How to Bring Old Shoes Back to Life

Since winning the 2018 Styleforum Shoe Revival Challenge I have been asked by a number of people how this transformation was possible. I have been accused of everything from photoshopping to taking a picture of a new pair next to an old pair to dark magic…really?? In reality, it is not as complicated as it may look.
This is how I do a transformation to bring old shoes back to life:

Allen Edmonds Cream Polish  •  Saphir Pate de Luxe  •  Saphir Mirror Gloss

To start I strip the leather with Fiebings deglazer (you could substitute Angelus or Saphir products here). This is an acetone-based solution that strips off any old polish and the factory dye coatings. It should leave a dry and basic tan looking leather after.
The challenge pair in particular didn’t really require much stripping since the factory finish was fairly non-existent from the get-go. Now some leathers that are too highly processed (corrected grain leather) and are more “plasticky” in nature will not strip at all. So mid-tier to higher quality brands like Allen Edmonds, Magnanni, Santoni, Ferragamo, and this To Boot New York pair tend to do better. 
After deglazing, I use Venetian shoe cream to condition the leather as the stripping process dries it up some. You could substitute a Saphir conditioning lotion here too…both are all non-tinted white creams or lotions.  
Now is where the magic begins. I use Fiebings alcohol-based dyes. Again you can substitute Angelus or Saphir products. I only have used Fiebings and have been very pleased with them. I start from light to dark. Pick a lighter base coat…beige, tan, oxblood, light blue etc. Then move on to darker colors for accents, brogueing, burnishing and antiquing like medium brown, chocolate, mahogany, navy blue. For the challenge pair, I used buckskin base color and black for the antiquing. I probably did 2 rounds of base coat and 2 – 4 of antiquing.  
After each round of dye, some will penetrate, staining the leather and some will remain on the surface. I use the Venetian shoe cream in between coats to recondition the leather and to remove surface dye….remember its alcohol based so it dries the leather again. You can substitute Saphir cream and can even use tinted creams in between dye coats to add some color and create a more durable finish. If not done in between dye coats then definitely at the end of the dye process I will use a number of coats of colored cream polished with a thorough brushing in between.
For the challenge pair, I used a few coats of Allen Edmonds Saddle Brown cream polish over the entire shoe only at the end after my dyeing was complete. 
Finally, I use the hard waxes to top coat and give the mirror shine. Even the inexpensive waxes in a tin can give satisfactory results here but I prefer Saphir pate de luxe and the Saphir mirror gloss. I will typically use a very light coat along the vamp, sides and flex points as well as a very light tinted color here. A light coat because a mirror shine on the vamp will crack when the shoe bends….don’t do it!
For the heels and toes, I use a darker tinted polish to enhance antiquing and many more layers to give that mirror shine. Again mirror on non-bending areas of the shoe only.
For the challenge, I used Saphir cognac pate de luxe on the sides and vamp and dark brown for the heels and toes. I finished with Saphir mirror gloss in neutral for the perfect shine on the toes and heels. 
If you would like a custom antiqued pair hit me up on Styleforum username Mbaldinger, or on instagram under MBShoeDoc, or eventually on my website www.MBShoeDoc.com (this is a work in progress and is not up and running yet).
Mike Baldinger aka TheShoeDoc
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8 Comments

  1. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    September 13, 2018

    Great article Mike; your shoes appear almost new. I believe you because I’ve also successfully refurbished vintage shoes using Angelus shoe products. Question: If you take out the shoes trees shown in the “after” photo could you expect a slight slump across the shoe vamp, as observed in the “before” photo?

  2. Reply

    Richard Drew

    September 13, 2018

    Great work and explanation.

  3. Reply

    Randy

    September 16, 2018

    great article. I like those brass knobs on the shoe trees. Is there a site for those?? I’ll check craft stores sometime.

  4. Reply

    brad hunt

    September 16, 2018

    Mike, Brilliant work, really artistic. If it was ever mentioned I missed it, what brand of shoes did you start out with? Cheers

  5. Reply

    David

    September 16, 2018

    “In reality, it is not as complicated as it may look.”

    Mike, you win not only for best restoration job but for the most self-effacing statement of the year. If the process you described is not “complicated,” I’ve been using the word incorrectly all these years!

    As someone who can barely shine his own shoes, I’m going to one of you pros if I ever need to restore a good pair!

  6. Reply

    Kelly Taber

    September 16, 2018

    Excellent, excellent article! Very informative and detailed.
    Awesome job on the shoes, thanks for sharing!

  7. Reply

    Ariana

    September 18, 2018

    I love Leather shoes. It’s a great shoes.

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