How to Wear Sneakers with a Sport Coat This Summer

suit with sneakers sneakers with sport coat sport coat with sneakers sneakers with suit styleforum

Picture this: you’re packing for your summer vacation. You’re trying to pick the ideal shoe – something you can wear sockless while carrying your towel bag down the rocks to the beach, but something that also works in the evening when you put on a jacket and trousers – or even a suit.

What you want is a white canvas sneaker.

Before you accuse me of telling you lies, let me assure you that wearing sneakers with a sport coat is a fine thing to do, and it’s pretty common in places that aren’t the USA. Arianna tells me that she can remember seeing Fiat managers wearing sneakers with their charcoal and navy suits, and of course sneakers are all over Pitti Uomo. You don’t have to go full-on captain of industry or Pitti peacock-hashtag-menswear to make the sneakers work, though – you just have to avoid the pitfalls of looking like a Disney star or a child playing dress-up.

Let’s talk about those pitfalls first. If you’re going to wear sneakers with a sport coat or a suit, and you’re after inspiration on how to do it, the first images you’ll find on the internet will probably be of either actor-slash-model types standing on the red carpet wearing really tight clothes and designer high-tops, or waifish Scandinavian dudes wearing black suits with white leather slip-ons inside their million-dollar Youtube-content-creator-slash-graphic-design-influencer offices.

Not that I’m jealous.

The point is, a lot of people try really hard to build their tailored outfits around the sneakers they’ve chosen. Along the way, they often pick up a few more trends – really tight trousers, gingham shirts, skinny ties – and this has the effect of making them look, well, childish. Like they’re playing dress-up. That’s not what you want! What you want is to wear sneakers with a jacket and trousers and look like a well-dressed adult.

So, instead of sizing down on everything you own, treat a pair of canvas plimsolls the same way you would a pair of loafers or espadrilles. Wear them sockless, with a lightweight trouser that’s hemmed at the ankle (or even just above, if you’re really feeling the warm weather look). If you’re wearing a suit, it’s probably safest to go with one that’s obviously made for the warmer weather – say, a cotton number in khaki or even green, or natural linen if that’s what you’re after, but an odd jacket and trousers will work just as easily.

There’s no need to buy something fancy, either. In fact, that sort of goes against the intent. White canvas plimsolls from brands such as Vans or Superga will look great, but if you’re really wanting to branch out you could try a leather slip on from Common Projects or Buttero. In all cases, stick to low-tops. Once you’ve picked your sneakers, the next and final step is to put them on your feet and never think about them again. After all, you’ve a life to enjoy.

suit with sneakers sneakers with sport coat sport coat with sneakers sneakers with suit styleforum

Confessions of a Footwear Aficionado: Saint Crispin’s Shoes

I’ll admit it: I didn’t get what people saw in shoes.

Who looks at shoes? I thought.  The first thing people see is your face, then what surrounds it.  End of story.  For me, it was all about the suit.  Shoes were just an afterthought.

When I first joined Styleforum ten years ago and scrolled through page after page of inspiring photos of menswear, I was baffled at all the shoes.  Closeups, lovingly framed with mystical bokeh, as if prepped for their senior portrait. My feelings were ambivalent; I couldn’t help but be impressed at the intricate craftsmanship apparent in the pictures, but at the same time I couldn’t fathom the amount of interest in something that covers such a small percentage of your body.

Hardy Aimes famously said, “It is totally impossible to be well-dressed in cheap shoes,” which may sound like class bullying but is, in fact, true.  And finally, I bought my first new pair of shoes over $200, feeling somewhat ashamed at the expenditure.  Regular, utilitarian, basic black captoes from the Allen Edmonds store on Sutter Street.  Truth be told, I wasn’t incredibly enamored with them; they were nondescript and certainly heavier than the other two pairs of shoes I had in my closet.  However, I was struck at how comfortable they were.  Almost immediately I became a new convert and started preaching the gospel of shoes.  I could wear these for hours, I remember saying a million times to anyone that would listen.  

 Gradually my perceptions changed and I began to see shoes differently.  Was I misdirecting my attention?  Out of curiosity I started looking down more.  I was learning that shoes can say a lot about the wearer.  Then it dawned on me one day, while looking at my wife’s closet, and realizing the obvious, that shoes are kind of a big deal.  These pavement-hitters that envelop our foot in for practical protection can also be works of art unto themselves.  If not careful, one can be easily entranced by a shoe’s sweeping curves, beveled waists, and intricate stitching.  

