We are happy to publish today the PG Selection of RTW shoes for 2014 !
This edition builds on our 2013 selection (published in November of last year), which was comprised of 22 brands to which we have added 14 new houses : Allen Edmonds, Alden, Bettanin & Venturi, Bontoni, Caulaincourt, Cheaney, Cleverley, Cobbler Union, Duggers of London, Finsbury, Grenson, Scarpe di Bianco, Tricker’s and Zonkey Boot.
This sizable update increases the number of houses reviewed to 36, which we hope to be a representative selection of today’s quality offers in the ever-changing realm of RTW shoes.
Like our very successful RTW suit selection, this list will be periodically updated in an effort to stay as relevant and accurate as possible.
Note that the price indicated for each brand is an average. For the smaller houses with limited choice and short collections, the price indicated will be an average of most of their the price tags. Whereas for the larger houses with several collections per seasons, with prices ranging from simple to quadruple, the average given will signify that (in our opinion) which is the most interesting offer represented by the indicated price.
Also note that in the vast majority of cases, the shoe trees will be sold separately — the same applies for custom patinas.
Without further ado, here is our selection, presented in ascending order, from lower prices to higher prices.
The New Sensation from Majorca
Average price : 150 euros
This young house founded in 2001 was taken over about two years ago by the Albaladejo family, already well-known for being behind Carmina and for their great Shell Cordovan leathers. Meermin is probably one of the best quality/price ratio offerings to emerge from the past few years. This small house distributes its collections via two physical stores (one in Madrid, the other in Tokyo), plus an on-line store.
With a casual, Goodyear welted collection (rubber soles) priced at 130 euros, and a classic collection of Goodyear welted shoes (leather soles), priced at 160 euros, the Meermin price tag is nothing short of impressive.
Made in Shangai and finished in Majorque, this house also offers a hand-welted collection, at 260 euros (the most interesting offer as far as we are concerned), a norwegian-welted range at 360 euros, and a Shell Cordovan offer, priced at 320 euros.
Clearly inspired by British designs, these models are discreet with relatively modern lasts. The solidity of the construction is honorable, and the designs are overall pleasant. Of course, at this price range, the leather quality is mid-grade at best, the soles could be sturdier, and the finishing touches are only average, with hit or miss quality control.
Despite this, the quality/price ratio remains excellent, and the customer service, though a bit « rustic », is full of goodwill and consistently reactive.
One regret though, would be the abusive use of the affiliation with Carmina on the communications side (i.e., tradition-washing). Carmina and Meermin are two different companies, with two different production lines, clearly providing different levels of quality.
++ : The quality/price ratio, the sober lasts.
— : The leathers, the finishing work, only two physical stores (Madrid & Tokyo).
Still an Excellent Value for Money
Single price for all shoes : 160 euros
No need to introduce Loding again, founded fifteen yeas ago, with the concept of providing accessible luxury at a single price.
Now counting at 66 stores (franchised network) in France and in the world (Hong Kong, Barcelona, Lausanne, Warsaw), Loding has secured a good reputation amongst shoe enthusiasts (newcomers and veterans alike) who have a limited budget but still want to enjoy (relatively) well designed shoes of (rather) good overall quality.
Loding still offers its collection at 160 euros for all models, an excellent choice to take one’s first steps into the highly addictive world of quality men’s shoes. This brand provides a great and affordable way to “taste” the formality of an oxford or the nonchalance of a derby, or even the casual chic spirit of a loafer without having to spend a fortune.
Of course at this price the leather quality is not fantastic, even if Loding shoes are famous for their decent sturdiness, if regularly well-maintained.
The only downside would be the lasts, which tend to get longer and thiner as collections come and go, to the point of verging on bad taste, but this concerns only a few select models, fortunately.
This concern aside, the offer is as relevant as ever and Loding is a house that can be credited for its real consistency in terms of quality and selection.
++ : The quality-price ratio, the wide selection, a large number of physical stores.
— : The “average” leather quality, some of the lasts are not as elegant as in the past, sporadic customer service depending on the store (the downside of a franchised network)
DUGGERS OF LONDON
A Good Spanish-British Surprise
Average price : 180 euros
This all-new company is one of the best surprises from last year in terms of value for money (see The Shoe Snob’s review here)
Duggers of London was created by two young British entrepreneurs. The brand offers a small but smart collection of well-designed shoes at a very affordable price, for a very honorable quality of construction. The style is British, with the Country Brogue models deserving a special mention for the quality of their design and patinas.
