Cobbler Union’s Euro Trip

Part of Styleforum’s mission is to introduce our community to the “behind the scenes” of a brand, and connect makers with like-minded connoisseurs that appreciate their works.

Cobbler Union, based in Atlanta, is a men’s shoemaker that manufacturers high-quality Goodyear welted shoes in Spain; they produce shoes directly with artisans, creating products that capture their own ethos that are not rebranded makers.

Here’s Daniel Porcelli’s travel journal during his latest trip to Europe, where he visited Cobbler Union’s workshop and sourced the leather for Cobbler Union’s upcoming models.

Much more than a great craft

As I flew over the Italian Alps and prepared for landing at Malpensa Airport in Milan, I was quickly reminded of why I love and respect our craft so much. I started Cobbler Union partly to preserve and respect the artisanship of shoemaking. But, the more time I spend in the industry, the more I realize that what we’re doing is much bigger than that. Cobbler Union is a vehicle that promotes a respect for workmanship and quality, a more beautiful way of life, one which positively affects our extraordinary craft. I consider myself a fortunate man for having the opportunity to do so.

While at the airport, my first cappuccino of the trip reminds me that I have just entered a different world, one full of exquisite aromas, beautiful architecture, elegant men and women, a world that inspires. It reminds me that through the appreciation of life around us that beautiful products can be created.

As I started my eleven-day grand tour in Europe, I was certain of one thing: the cappuccino always comes before the shoes, not the other way around.

  

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The artisans: the heroes in our industry

For me, it is always an honor to visit our artisans in Spain. Their dedication to the shoemaking craft is extraordinary. Put into context, a pair of our Goodyear-welted shoes has more than two hundred processes and tasks executed by twenty-five experienced artisans. These men and women labor on their feet for many hours a day. The art of making a shoe requires sweat and mental dedication as each step in production requires focus and attention to detail.

Today, there are few shoemaking clusters left in Europe. The majority of Goodyear-welted shoes are produced in a handful of towns spread across Spain, England, and, to a lesser extent, Italy. Other countries like Portugal, Hungary, or Romania all make beautiful shoes but, in general, with different methods. The growing scarcity of artisans and the increasing fragility of the industry is why we’ve made it our mission at Cobbler Union to do everything we can to promote our craft as much as we can.

I firmly believe that the more a man appreciates the labor of love behind his shoes, the more he will cherish and enjoy them.

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A great product is the best offense

Most of my trip to Spain was devoted to quality refinement and product development. Cobbler Union’s aim is to produce shoes that compare to legendary brands that oftentimes have a 100-year head start on us. This means we have to be agile, to work resolutely and aim high before we can be recognized among the best classic shoemakers in the world.

On this trip, we started a two-year initiative to implement forty quality improvements spanning product design, fit & comfort, construction, and quality. The goal of this project is for our products to become a benchmark against which new entrants and legacy brands alike are measured.

In addition, I have begun the development process for over twenty-five new models. Many of these will be made on two new lasts that we’ll begin testing in the coming weeks.

There are few things more rewarding than bringing a new product to market.

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 In search of the best leather

While concluding my European tour, I was fortunate enough to attend Lineapelle in Milan. This is our industry’s major trade show where the world’s finest tanneries present their collections. I love attending the event to strengthen relationships with the creators of our industry’s main component. By far, this is my favorite event of the year. Many of these tanneries have been in business for generations and their proprietors are legends in the leather-goods industries.

This year, I found inspiration in the colors and textures of the hides, learning something new with each conversation.

As a maker, we use top grade calfskin, which is one of the ways we set ourselves apart from other shoemakers. All in all, we found some exquisite hides and new interesting colors which will be adding to our collection in the coming months.

Leaving this fantastic trade show was the toughest part of my trip!

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You can connect with Cobbler Union on the Official Affiliate Thread on Styleforum.

5 Pairs of Shoes You Should Buy for a Classic Casual Wardrobe

It’s a lot of work to explore different brands, silhouettes, aesthetics, and stores, narrowing down what you like most. I’m reminded of Greg from No Man Walks Alone replying to a compliment on his store’s well-curated selection of goods, saying that finding the gems at a show like Pitti is incredibly difficult, requiring lots of patience wading through a nearly unlimited number of booths. Sometimes it’s nice for someone—like Greg—to simply say, “here are the best options. Choose from these.”

