Looking Down

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As we go about our business, walking in streets teeming with all sorts of people, clocking in the various passing outfits, we cannot help but absent-mindedly categorise, gauge and assess the way people are dressed. They say if you want to know how well a man dresses, you should look down. If so, your retina will most likely remain unimpressed.

There’s no way you will spot more than a few decent shoes in the course of one day in the city. In fact, you’ll be lucky if you see actual shoes—unless you stay positioned in the business district. Since casual now reigns supreme, the sneaker shoe has become the pervasive norm of casualness. It seems to stand as an emblem of rejection and distrust against suits and leather shoes. Let’s face it—sneakers have replaced classic footwear. Of course, they would: they have the simplest of designs and require only limited skills so they are cheap to produce and generate profitable margins.

But since they’re not particularly appealing aesthetically, the marketing of cool had to step in to promote a vintage legacy of sports and youth. It has thus become a ubiquitous emblem for people who want to flaunt their urban flair with a hint of rebellious attitude without going as far as standing out in the crowd.

One can only wonder at the short-term and self-defeating strategy of traditional footwear brands who go out of their way to sell expensive sneakers that have nothing special on their cheaper competition.

Maybe it’s time to embrace the dress shoe for what it is, a leather sculpture with the capacity to age. Classic footwear also represents a cultural connection to history and mankind’s eternal attempts at protecting its feet. Since we abandoned horse-riding or the need to cover ankles and calves, boots have made way for the many-shaped low-shoes, the derbies and oxfords, the loafers and monks.

These classic models display the sure-footed principles that combine skills, aesthetics and practicality. They are a foundation enabling a wealth of adornments—brogueing, medallions, Balmoral line— and a repertoire of shapes open to interpretation and invention, leading to renewal within permanence. The classic dress shoe is based on those patterns that can be transformed into new designs with an infinity of expressions and nuances, of colours and shades. As a common enough accessory, the shoe is thus a strangely unsettling and forever surprising source of subtle shapes.

Aubercy cap toe shoes.

The World Championships in Shoemaking remind us regularly to celebrate the corresponding skills and aesthetic legacy. The geek in us may be fascinated by technical aspects — welts and Cuban heels, channel closings and waistlines — but what makes a shoe a show-stopper is its design.

There’s magic in the mysterious balance of patterns and shapes; it’s actually what makes a shoe something of a live leather sculpture. The enigmatic seduction of a last, the minute details, the infinitesimal punctum of an eagle-clawed toe— it’s all winking at you in the subtlest of ways.

As for many things, consumerism has replaced maintenance and skills by blind forgetfulness and it would seem — at least in Paris — that not many people still know how to shine their shoes. It explains why high-gloss workshops have been burgeoning like secret Victorian parlours displaying marvels for the initiated enthusiasts to gather after dark. It seems to be the last resort to preserve a dying practice

Still, well-maintained quality shoes quietly shining at the end of your leg add a smiling glow to an outfit, and as a reminder of forgotten craftsmanship, they truly show what they are about, blending authentic practicality and portable aesthetic pleasure. So maybe it’s time you gave people a good reason to look down.

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John Slamson

John Slamson

JS is a writer and translator based in Paris. He loves a generous lapel. He’s also a jazz producer and critic who believes we should let the good times roll.
John Slamson

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7 thoughts on “Looking Down

  1. Right on, Aubercy is one of the best brand in the world even if the aubercys are a little bit intégristes in the shoe world but I adhere

  2. I’m always impressed with a man who wears a good leather oxford by a good shoe name like Cole Haan or Johnston & Murphy. A good leather shoe says something about the man. Maybe it says “money”. I don’t know, but I’d rather see a good leather shoe and a suit (or shirt and pants) on a man than what’s happening today which is total sloppiness and laziness by (American) men. They don’t even clean their gym shoes. They wear them until they’re ragged. You don’t see a man wear a leather shoe until it’s ragged. They get it resoled and polished.

  3. A splendid, perspicacious article! One of the signal virtues of the quality leather shoe is that, properly maintained, it will give good service for decades. However, a sad by-product of the sneaker revolution is that decent shoe repair establishments are becoming fewer and fewer and their services costlier when you can find them1

  4. I ate at L’ambroisie recently. Their webpage states explicitly “no trainers”. The very first thing I saw when I walked in was a chap with wretched fluorescent orange trainers on his legs. The numpty wasn’t even pretending to hide his shit, it was in your face, and a 3 star Michelin allowed it. I had lunch at Tour d’Argent last year, and there was a Chinese group who were so badly dressed it was unbelievable. Taking selfies all the time. I couldn’t stand it. I asked to be moved to another table. The grand maitre d’hotel said there was nothing he could do about them. The end of the world as we know it.

  5. I almost thought this piece was satire. Surely, I thought, this article and the replies couldn’t all be such equally perfect examples of snobbishness, arrogance and an assumption of aesthetic superiority that is all too often not matched by the dull and conformist reality of the actual ‘style’ of the kinds of people who make these statements? But, unfortunately, it seems they can. I suspect the skilled craftspeople who labour to make your shoes secretly think you are all horrible, horrible people and they’d be right.

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