Nowadays, my closet dwarfs my wife’s, and shoes make up a sizable part of it.  My favorites are from Saint Crispin’s, a company based out of Romania, where shoes are made passionately following the time-honored way, using only their hands or hand-powered tools.  I mean, just look at this video, and pretend to hide your awe of the craft.  The amount of hours making one pair of shoes rival that of a bespoke suit.  Leather is clicked (cut), then hand-stained, skived, glued, and sewn, before being put on the shoe last and hammered into submission.  A distinguishing characteristic of Saint Crispin’s that is usually noticed first are the dozens of wooden pegs in the waist.  These serve to provide lightweight sturdiness and a solid foundation to the shoe, unlike a heavier metal shank that may be used in other brands. Hard counters are present in the arches, something generally not seen with other makers.  These, together with the pegs, make up the backbone of the shoes’ legendary foot support.  

Zachary Jobe is currently in charge of how the brand is presented in the Western Hemisphere, and travels quarterly to various locations to offer their wares to shoe aficionados like myself.  I wanted to repair a pair I purchased off of the Buy and Sell section of the forum, and got a chance to hear a little more about the company.

“The Americas are a bit different from Europe,” he explains.  “There, due in part to simple geography and proximity, we have a larger network of stockists.  While we are maintaining relationships with our stockists here in the Americas and judiciously seeking to expand that network, it also made sense to make ourselves available to private clients.”

And so he comes, several times a year, filled with appointments with people from a variety of backgrounds.  Most of the lasts fit fine on me, but not everybody.  While I was ogling and snapping pictures of different makeups Zach had on display in his hotel suite, Justin, who works in real estate, came in for a made-to-measure fitting.  “The aesthetic is phenomenal, but because of fit issues, I’m limited in what shoes I can comfortably wear.  Here I can pay a one-time charge for a personal last, and get all my shoes for the same price as ready-to-wear.  That opened up a whole new set of options I never previously had.”  Justin came in wearing a trial shoe, something that Saint Crispin’s does for every client that gets a personal last.  Made a little less stiff, the trial shoe helps the customer get an idea of how the final shoe will fit, while allowing room to make minor adjustments if necessary.

“I had been looking at other options,” he relates, “but the ability to have my own last made, and get all future purchases made in that last, prompted me to make an appointment the last time Zach was in town.  And their style.  There are so many options.  It was really hard to order just one pair.”  Justin had been to trunk shows from other makers in the past, but he was impressed with Zach’s attention to fit.  “Others would just put me in a trial shoe, but Zach got out a tape measure and wrote down notes.  This gave me the confidence that this first pair would fit perfectly.  Even this trial pair is better than any other shoe I had ever owned before, and I’ve been walking in them all morning.  I can’t imagine how the final shoe will look and feel.”

Those two words – look and feel – succinctly encapsulate what draws the shoe aficionado.  Achieving perfection may cost dearly, but at the end of the day, your feet will thank you, and you can go to sleep knowing that your outfit was complete, feet shod admirably. 


Below is a slideshow showcasing some of Saint Crispin’s offerings. If you’d like to read more about Saint Crispin’s, head over to the St. Crispin’s Appreciation Thread

Great Buys: 16 Classic Shoes on Styleforum’s Classifieds

Every week, enterprising Styleforum member @razl takes time out of his busy schedule to search for what he can call the best of Styleforum’s classifieds. Out of that glittering company, we’ve picked our five favorites to share. Click the links below to see the listings!

This week, @razl’s picks were very shoe-heavy. We’ve laid out his picks for your convenience.


Alden Whiskey Shell Cordovan Longwings, 10D – 650$

Alden #8 Shell Cordovan Norwegian Oxford, 10.5 – 550$

best shoes on styleforum's classifieds

A pair of Alden shoes in the very special #8 cordovan is a must have for many Styleforum members.


Alden 8249 Black Cordovan Blucher, Size 7c/e (Aberdeen Last) – 595$

best shoes on styleforum's classifieds

Simply put: a beautiful shoe.


Anthony Cleverly “Churchill,” UK8.5 – 600$

best shoes on styleforum's classifieds

Beautiful patina and a great style make these both good-looking and easy to wear.


Carlos Santos Balmoral Boot, Multiple Sizes – 310$

best shoes on styleforum's classifieds

A great boot that can be worn dressed up with a suit, or more casually with jeans.


Carmina Semi-Brogue Oxfords, UK9/US10 – 600$

Carmina Polo Suede Longwing Blucher, 8UK – 300$

best shoes on styleforum's classifieds

The ideal suede shoe, perfect for the upcoming summer season.