In the same spirit, I thought I’d share the five pairs of shoes I think you would be best-served buying—either as a capsule shoe wardrobe or simply as your starting point as you build a larger wardrobe. It goes without saying this advice comes from a point of view that favors versatility with tailoring, denim and chinos as my “what I wore” posts will attest. As a complement to this advice, read my “Versatile shoe” piece from last year. Thankfully there are lots of brands who make each one, so I’ll recommend a maker for each type at different price points for you to consider. In no particular order:

1- Chukka Boots

I wear these most of the time October through April. My chukkas are snuff suede with a Dainite sole so that I never think twice about wearing them if it’s wet out. I hiked Quiraing at the Isle of Skye wearing them, so they’re rugged enough in a pinch. Versatility wise, suede is the best, and with a more pointed toe, you’ll be able to wear them with a sport coat just as easily as with a full workwear fit. A rounder toe would help them match more closely with denim or moleskin pants.

Low price: Meermin (same as mine). Mid: Kent Wang. Mid-High: Sid Mashburn.

 

2- Penny loafers

I wear these most of the time May through September. Mine are—surprise—snuff suede. I walked throughout the cobblestone plazas and streets of Florence, seeing David, visiting the Uffizi Gallery and enjoying Florentine steak in mine. I prefer an elongated toe on these to the rounder ones you might see on a classic Alden, but that’s a personal preference.

Low price: Meermin. Mid-high: Sid Mashburn.

 

3- Longwings or Wingtips

I’ve always loved the brogue, at time shifting my preferred model back and forth between the wingtip silhouette or the long wing silhouette. I’m currently in the long wing camp, but I only own wing tips. Perhaps the grass is always greener. Mine are a pebble grain with Dainite sole, which came with me this past winter during our travels in Scotland. The Dainite sole came in handy for the rugged outdoors. I wore them on our road trip through the highlands, from Glasgow to Glencoe and Fort William, during which we stopped many times to jump out and photograph the scenery. Versatility wise, they can indeed be worn with denim, but really only dark denim. They look great with flannel or tweed trousers.

Low price: Meermin. Mid: Brooks Brothers. Super High Grail: Polo Cordovan.

 

4- Cap-toe Oxfords

You need something to wear dressed up more than just a sportcoat and jeans. For many years I went through that phase where you hate black shoes, and even today I think probably most of us could get away with only dark brown calf cap-toes in this category. But I think around the time Skyfall came out I realized black shoes in a tapered, chiseled toe last can make you look like James Bond – or, more realistically, they can make you feel like you look like James Bond. In any case, dark brown will help you through almost all the time, and it looks great with navy suits, gray suits, the navy blazer with gray trousers look, and almost every other tailored outfit.

Low: Meermin. Mid: Kent Wang. High: Carmina.

 

5- The Wild card

I know I said up front I’d tell you exactly what to buy, but this last one is going to come down to you making a decision for yourself based on your personal taste. It’s the dressed-down-but-contemporary-and-stylish slot, and which one you pick will depend solely on your preferences. For me, it’s a canoe moccasin, which I wear constantly. I walked from the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and all the way to the Spanish Steps in mine. For others, it might be a pair of sleek white sneakers: they look great with jeans, khakis and some brave souls even wear them with tailoring. Other options are Wallabees and desert boots. Instead of prescribing exactly what to get, take stock of your aesthetic preferences and make a choice to help fill out your own individual wardrobe.

My favorite canoe mocs: Oak Street. My favorite white sneaker: Tretorn. My favorite desert boot: J.Crew.


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Velasca’s Holiday Alternatives

BY VELASCA

Hi, this is me: I’m a man in my late twenties. I grew up in a business-oriented city, have been traveling the world when I can take a few days off from my studies (and now from my job), only to end up working in the same city that I tried to move away from many times.

I’m a manager of a startup company who really cares about dressing up, drinking the right cocktail at the right time, and going on dates for wine after 6:30pm.

I’m not crazy enough, really. I’m rational, and as with my job, restaurants, and plans in general: I have to have alternatives. I had to realize this pretty early in my youth, when I had to start doing it all by myself: paying for my own bills, flights, escapes, and gifts.

Yeah, gifts, I really like those. Have you ever imagined working for a company that crafts clothes? And being there, watching the process, from designing a model on a piece of paper to seeing the final product packed into a box?

velasca

In 2016, my dream of working for a fashion company came true. I’m with the guys of Velasca: a made in Italy brand at its finest. I can try on the prototypes before going into the market, and then drop an unexpected pair of shoes off to my friends and family.

While spending time in my department, I’ve learned that you need alternatives in fashion as well. It’s not just a matter of style ― your clothes have to go along with the occasion you’re attending, whether it be a casual dinner or grand wedding. You need variants. Maybe the weather will shift or even the location of an event will change at the last minute.

