New shoe companies seem to be popping up all the time these days. The market today for Goodyear or Blake-welted shoes in the $200-400 price point makes the days of hunting for decent-looking Allen Edmonds Seconds seem like ages ago. Into this mix has entered a new UK-based company, Holden & Green. I received a complimentary pair of their shoes to review for Styleforum’s Journal, and commenced wearing them regularly for a month to get a feel for their quality, fit and value.
First, let me get something out of the way: while the shoes were given me for free, the opinions below are my honest thoughts.
My initial impression of the shoes was very positive. It is evident from the first that the construction quality is very good, with a fit and finish that shows very close attention to detail—no stray or crooked stitching hastily trimmed off, no varied discoloration. The construction strikes me as akin to some “mid-tier” bench grade shoes I’ve owned and handled—something along the lines of Crockett & Jones or Alfred Sargent.
The leather of course looked great out of the box, but even the cheapest shoes out there look great brand new, so a month of wear would help in determining its quality. The last shape is an attractive, elongated, European silhouette. And the soles feature a beveled waist and red-painted channel-stitched sole.
Some Background on the Brand
H&G is so new that you can scarcely find anything about them on the Internet. I reached out to the owner and founder of the brand, Frank Clune, to get some information on the company and the product they make.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the West End shoe world for the last five years and to meet some of the legendary characters—genuine one-offs who seem to be disappearing from the world of work, who thrive in this business,” he says. He has no shoemaking training himself, but worked at legendary London bespoke shoemaker Foster and Son, where he met Terry Moore and worked with John Spencer, Emiko Matsuda, Emma Lakin and Lucy Smith. Frank owns the brand, taking guidance and advice from some of the people in the business he met during his time there.
Before starting Holden & Green, he started an eBay business selling overstock from UK retailers. The experience there taught him which styles and colors sell well (black outsells brown, for instance). Once he launched H&G, the aim for the brand was to make “quality at a good price, which means European-tanned leathers and excellent making,” he says. But to hit the price point he wanted to hit (below £300, or about $400USD), “it also means that we need to use non-European makers. This has been the most interesting and challenging part of the process to-date.” The shoes are made in two workshops: one in the Far East (not China, he says), and the other in North Africa. “We cannot speak highly enough of their attention to detail and their responsiveness,” he says.
The shoes I was given to try are definitely outside the typical business wardrobe of most non-menswear-enthusiasts. If the split toe and elongated last don’t catch your eye, the red painted sole and beveled waist just might. However, the rest of their models, which fall under what they call the “City collection,” are a bit more conventional for a conservative business dress environment (albeit with contemporary, European silhouettes). That conservative design bent, alongside the lessons learned from his prior overstock business, may mean the average antique museum calf-obsessed Styleforum member won’t find much to get his heart racing. But from Frank’s perspective, “getting City-Boys out of their curly-toed abominations feels like the right thing to do morally; for every City gent in his Henry Poole suit and Edward Green’s, there are two dozen others who need more than a little help.” All told, the niche he’s aiming for “is a retail price point beneath £300, using European leathers and tanneries, and getting the right maker to work with the best lasts we can find.”
Impressions After One Month
I kept a running mental checklist of how I felt about the shoes, typing occasional notes, over the course of a month, wearing them 2-3 times per week. At the end of that time, I treated them sparingly using Saphir Renovauteur, and a polish. I personally do not like the shiny fresh-out-of-the-box look of shoes, preferring instead a nicely broken-in and freshly polished look. I wanted to see how the leather reacted to a polish.
First, I was pleased to find the initial new-shoe stiffness disappeared very quickly—within the first two weeks. They still aren’t completely broken in, but that uncomfortable period of new leather shoes is gone.
Second, the leather’s appearance maintained its attractiveness. The factory-new shiny finish didn’t completely go away by the end of the month, but it had dissipated somewhat. I can’t speak to how well these will age over years of wear, but my experience in the time I’ve had them is positive.
Third, the completely subjective matter of fit: these are the best-fitting leather-bottom shoes I’ve ever owned, and are far more comfortable than any other leather shoe I’ve owned. Around the same time I received them, I purchased some Crockett & Jones-made Peal & Co. shoes from Brooks Brothers—they are much more to my liking stylistically, but fit-wise they don’t hold a candle to these.
Fourth, the other completely subjective matter, which is of style and design: I personally find these ugly. Their “City collection” designs are better, more along the lines of something I’d wear. The red sole and beveled waist are a nice, but a purely aesthetic touch, and aesthetic appeal is of course in the eye of the beholder.
Speaking of the differences in design between the channel-stitched, beveled-waist shoes I received and the more prevalent City collection (with neither of those aesthetic features), Frank says they are both of the same quality of make: “We’d say that they’re very good benchgrade shoes.”
All said, I’d say they are a good value for the money. They come in slightly higher than mainline Meermin, which I own and think are an excellent value. But for that extra $100 or so, you get considerably better construction, and noticeably better leather quality. Compared to more-expensive Crockett & Jones or Alfred Sargent, you get comparable quality at a much more attractive price—assuming H&G makes a style you like. They currently sell five styles, with ten more slated to be released in time for the holiday season.
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Holden & Green shoes are for sale on their website www.holdenandgreen.co.uk.
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