Carmina Tan Semi-Brogue Oxfords, 8UK – 349$

Carmina Half-Brogue, UK6.5 – 250$

Carmina Austerity Brogue, 8.5UK/42.5EU – 315$

Crockett & Jones Chelsea, 10DUS – 329$

best shoes on styleforum's classifieds

If you’re looking for a chelsea boot that won’t get you confused for a Kanye follower, this is the shoe for you.


Crockett & Jones Swansea, 10UK/11US – 350$

 

Gaziano & Girling Thorpe in Arran Grain, 9.5E – 1,000$

Gaziano & Girling Mitchell in Midnight Blue Calf, US13.5E – 900$

Ralph Lauren by Gaziano & Girling “Percival” Monk Boot, 10D – 400$

 

Sutor Mantellassi: Many Shoes in Many Sizes, Starting at 100$

Tricker’s Eaton Boot in Teak Shell Cordovan, 10UK – 700$

best shoes on styleforum's classifieds

Tricker’s iconic country boot, made up in a gorgeous and long-lasting leather.


Vass Old English II, EU41 (F Last) – 580$

best shoes on styleforum's classifieds

A gorgeous shoe, well-deserving of the respect the Styleforum community gives to it.


 

The Rise of the Shoe Enthusiast

Something is happening in the world of shoes. Or rather, in the world of quality shoes. It’s not a tidal wave, but then again, few things are when you’re dealing with classic menswear. It’s more like a small trickle that’s turned into a steady stream of obsession. It started out with a few enthusiasts and their newfound interest in this ancient craft, then merged with the new-ish ability to connect through the internet, and found a home at a place in time where appreciation for tangible, luxurious objects is higher than it’s been for decades.

I’m a Swede, so naturally my perspective is mainly Swedish, but at the same time I think what’s happening over here may be at least mildly indicative of a global trend. In 2012, Skoaktiebolaget (a fine men’s shoes store and Styleforum affiliate) opened the doors of their brick and mortar shop in Stockholm, not only to the Swedish market, but to an international market that was just about to boom. I remember my initial reaction as being: “Is it a viable business idea to sell premium shoes in a city as small as Stockholm, when the price of a pair of shoes may very well be as high as some people’s monthly wages?”

Rise of the Shoe Enthusiast My friend Jussi wearing a pair of handcrafted from shoe artist Mario Bemer

Apparently, the answer to this question was a resounding “Yes!” And they didn’t just appeal to a market consisting of the financial jet set. A fairly newfound appreciation for workmanship, construction and leather quality had – and has – flourished among enthusiasts from all walks of life. Students saved up on their bursaries to be able to buy a pair of MTO’s from Carmina, maybe a first step down the slippery slope towards top-name makers in the business, such as Gaziano & Girling, St. Crispins, John Lobb, and others of their ilk.

Rise of the Shoe Enthusiast A picture I took in Skoaktiebolaget’s former store. They have since moved to a much bigger location, on one of Stockholm’s most popular addresses

I’ve heard some people attribute the success of Skoaktiebolaget to a fortunate timing of exchange rates between the US Dollar and the Swedish Crown, where the Dollar became very strong in comparison, and gave the US customer base a chance to buy European premium shoes at a very competitive price.

In my opinion, this is an oversimplification. I think Skoaktiebolaget managed to tap into something that’s more complex than basic economics. Exchange rates and a fairly steady Swedish economy can explain some of the business, but it can’t quite explain why the interest for artistic, well-crafted crafted shoes of the highest quality keeps going up, for an ever-growing number of men from widely-differing demographics.

My layman’s guess is that it has something to do with the times in which we’re living. A lot of people are stumbling around, trying to make sense of things. Economic markets don’t behave according to old predictable patterns of booms and recessions in perpetual cycles (in fact, nowadays booms and recessions can even exist simultaneously). Digitalization of practically every type of business has created a longing for something tangible, something lasting, as opposed to the ephemerality of the internet. Hence the reemergence of old crafts, hence the appeal of products that will not only last a lifetime if treated properly, but actually grow more beautiful with age, hence stores like Skoaktiebolaget.

With an everyday reality that currently feels increasingly volatile, the idea of long-lasting, quality products seems more attractive than ever. The re-popularization of Goodyear- and hand-welted shoes has naturally drawn the interest of people who see a gap in the market for quality shoes, where price is a boundary that still keeps a major part of an untapped market out. When I tell uninitiated people about the cost of even one of my “cheaper” pair of shoes, they look at me with an understandable amount of skepticism. Some of them could probably afford several pairs of Lobb’s every month, but the idea of paying these amounts for shoes, or clothing for that matter, is still a high threshold for the majority of men to step over.