Made in Spain, the models are contemporary and the lasts are classic : a highly commendable effort, and despite a few small defects here and there, the price/quality ratio is truly excellent. A product worthy of your British pounds, even when adding the shipping costs.
Because Duggers has a business model that eschews the middleman with no physical stores in place, the brand is able to offer a hard-to-beat price/quality ratio…We are curious to see how the offer will develop over time.
++ : Great value for money, the country brogues have a great British flair.
— : A few blemishes (a few spots sometimes, the eyelets are not always perfectly done either) but nothing that should be a deal-breaker, especially not at this price !
A Very Honorable Entry Range and a Vast Selection of Models
Average Price : 150 euros (each pair if you buy two), 199 euros (the single pair)
Priced at 299 euros for two pairs during their (extremely frequent) sales periods, and despite some discrepancy in quality between models in the same collection, Finsbury is still one of the best entry range brands out there for quality RTW men’s shoes.
Created at the end of the 80’s, this dynamic company has quickly become the leader of a French market once dominated by Bowen and Manfield. Since the 80s, the company has continued its expansion in a very stable fashion. With 35 physical stores in France and a newly opened online store, Finsbury is a nice success story worthy of respect.
But as the years since the store’s inception have added up, the sheer volume of the production has increased accordingly. Initially located in England, production quickly expanded all around Europe (mostly in Spain and Portugal), which unfortunayely resulted in true gaps in quality between the different ranges based on where the products were made.
This is why you’ll find a bit of everything at Finsbury’s — all for the very same price ; from shoddily built Blake-welted Italian-styled shoes with poor leather quality, to beautiful English brogues, Goodyear welted, made from very decent leathers. That being said, it seems to us that the overall quality has been following an upwards curve for a few years now, after a period of sometimes well-deserved criticism.
++ : A vast choice, a great price/quality ratio, and a solid first step into the world of quality shoes.
— : Fluctuating quality, from only slightly mediocre to highly decent. Keep your eyes peeled !
For Your First Steps in English Shoes
Average Price : 200 euros
Loake is a British shoemaker installed since the late 1800s, in Kettering (close to Northampton), that produces classic shoes of honorable quality sold at a very honest price.
Nothing spectacular here, in that no efforts are poured into creating original or highly seductive shoes. The designs are as British as it gets, the leather quality is decent, and the Goodyear welts are well-made, especially on the upper « Loake 1880 premium » range, the only collection still made in England, which sells at around 190£ (235 euros)
The other models fluctuate between 110 and 150£, with beautiful classic collections (including the « 201 » semi-brogue at the very convincing price of 110£).
Loake is a good alternative for the most conservative, and for those who only swear by English shoes (which is not necessarily a wrong choice, especially in terms of sturdiness).
++ : Nothing spectacular, but a solid choice, very decently crafted.
— : Average leather quality, very heavy looking lasts, no physical stores outside of England.
An Impressive Choice at an Impressive Price
Average price : 220 euros
Markowski literally infiltrated the market in 2007 under the impulse of Marcos Fernandez Cabezas, the man behind the launch of Bowen, the revival of Doc Martens in France, the update of the Paraboot style and subsequently, the creation of Emling.
The tireless Marco Fernandez (who, by the way, created Septième Largeur two years later, and sold Markowski in 2012) created the house with a simple and seductive idea : offer quality shoes at « wholesale prices » (about twice as cheap as retail prices) by cutting the middleman and reducing as much structural costs as possible, and selling online only (but still including a store / office/ warehouse located in a popular Parisian neighbourhood).
This philosophy resulted in an offer, which at the time of its inception, was nothing short of remarkable (for the price range). This quite quickly seduced a large customer-base looking for classic shoes with contemporary lasts (i.e the « 169 » model in its one-cut / saddle form – a very successful model, and rightfully so), with simple and elegant designs, for a quasi-miraculous price tag.
Six years later, despite barely acceptable leather quality and uneven quality assurance, Markowski remains a very solid choice in terms of quality/price ratio… if prices would stop increasing, that is. A 60 euros increase in a time frame of six years on a pair of shoes initially sold for 135 euros is a 45 percent inflation (even if the cost of leather has been skyrocketing in the past few years.)
In 2012, Marcos Fernandez sold Markowski to dedicate himself to Septième Largeur, who was until then a Markowski superior sub-brand offering, providing more sophisticated models with contemporary patinas.
++ : Still excellent value for money.
— : Average leathers, fluctuating quality assurance, back order issues
Good and (very) Sturdy English Shoes
Average Price : 250 euros
Be warned : we are entering the realm of a brand that deals in true, heavy, sturdy, durable English style.
