There are a lot of shoe brands out there. Many of the foreign favorites are heritage brands with a strong history in manufacturing; some brands are start-ups, created by shoe lovers, with an emphasize on leaving their mark on the shoe world. Jonathan Abel is a young brand from Singapore, developed and designed by shoe fans, striving to produce something functional and of good quality that would appeal to both a mass market audience as well as shoe fans. The shoes are made in Portugal, a region less known than Spain or England or the US for Goodyear welted designs, but with a few manufacturers that specialize in them, including Carlos Santos. Jonathan Abel’s designs–especially among the Goodyear welted models–are not loud, evoking a classic aesthetic while flourishing a hint of contemporary style in the silhouette.
When I was asked by one of the employees at Styleforum if I would be willing to write a review of my impressions of a pair of shoes from Jonathan Abel, I said sure. Before saying yes, I made sure there were some shoes that I would like, and a few of their styles appealed to me. Because the brand writes that they make Goodyear welted shoes (though you can find Blake welted shoes), I opted to select a Goodyear welted pair, going for their Noah longwing derby model in tan. Normally I like neither longwings nor derbies, but the aesthetic with the last seemed to be more flattering and elegant, somewhat less clunky than normal on account of a good balance between each dimension on the last. I thought I might as well take more of a risk with something that I normally avoid. And I’m pleasantly surprised, having found that the design and aesthetic of the shoe is so well balanced, it’s quickly become a shoe I can imagine using for a variety of occasions. In addition, they have received quite a few positive comments on the street, something which just doesn’t happen with most of my more conservative shoes (like Crockett and Jones).
On their site and in their affiliate thread, Jonathan Abel writes that their shoes are made with leathers from higher-end tanneries including du Puy and Annonay. For this pair, they used leather from Weinheimer Tannery, which, albeit not as famous as du Puy and Annonay (employed for other models), produces some exquisite leather used by other top-end manufacturers. Historically, one of the best German tanneries was Freudenberg Tannery, which moved from Germany to Poland on account of environmental legislation and changes; Weinheimer Leder split off from Freudenberg group and produces leather for footwear following the rigorous methods and techniques originally used by the Freudenberg tannery. Such leather is used by other, more established menswear favorites including Crockett and Jones, Gaziano and Girling, J. Fitzpatrick.
The biggest complaint that I have for the company regarding their site and product descriptions is that they do not list the correct corresponding leather on the site for each model, and I only found out which leather was used by reaching out to them. Many consumers may only be familiar with more well-known tanneries like du Puy or Annonay, let alone be familiar with any tanneries at all, but for sake of transparency and accuracy, I wish they updated the site with better listings.
The leather for my shoe is on the softer side for break-in. One of the creators of Jonathan Abel remarked they selected a softer leather from Weinheimer that is much softer than those from du Puy in order to decrease the break-in period for their clients. This is quite true in my experience; the shoe was rather comfortable from the first few wears. If you are looking for a goodyear-welted shoe that has a quick break in period, go for these. I sometimes feel like I’m wearing something Blake welted, rather than Goodyear welted on account of how comfortable the sole and shoe is. However, in contrast to Blake welted shoes, the soles appear to have much more resiliency for water and heavy use based on running around in them through wet grass, puddles, and other moist terrain.
The leather is nothing to discount either. Over time, the shoes will look amazing with proper care. I think that with a mirror shine and some antiquing on the toe they would look exquisite. As they continue to be used and taken care of, I’ll aim to polish them in that style.
Concerning construction: the stitching is clean, the broguing is clean, and the leather laces don’t feel like they are going to fall apart. To be honest, I’ve gotten shoes from Peal and Co. (Crockett and Jones make) with more asymmetries and little finishing problems then the pair from Jonathan Abel. I do wish the shoes featured closed channel soles. But based on my experience wearing these ones through grass (wet and dry), dirt, rocks, sidewalk, concrete, through puddles, among other venues, the soles have held up exceedingly well, with minimal wear. I also chose not to rotate them with other shoes as I normally would, using only a shoe tree at night, and am still amazed by how little wear the soles show. They didn’t skimp on the leather soles quality.
Packaging wise, the shoes had an interesting box that folds upon itself, with two ribbons that loop through to create handles. I’m sure they could also be tied to make a bow, but during shipping, the courier opened the box to take a look at the shoes.
For fit, I would suggest staying to your normal size. I’m a US 8 or 8.5, depending on the last. However, I oftentimes have problems with certain lasts on account of my foot volume and width. With European lasts, I usually have less of a problem because oftentimes there is more space for the arch of the foot. Looking at their lasts, I decided that the best for my foot would likely be a rounder last, so I opted for something with their R385 (soft round last). Because of my fitting difficulties, when reaching out to them to coordinate the shoe pair for review, they suggested I take size 42 based on my measured foot width, but that actually ended up being a disaster, and I had to send the shoes back because they were oversized with too much volume on the instep. In this case, I overemphasized my difficulties in fitting a pair of shoes, and so they had erred on the side of caution based on foot measurements. Based on my experiences, I would once again suggest sticking with your normal size, because the lasts are fairly traditional. I do wish they made half sizes since I might even consider sizing down half a size on account of the extra room found in a derby.
Overall, in terms of quality, these are quite the pair of shoes. In terms of price to quality ratio, these are a great option for those of your looking for simple, clean shoes that are made with quality leathers and construction. I would recommend them and choose them over Allen Edmonds in most cases since I prefer the slightly more elegant and European styled lasts. The welting is on par with Carmina or Cobbler Union (even though it lacks the closed channel soles you would find on each of them). I quite like the pair I received and would consider ordering from them in the future, especially if another model pops up that I like. I think that should you find a pair that you like and appreciate quality shoes at a good price, or you are looking to start your dress shoe collection, Jonathan Abel is an excellent option to consider.
Please note, once again, that these shoes were given to me to provide a fair, honest review. They provided no input on what sort of content they wanted in the review, so everything I am saying is of my own choice.
Join the discussion on the forum on the Jonathan Abel Official Affiliate Thread.
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e. v. Empey
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