However, there’s plenty of room for growth. One Swedish brand that has capitalized on this idea is Myrqvist Shoes. Swedish company Herrstil decided to launch their own brand of good year welted shoes with a good price/quality ratio, so they started a Kickstarter campaign and managed to even exceed their original funding goals. The idea was simple, they cut off all the middle men and went straight to the factory and suppliers of raw materials, and then offered the shoes directly to their customers without the added retail-margins. Other companies have used similar business models to get into the coveted “budget price market” (in reality this is still a premium price for most people). For example, Styleforum favorite Meermin sells Goodyear-welted shoes at a very competitive price, much due to their business being mainly online, and because they can do self-funded MTO-shoes for small groups of customers.

Rise of the Shoe EnthusiastWearing a pair of Chelsea boots from Myrqvist

Naturally, there are also makers catering to buyers who want nothing but the finest in shoemaking – the bespoke shoemakers. Gary Tok (@Gazman70k) recently wrote a book on this subject, called Master Shoemakers: The Art & Soul of Bespoke Shoes (also available at affiliate The Hanger Project). In this book, Tok sets out to capture the allure and beauty of bespoke shoemaking. The book consists of beautiful photographs, accompanied by written portraits of the different shoemakers. These are men whose shoes have more in common with art than with commodities. They are the masters of their trade, most of whom still do everything as they have always done it. If I were to make a wild guess, their business is more resistant to fluctuating markets and predictions of recessions than most shoe makers’. They make a product that attracts the sort of clients who don’t splurge on loud items to showcase their wealth, but rather the sort of clients who appreciate the craft and see their purchase as a good investment.

Master Shoemakers: The Art & Soul of Bespoke Shoes rise of the shoe enthusiast gary tokSpread from Master Shoemakers: The Art & Soul of Bespoke Shoes. Picture courtesy of Skoaktiebolaget.

The connection between the new entrepreneurs on the welted shoe market, and the old craftsmen and artisans may not seem like an obvious one. But, a merger of these two worlds could actually be the future of the trade. Not only in the manner that welted shoes in the lower price tiers are “gateway drugs” for future bespoke customers, but also in the general idea of how the most traditional makers will be doing their business.

The World of Shoes, yet another Swedish company, has set out to be a bridge between some of the less attainable shoemakers and customers from all around the world. The concept is rather unique, at least when it comes to shoes. They run an online editorial platform, on which they write about classic shoemakers, and they also have a market place, where people can buy some of these shoes. This, at least, takes away the geographical barriers between the traditional shoemakers and their potential customers.

rise of the shoe enthusiastHannes Rebas, editor at The World Of Shoes, talking to Olof Nithenius

Who knows, with the development of 3D scanning/printing and other technological advances, the next step may actually be to be able to produce proper bespoke without having to physically meet your shoemaker. I’ve talked about these, and other kind of developments with my friend & bespoke shoemaker, Norman Vilalta, and he embraces the advantages new techniques bring to the table. If his benevolence towards this evolution in traditional shoemaking is embraced by the next generation of makers, I’d dare say the future looks bright for this craft.

rise of the shoe enthusiastSpanish shoemaker Norman Vilalta in focus

rise of the shoe enthusiastFernando, Vilalta’s business partner, shows us around their trunk show in Florence last month


Erik is co-founder of EFV Clothing. You can find him on Instagram at @ErikMannby

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

velasca

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

velasca

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

velasca

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

10 Years of Styleforum–we celebrated in style

On May 4 and May 5, we had a celebration for our 10 year anniversary, at the W San Francisco.  Over 400 people took part in the event, which included a screening of O’Mast, our vendor showcase, and a party.

We kicked it off Friday evening with cocktails and a sneak preview of the next installment of Put This On, a video series by Jesse Thorn about dressing like a grownup, followed by the featured screening of O’Mast, an acclaimed film about Neapolitan tailors and traditions from Gianluca Migliarotti, who traveled from Milan to be with us.  From there, we proceeded to dinner at Credo, in the private dining area, where translucent walls surrounded us with statements of belief from leaders around the world and throughout time. I had the scallops, and I know that they were delicious. The night concluded with port and espresso at The Wingtip, a private club owned by the proprietors of On The Fly, a San Francisco haberdashery which also participated in our vendor showcase the following day.