For this reason, I usually research the perfect outfit with at least one ‘Plan B’ ready to go. This Christmas, I got invited to my uncle’s place with the rest of the family. You know, a typical Italian atmosphere where everyone cooks his/her own food (and there’s always a lot of food); there are the classic tunes and tree, the talks and the gifts. And as always, I’ll wear a nice pair of leather shoes:


1. Velasca Chelsea Boots

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I might take my motorcycle by myself to ride straight towards the house. It’s not a long way there. A pair of Velasca chelsea boots would be perfect, to go with a white cotton shirt, a blue pullover, and some grey woolen pants. Very easy, and casual without looking sloppy – always appropriate for a dinner with family.


2. Velasca Cap-Toe Oxfords

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Or, it’s possible that I’ll have to pick up my grandmother at her house; by car, of course. In that case, Velasca’s full grain leather oxfords with a rubber sole would be my choice. They’ve been a standy for ages, and I really like the model we came up with. No need to completely change my outfit: I might wear a pair of blue pants to stay classy.


3. Velasca Derbies

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What if we’re not celebrating Christmas at the house anymore, and we’re moving at the very last minute to some friend’s restaurant? It happens, especially since it’s impossible to find a reservation around the Holidays. Well, I’d like to get noticed in a dining room full of strangers and my family. If that happens, I’ll wear my Velasca derbies. They’re unique and classic at the same time.

See, you always need to have alternatives. Keep it in mind.

Warmly,

Paolo

Shopping for Shoes at Leffot with a CM Guy

Standing in front a long wooden table, I observe the items carefully lined up each next one another, and the people handling them to inspect their features and quality.

No, I’m not at an Apple store, but at Leffot in Christopher St., Manhattan, a shoe boutique for men.

Alan (my husband) and I decided to take a day off to do some shopping together – a rare treat, since we shop almost exclusively online. If you are into classic shoes, you know how hard it is to shop for them online, as it’s hard to know whether a last is going to fit you.

Right, the last. Before marrying Alan, and after a life dating dudes that spent their existence in beaten Converse, I had no idea what a last was. As a woman, I only knew two types of shoes: those that hurt, and those that don’t – with uncomfortable slim shoes winning in number.

Women, you know, have a weird relationship with shoes – a love/hate type of relationship. They love them, especially when it comes to Disney-esque, dreamy stilettos that make them feel like a princess. However, like any respectable love story, it is a troubled one. The most uncomfortable shoes – stilettos, open sandals, thigh-squeezing boots – are the most loved and appreciated, and at the same time the most uncomfortable. You’d think that, being part of a civilized species that always privileged comfort and practicality over struggle and torment, we’d stay away from torture tools that butcher our lower limbs.

Wrong.

Like Goethe’s moth, attracted to the deadly flame, women are condemned to gravitate towards painful footwear, or else suffer social alienation and live miserably but comfortably in a pair of UGGs.

Alan snaps his fingers in front of my face, interrupting my thoughts.

“Hey, you there? What do you think of these?”

He points his finger to a pair of oxford shoes in brown suede that are lying on the wooden table.

“They’re beautiful!”

The voice is not mine, but Lorenzo’s, the sale assistant that has been helping Alan trying on shoes for the past 20 minutes. “Let me fetch them for you!”

Lorenzo disappears behind a curtain and comes back with a pair of the same shoes in size 8.5 placed on a red, plushy pillow. Seriously? A pillow? What are these, the Crown Jewels?

Before handing them over to Alan, he brushes them with expert hands to revive the look of the suede. His hands move so fast that you can barely see them. In fact, he polishes the shoes so vigorously that I wonder if he expects a genie to come out of them.

Alan carefully slips into the shoes with the help of a shoehorn. I thought shoehorns disappeared at the end of 19th century, along with sun umbrellas and monocles, but I was clearly wrong.

Looking at the two men in front of me, it is clear how the evolution of mankind has changed the reasons why men bend: they no longer bend forward to grow and harvest crop, to work the earth with their naked hands. They bend on expensive Persian rugs to inspect the fit of ridiculously expensive, handmade shoes that are at the very top of the pyramid of superfluous things.

A sudden movement interrupts my musings. Alan stands up to walk a few, confident steps wearing the suede Oxfords while the sale assistant leaves us for a moment to go fetch some suede conditioner.

My husband gives a furtive look around to make sure nobody is looking at him – beside me – and then he slowly starts bending his ankles in a low-squat position.

Oh my god.

“Ari, come here”, he whispers, encouraging me to get closer with a gesture of the hand.

I reluctantly walk towards him, who is now bouncing on his squat position with his arms reaching forward.

“What are you doing?” I ask, uncertain whether I actually want to know the answer.

