheap shoes,” which may sound like class bullying but is, in fact, true. And finally, I bought my first new pair of shoes over $200, feeling somewhat ashamed at the expenditure. Regular, utilitarian, basic black captoes from the Allen Edmonds store on Sutter Street. Truth be told, I wasn’t incredibly enamored with them; they were nondescript and certainly heavier than the other two pairs of shoes I had in my closet. However, I was struck at how comfortable they were. Almost immediately I became a new convert and started preaching the gospel of shoes. I could wear these for hours, I remember saying a million times to anyone that would listen.
Gradually my perceptions changed and I began to see shoes differently. Was I misdirecting my attention? Out of curiosity I started looking down more. I was learning that shoes can say a lot about the wearer. Then it dawned on me one day, while looking at my wife’s closet, and realizing the obvious, that shoes are kind of a big deal. These pavement-hitters that envelop our foot in for practical protection can also be works of art unto themselves. If not careful, one can be easily entranced by a shoe’s sweeping curves, beveled waists, and intricate stitching.
Nowadays, my closet dwarfs my wife’s, and shoes make up a sizable part of it. My favorites are from Saint Crispin’s, a company based out of Romania, where shoes are made passionately following the time-honored way, using only their hands or hand-powered tools. I mean, just look at this video, and pretend to hide your awe of the craft. The amount of hours making one pair of shoes rival that of a bespoke suit. Leather is clicked (cut), then hand-stained, skived, glued, and sewn, before being put on the shoe last and hammered into submission. A distinguishing characteristic of Saint Crispin’s that is usually noticed first are the dozens of wooden pegs in the waist. These serve to provide lightweight sturdiness and a solid foundation to the shoe, unlike a heavier metal shank that may be used in other brands. Hard counters are present in the arches, something generally not seen with other makers. These, together with the pegs, make up the backbone of the shoes’ legendary foot support.
Zachary Jobe is currently in charge of how the brand is presented in the Western Hemisphere, and travels quarterly to various locations to offer their wares to shoe aficionados like myself. I wanted to repair a pair I purchased off of the Buy and Sell section of the forum, and got a chance to hear a little more about the company.
“The Americas are a bit different from Europe,” he explains. “There, due in part to simple geography and proximity, we have a larger network of stockists. While we are maintaining relationships with our stockists here in the Americas and judiciously seeking to expand that network, it also made sense to make ourselves available to private clients.”
And so he comes, several times a year, filled with appointments with people from a variety of backgrounds. Most of the lasts fit fine on me, but not everybody. While I was ogling and snapping pictures of different makeups Zach had on display in his hotel suite, Justin, who works in real estate, came in for a made-to-measure fitting. “The aesthetic is phenomenal, but because of fit issues, I’m limited in what shoes I can comfortably wear. Here I can pay a one-time charge for a personal last, and get all my shoes for the same price as ready-to-wear. That opened up a whole new set of options I never previously had.” Justin came in wearing a trial shoe, something that Saint Crispin’s does for every client that gets a personal last. Made a little less stiff, the trial shoe helps the customer get an idea of how the final shoe will fit, while allowing room to make minor adjustments if necessary.
“I had been looking at other options,” he relates, “but the ability to have my own last made, and get all future purchases made in that last, prompted me to make an appointment the last time Zach was in town. And their style. There are so many options. It was really hard to order just one pair.” Justin had been to trunk shows from other makers in the past, but he was impressed with Zach’s attention to fit. “Others would just put me in a trial shoe, but Zach got out a tape measure and wrote down notes. This gave me the confidence that this first pair would fit perfectly. Even this trial pair is better than any other shoe I had ever owned before, and I’ve been walking in them all morning. I can’t imagine how the final shoe will look and feel.”
Those two words – look and feel – succinctly encapsulate what draws the shoe aficionado. Achieving perfection may cost dearly, but at the end of the day, your feet will thank you, and you can go to sleep knowing that your outfit was complete, feet shod admirably.
Below is a slideshow showcasing some of Saint Crispin’s offerings. If you’d like to read more about Saint Crispin’s, head over to the St. Crispin’s Appreciation Thread