On Saturday, I was up at 8 a.m. to start setup for the vendor showcase, which started at noon, sharp.  I was nervous about the turnout, but we had a  steady stream of shoppers from the moment we opened the doors.  Fifteen vendors traveled from as far away as Hawaii and New York City.  The range of vendors reflected the diverse readership of Styleforum.  Goorin Brothers, hatmakers, a San Francisco institution whose goods are sold nationwide, brought a large sample of their heritage hats. Greg Walton of Louis Walton, a one man show, demonstrated how his hand makes the ties he sells.  Yuketen, shoemakers and leathermakers, brought their famous outdoor shoes, as well as bags (always sold out, everywhere,) and accessories, from Hermosa Beach.  On the Fly and A Suitable Wardrobe, Bay Area haberdashers who adhere to impeccable standards, brought fine ties, apparel, and gentlemen’s accoutrements; and A Suitable Wardrobe brought a shoeshiner to boot.  Jimmy Au’s for men 5’8″ and Under, from Beverly Hills, brought many suits, shirts,  and jackets to serve men from just below the national average to very much under the average.  Sette ties, from Washington, D.C. showed off substantial sevenfold ties.  Epaulet, from New York City, brought a full range of their own sportscoats, shirts, trousers, and accessories, made in the USA or in Italy, as well as Carmina shoes, for whom they are the sole stockist in North America.  The Brooklyn Circus also brought its brand of urban dandyism from New York City.  The Hanger Project, a business born of Styleforum, from Texas, came with shoe care products and accessories in addition to their signature hangers; local San Francisco retailers Taylor Stitch brought shirts, jeans, and belts; and Revolver, which proprietor Robert Patterson describes as “a little hippy,” featured a DIY scarf dying booth as well as goods from anyone from Yuketen to Reigning Champ to their own line of casual clothing.  Jack Knife Outfitters took measurements for custom jeans; and Joe Hemrajani of Mytailor.com took measurements for custom suits and shirts.  Leathersoul brought an extensive number of Aldens all the way from Honolulu, as well as examples of bespoke shoes from St. Crispin and George Cleverly, rarities anywhere.

As dusk settled, we settled into eating some snacks and having an immoderate number of drinks with a few hundred of our best friends.

 

Nick V. talks with shoe care magnate Sergio Barange

Today, the discussion is between Nick V. and Sergio Barange, CEO of Tarrago Brands International, associated with Avel (led by Sergio’s brother-in-law, Marc Moura). Avel is the parent company of Saphir, whose shoe care products are among Styleforum’s most recommended.

Nick V. of B. Nelson Shoes, New York, talks with has been sharing his conversations with some of the biggest names in the footwear business. Check out his interviews with Nick Horween of Horween Leather, Paul Grangaard of Allen Edmonds, Peter Agati of Paul Stuart,  or William Church of Cheaney Shoes.

 


Nick V.: Sergio, please tell us about your background.

Sergio Barange: I was born and studied in Barcelona, Spain. I got my degree in economics and business management at 23, after a year in the army. The university gave me my fundamental life/work basis, and the army gave me strength and order, and (as a reserve lieutenant) taught me how to manage 200 people.

I later studied for a 1-year Master in Financials, and then a2-year Master in Business and Administration. I worked for a bank in Barcelona, and for a European hotel group.

In my 20s and 30s I founded several businesses: laser printer recycling, Natura Organics™ cosmetics and body care, Doctor Clic computer assistance, and other smaller endeavors.  With Natura Organics I learned how to create and develop quality products, and Doctor Clic taught me to give good service to people (today this company has more than 150 employees).

I speak six languages, which is very useful when traveling.

Since my 30s, I spend my spare time (not much!) mainly with my three girls; I love skiing and golf, and when I can, I fly a Cessna, as I earned my license recently.

NV: What interested you in the shoe care business?

SB: I have always been a fan of nice shoes. Also my hobby has been the do-it-yourself home and decor activities. (The French company Avel does both lines: Saphir shoe care and Louis XIII DIY products).

Beginning in the 1990s the shoe care and DIY businesses were growing substantially and the opportunity for developing a subsidiary of Avel in Spain was a good challenge. Once I started working with Alexandre Moura, my father-in-law, who was a great business man—our family axis and a unique leader—I realized with no doubt that this was my professional life project.

NV: How did you get involved in the business?

SB: In 1992, my father in law proposed that I come into the Avel family business, by building and managing a subsidiary of the company in Spain. I began to grow the Avel business in several countries.

In 2008, the Tarrago Shoe Care Group, which belonged to the Tarrago family, appeared to be in a very poor financial situation and in general distress. After some conversations with the former family owners, Alexandre, his son Marc, and I, bought the whole group.