“I’m checking that the in-step is high enough to accommodate my ankle”, he replies, candidly.

“Does it fit?”

“I don’t know yet.”

Alan steps the right leg forward, bending the front knee and straightening the left leg. I nervously look around, worried that somebody is going to record this on video and upload it on YouTube. “Ashtanga yoga at a high-end shoe boutique in Manhattan.

“For the love of God, do you really have to do this? Can’t you just walk around like normal people?”

“I can’t. You know that.”

He hands me his phone to show me a thread on Styleforum: How should a shoe fit?

Fine. At least it’s comforting to know that there are other nutjobs out there performing Warrior II in order to understand if their shoes fit properly.

“Does it crease in the right spot?” my husband asks, panting.

I lift my eyes off the phone and gasp. Alan is standing on his tiptoes, his face as red as a tomato in the effort of not losing balance.

“What…Alan, please! They’re watching us!” I whisper anxiously, noticing that a couple of customers are staring at us in dismay.

“Just…tell me…”, he wheezes, reaching to the toe box in one last, extreme endeavor to understand if it creases in the right spot.

“Yes…YES!” I shriek, praying he’ll quit the ballerina move.

Alan collapses on one of the giant leather chairs and grabs a glass of wine that the sale assistant generously poured for him when we entered the shop. He looks satisfied, and I sigh in relief. The sooner we leave this store, the sooner I can reward myself with some make-up from Sephora.

“Oh, there you are”, says Alan, smiling at the sale representative carrying a few pots of leather cream. “I think I’m ready to pull the trigger on these. Toe box creases just where it should, and the instep fits like a glove.”

He raises the glass and winks at me.

Ah, look at him now. Acting all Steve McQueen, when just a moment ago he was walking on his tip toes like Laurie Hernandez in Dancing With the Stars.

Well, at least it’s done. He has his shoes. Sephora, here I come!

“Excellent, sir”, replies Lorenzo, brushing off some invisible particles of dust from the shoes, and I smile radiant, offering him my hand as to say “It’s been a pleasure. Goodbye!”

He deliberately ignores me and asks Alan: “Would you like to go through the leather book now?”

Wait, what? The leather book?

Alan nods enthusiastically and the sale assistant leaves again.

I must look devastated because Alan bursts into laughs and kisses me on the forehead.

“Don’t worry – it’ll be a minute. And this is the fun part! You gotta help me choose the color!”

“But…didn’t you just try on a pair of shoes? That fits? What’s wrong with them?”

I am confused and I’m not even trying to hide it. It is frustrating enough to see how men take the fit of their shoes seriously, instead of suffering like us women and carrying a packet of Compeed, and now this.

“These are made-to-order, honey. You’ll see. Ah, nice!” his face lights up when Lorenzo comes back carrying a huge volume that looks like a grimoire from Hogwarts.

Lorenzo opens it, slow and ceremonial, and despite my frustration I find myself peeking inside. What will the book reveal? From the way it looks, I wonder if it contains a series of spells to summon shoes out of the closet, or socks out of the washing machine (now, that would be useful).

“What are you laughing about?” Alan gives me a weird look and I hide my grin.

“Here it is,” Lorenzo announces theatrically. “The suede page.”

Both Alan and I lean towards the book and I hold my breath.

Well. I can’t say I’m impressed. The two pages feature a couple dozens of small leather rectangles, meticulously glued to the thin, cream color paper.

“Outstanding,” Alan comments, his tone reverential. He takes the book out of Lorenzo’s hands and points at three pieces of leather on top of the page.

“Which one do you prefer?” he asks me.

“Between brown, brown, and…brown?” I squeeze my eyes in the attempt to capture the difference between the colors, but they all look like pieces of jerky to me.

“These are snuff, fawn, and clay.” I wonder how he can be this savvy about different colors of leather, but when I ask him to bring me the shampoo in the shower he comes back with the conditioner.

“You’re not helpful at all” he scoffs, and I feel outraged. How dare he say I’m not helpful?

“If I may interrupt, sir…” Lorenzo is pointing at the fawn leather and I shoo his hand away. I’ll show him.

“Get the snuff,” I say. “You’d wear these mostly with jeans, and the orange hue is complementary to denim blue. Because the color is warm, it would go well with both your winter and summer wardrobe, especially with green and blue, which you tend to wear more often.”

They both look at me in awe and nod vigorously.

“Since when do you speak CM?” Alan jokes, taking out his wallet.

“Since I bookmarked Styleforum on the phone and started browsing it while you’re not watching.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too. Now let me take advantage of your remarkable understanding of colors: I need a foundation with a cool undertone.”


All photos courtesy Leffot