Tarrago was not only in financial distress, but had poor management. I have been, since then, improving the management, expanding export sales, reducing cost, improving formulations, modernizing machinery, and updating the whole production processes in our plants.

Today Tarrago Brands is a very healthy corporation with presence in more than 50 countries.

NV: What was the business like when you first started in it?

SB: In the late 80s and beginning 90s, the shoe care business was beginning to open to the Internet. I think this has been the most important fact in the last 25 years. Shoe repair shops and small distributors knew very little about the diversity of brands around the world, and the many opportunities to use different products. Local brands were leaders in their own countries and had little competition from abroad.

Also, the Asian products were coming into European and American markets, with the loss of margins and subsequently a decrease of quality for the domestically made products, because of the need to do price adjustments to be competitive.

Great corporations like Sara Lee or Reckitt & Colman were leading the world sales, and small regional business like Tarrago could not afford to globalize without spending great sums.

Despite this, the high-value-added products that Avel proposed at that time, gave Saphir a presence by the early 90s in more than 25 countries, always considering quality as the main factor to differentiate. The company obtained several prizes and Alexandre was honored with the French Legion d’Honneur Medal, the highest French honor, which the French President gave him.

Other brands, controlled by larger corporations, could not follow these “luxury” criteria, and came down to reduce colors, quality, and items, redirecting sales to big retailers. Progressively, these brands disappeared, or changed production to Asian countries for high volume / low quality, closing local plants. For example, Meltonian does not exist in Europe anymore, since the late 90s, and Kiwi is losing force substantially.

Very few brands have today the critical size to develop world sales. Those who are not large enough, will progressively be bought by bigger industries or simply disappear.

NV: What do you consider the most influential impact you have had in the industry?

SB: In my personal experience, buying Tarrago in 2008 has been the engine that accelerated our family business. Our family business could actually be the second or third in world presence in the shoe care.

NV:How would you describe, differentiate the Tarrago, Avel, and Saphir products?

SB: Avel has two main branches: Do-it-yourself products (care of woods, tiles, metals, paints…) under the Avel and Louis XIII brands; and shoe care products, under the Saphir and Saphir Medaille d’Or brands.

Saphir Medaille d’Or is a high-end luxury brand, with the highest consideration in any market where we sell. The general comment is that this brand has no equal. The best shoe, bags and leather brands in the world use these products.

Saphir is Avel’s French large shoe care line. It is considered as the most quality range ever done for quality shoe shops and shoe repair. Saphir has always put quality before price. This is very important for many clients, as the margins obtained when selling this brand are very good, and customers appreciate so much the security of using such good products. They become confident in the brand and in the shop that sold it.

Tarrago is a high quality European-made shoe care brand. Based in the experience of our family, we have been able to put this brand in a much higher level in image and quality than it was before. Today Tarrago, thanks to the confidence of our distributors, is present on 5 continents, and in more than 50 countries.

NV: In my opinion, the polish and shoe care industry has gotten very stale over the past few decades. The only thing that seems to happen is big companies buy out smaller companies. Then the bean counters reduce available colors and products. It all gets pared down to basics. Your comments?

SB: The last 3 years have been very difficult for the European and American economies. The lack of money to finance business projects is putting Europe in a very delicate situation, where the Asian companies are coming with strength, ideas and money.

This is reducing the traditional stores market, which has always sustained the business. We are seeing many businesses close and we do not see many efforts from governments to protect these entrepreneurs; much more education and support is needed if this economic change has to lead to a successful new economic period. I still believe that the Keynesian theory will result and so governments will help more to get out of this situation; in fact, I do not consider we are in a crisis but in a big change. We must realize this to adapt our business to the new rules coming.

What we must not do is decrease our quality, reducing cost and keeping very little margins. We need to maintain our levels, and reinvest in research and development, new machinery, be stronger and propose valid and high-quality alternatives. Fighting against low prices is no future for a family business or even any developed countries’ brand that wants to survive against low salary countries’ brands. We have recently seen what happened to Tacco Footcare in Germany, where they went into a financial distress last November, because of low prices, offering some Asian production, insufficient margins, and no machinery renewal.

Expansion for the leaders in the shoe care market must come by choosing the best merge or buy-out opportunities that we will surely see in the next months or even years.

NV: Many of the shoe makers see this as an opportunity to introduce their own labeled care products for their leathers. Can you tell us what makers you produce products for?

SB: Shoe makers should make their own brand when they accomplish two goals: they have the size to procure branded products to the MOQ [minimum order quantity] requested by producers, which are high; and they have the management of the shops’ where their products are sold.   Many people think than when doing a private label, they should have lower prices, as they ask for “reasonable” quantities. It is not true. For example, when I buy 1 million caps or labels for my shoe cream I get prices that when doing a private label (for smaller quantities), prices are very expensive compared to mine. When I produce my shoe cream, I can do up to 20,000 units in one production turn, in only one color; can you imagine how expensive it is to have to do only 600 or 1,200 units for each color, for a private label? So MOQs the factor that permits gain margins and operating full performance; with private labels, it is difficult to meet those margins, so that is the reason why it has to be sold at a higher price if we want to keep the same quality. Of course, Chinese productions (which have high MOQ by the way), can give nice prices for these private labels, but quality is very low. In Spain we say: “there are no $5 notes that value $4.”

Making shoe-branded products must also be done to the quality that is at the level of the shoes. Cheap shoe care cannot be used for nice shoes. This is something many shoe producers do not look at: when a customer buys a $200 pair of shoes, and the brand proposes a $1 shoe polish, do you see something wrong? I do.

In Saphir, our branded clients are mainly from the leather European luxury items and luxury shoes (English, Italian, French…). Products are done in the art of the highest possible quality.

In Tarrago, we offer a very good quality product for a very tight price, so bigger quantities are demanded. We are not in the battle of reducing quality for cheaper pricing, so normally we only work when client has the necessary MOQ level for doing its own brand, and is interested about quality, not only price. When looking for low prices, we always suggest Asian producers, what is a better choice for that, even though we are very competitive and the price difference is very small.

NV: How many plants do you manage?

SB: Our family business has two factories, one in France and one in Spain. My brother in law Marc lives in France, and I live in Spain.

NV: Their sizes?

SB: The French factory has 30,000 square feet, and the Spanish plant (factory plant and logistics plant) around 15,000 feet.

NV: How many people do you employ worldwide?

SB: Our total human resources are 100 people.

NV: What changes do you see in the near future?

SB: I think we could see how big corporations “discover” that the shoe care is not a great deal for them, and they will abandon this market, which will be led by the big retailers with self-labeled products, done by Asian producers.

By the way, the Asian price gap will not last forever. Prices from Far East will increase every year, so we could see a new economic period where domestic industry could recover, but always with a bigger size, so I come back to my idea of seeing many mergers in our sector.

Concerning the traditional market where we are, as I said before, we will see many mergers and buy-outs, so only a few brands will stay; those selling very cheap will be mismanaged and disappear, as some cheap brands will take the place. But this “cheap” concept will be reduced in the shoe shops and shoe repair, as those wholesalers and shops that do not pay for quality and distinction, could also be in very bad shape in the future, as “cheap” is a natural market for big marts and not for traditional shops.

Quality brands will continue to get bigger; I would say almost one or two in U.S. that will stay for sure, and maybe two or three from Europe.

NV: Where do you see your company 10 years from now?

SB: As is happening already, I imagine our company growing because of our bigger international presence, and also because of the companies we are buying. We have already bought some in the past, and we are negotiating for some others.

We present a great opportunity for intelligent managers. When a company is in distress, the best solution is to merge into a bigger corporation. Unfortunately, to be able to survive in market circumstances, this is the only way to proceed. Or to close. So when the owner or manager of a company in distress, accepts a company like Tarrago or Avel (our group), to take the shares and rebuild the organization, it is a good decision. This permits the manager to keep his work, to keep employees (in many cases), and of course to make its brand to continue to exist!

NV: Favorite reading material?

SB: Fiction books, spy novels and science, but my reading is mainly management and marketing.

NV: Three dinner guests (past and present)?

SB:

  1. My father in law, Alexandre; friend and mentor.
  2. Any of my distributors in the world, as it is not only a matter of business and already many are very good friends.
  3. Obama, Sarkozy, and Merkel at the same table, to ask them the truth of what it is all about.

A selection of Saphir Medaille d’or shoe care products.

 

A 1967 Saphir print ad.

 

Tarrago’s plant in Manresa.

 

Expert Shoe Care With Nick V.

Nick with some very nice shoes (although I spy a stray Ugg)

Nick V., owner of esteemed shoe repair outfit B. Nelson Shoes, NYC, knows his stitch. And his welts, and his vamps from his throats. He knows shoes. He takes abused, worn-out kicks and recrafts and resoles them–rehabilitates them. In an ongoing series, Nick will be answering some of my questions to help you treat your footwear better.


Pete asks: What’s the number one most important step a guy can take to keep his shoes looking better, longer?

Nick answers:

Actually, there’s two equally important steps, waterproof/polish and use shoes trees:

WATERPROOF AND POLISH: Apply two light coats of waterproofing to your shoes. Meltonian Water and Stain Protector is an easy product to find and very effective. It’s essential to use a non-silicone waterproof treatment on dress-wear, because silicone is oil-based. The oil can darken leathers. It tends to pick up dust and dirt. It also might not mix well with conditioners and polishes you may want to use in the future.

Polish and condition your shoes regularly.

USE SHOE TREES: Make sure that you have a pair of cedar shoe trees, AND USE THEM REGULARLY! Regardless of whether or not you think your feet perspire… they do. Cedar is a dry wood that absorbs even the slightest moisture. Insert them when the shoes are new and immediately after each wear. This will prevent any moisture from settling into the lining of your shoes. Moisture will cause decay of the leather.

In addition to keeping the liners dry, shoe trees help to maintain the original shape of the shoe. They also reduce the prospect of deep creases forming on the uppers caused by normal wear. The split-toe, claw-back style offers even tension vertically and horizontally. They are easy to install and remove. Leave the trees in the shoes until you are ready to wear them again.

Washington, D.C. shopping guide, part I.

Guest post by Grant Harris of Image Granted.

Streets of Georgetown is the local outpost of Hart Schaffner Marx's dandy chain.

Streets of Georgetown
1254 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007

When Joseph Abboud sold his namesake label to become chief designer for HMX Group, the largest manufacturer of tailored menswear in the country, he worked with HMX CEO Doug Williams to open Streets concept stores in select cities. The Streets concept capitalizes on major cities’ top-drawer  shopping neighborhoods or streets—in DC’s case, Georgetown. The boutique is stocked with some of the elder statesmen of American suiting, including Hickey Freeman and Hart Schaffner Marx, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. Streets offers off-the-rack suiting as well as a truly tailored experience with made-to-measure services offering several hundred fabric choices. Bobby Jones, Coppley, Palm Beach, Austin Reed, and Filson round out suiting, casual, and sportswear offerings.

Federal
2216 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

A recent addition to the DC shopping scene, Federal may sound like it caters to the politicians and lobbyists of Washington, but it’s far from what you might think. Located on 14th St. corridor, it’s part of a restructured and converted skate shop. Its street-oriented history is reflected in on-trend offerings from a range of heritage-based Americana and workwear lines like Tellason, Pendleton, Red Wing, Danner, Dickies, Filson, Converse, Clarks, Herschel Supply, and others. D.C. has a rep for being short on this sort of gear and Federal is changing that.

The good doctor.

Dr. K’s Vintage
1534 U St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

Dr. K’s is a vintage shop on the U street corridor that stocks the best edited stock of vintage men’s apparel in the city—leather jackets, militaria, cowboy boots, varsity jackets, and original cinchback denim from Levi’s. A native of Thailand, Dr. K has brought some of his personal collection to the shop, and can be seen showing off his latest finds from Brimfield or the Rose Bowl or more clandestine sources. Dr. K is often open late, but keeps strange hours so it’s best to call ahead.

Sette Neckwear
Suite 300
1701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20006

Sette means “seven” in Italian. Given how much attention is given to Neapolitan menswear, it’s a breath of fresh air to have the presence of Sette in D.C. A collaboration between a former Robert Talbott designer and a White House staffer, Sette offers a lineup of made-in-Italy woven or printed silk ties for power players inside the beltway and beyond. Sette seven folds come in a versatile 3-inch width and are constructed with the exacting standards of old world Italian tie makers. Silks are sourced from the hills of Como, then folded, slip stitched and packaged. Each tie is a unique creation and is part of a limited run of no more than 21. Each is individually numbered, and owners can register them online with Sette. Sette ties don’t come cheap, but the customer service, presentation, and product are arguably worth it.

Other worthwhile stops:

Commonwealth
1781 Florida Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009

Sharing an address with Stüssy, Commonwealth is D.C.’s outpost of the Virginia Beach streetwear king. Source for limited edition footwear, high-end hype like Maiden Noir, and wildcards like Gitman Vintage and Creep by Hiroshi Awai.

Hugh and Crye
3212 O St. NW #5 (between Potomac and Wisconsin)
Washington, DC 20007

DC-based brands fits shirts differently–by body type rather than measurements. Trim, darted cuts and strong colors and patterns dominate. Their bright Georgetown space is shop, laboratory, stockroom, and office all in one.

More recommendations to come in part II.