No frills à l’Italienne here, and no sophistication à la Française … but rather sturdy triple-soles and oversized perforations. Grenson’s brogue boots, priced at around 210 £ are in our opinion, among the best and sturdiest “casual boots” on the market.
Grenson has owned its own factory in Northampton for more than a century. There, it produces shoes for very “fashionable” brands on top of its own brands G ZERO and G ONE (the latter being the better quality, which has replaced the “MasterPieces” range). The G TWO, sold at a lower price, is made by hand in India.
A house that has maintained a good level of quality even after a change in management in 2010. Grenson’s offer is both serious and coherent.
… and we love those brogue boots !
++ : Good, sturdy shoes, with a pleasant style (for those who like heavy-looking shoes).
— : The lasts leave little to subtlety, but it’s the house style.
A Good Quality-Price Ration, with Added Style
Average Price : 250 euros
The second part of Marcos Fernandez’s work, in favor of affordable, yet qualitative men’s shoes. The Septième Largeur collection recently has became a house proper, with an online store and two physical shops in Paris. The shoes are of classical style, honorably built with nice lasts and rather seducing designs, and for a few models, you can request a patina for 75 euros more (added to the original price).
A very relevant offer that can give you that bit of soul and style that few houses are able to offer for under 250 euros.
++ : Value for money, both in terms of style and quality.
— : Leather quality can be fairly random at times.
A New American Brand on the Internet, Made in Spain
Average Price : 290 euros
Another “Internet Only” brand that has caught our attention. The young Cobbler Union brand is based in the USA (Georgia) and their shoes are made in Spain, the country of choice for the majority of newcomers in this market segment.
As is the case for Duggers of London, only a business model without middlemen and physical stores can afford to offer products of such good quality at such satisfactory prices. Sold at $395 (roughly 285€ as of the time of this writing), Cobbler Union shoes can compete with many brands sold at a 100€ higher price tag or more. A good alternative for those living in the US who like a more sophisticated shoe than what most of the local market offers. Shipping to non-US customers will cost 50€ (still a good offer for those who have no qualms about ordering shoes without first trying them on).
The models are classic (and rather thin-looking at that, which is surprising for a USA based company), and the designs offered today are in line with shoe designs that have seen big market success, from the red on black bicolor oxford to the Balmoral boots.
A house to follow closely while paying attention to the consistence of quality, as the house ages. We are interested to watch the brand develop further down the line…
++ : Good price/quality ration, very attractive models, good overall quality.
— : No physical stores, a restricted collection as of yet.
Good American Products
Average Price : 290 euros
Allen Edmonds is of one America’s biggest name on the market, with 50 physical stores located around the country.
Good prices aside, one of Allen Edmond’s biggest selling points is that all models are available in half-sizes, as well as in different widths.
The models are ultra-classic, and most of the lasts are fairly heavy looking. The house is famous for its “Goodyear 360” welt, which consists in a welt stitched all around the shoe, whereas a classic Goodyear welt will stop before the heel so that the latter won’t extend too far past the back of the shoe. The house justifies this rather aesthetically unappealing choice by arguing that when body weight is properly distributed on the shoe, it is rendered useless to insert a shank (a small piece of metal) between the upper and the inner sole– the absence of which results in more comfort and flexibility when walking.
Some even say that this comfort feature is why Allen Edmond’s shoes are considered “Airport Friendly” since there is no metal in the shoes to set off alarms at security gates ! But as far as I’m concerned, I much prefer removing my shoes at the airport but wearing something thinner (though thinner shoes are surely a matter of taste and body weight).
Allen Edmonds is objectively a very serious option for classic-styled shoes, but only on US soil. Indeed, the few retailers that deal in Allen Edmonds shoes around Europe tend to boost the prices up by an additional 50 percent. And, while the brand is very competitive at below 300€…at 450€ and above, that’s another story entirely.
++ : A vast selection of classic lasts, a very honorable quality of make, available in different widths and half-sizes.
— : Some lasts can get fairly massive, the finishing touches could be better, prices too high in Europe.
Tomorrow’s Giant ?
Average price : 350 euros
With Carmina, we change divisions, with an ever-evolving house that might very well become one of tomorrow’s biggest names.
Unanimously hailed for its undeniable knowhow, Carmina-Albaladejo (from Majorca, see above) has firmly establishing itself in a key segment of the market. With models hovering between 300-400 euros, the house has a lot going for itself : the decent leather quality, the beautiful lasts (with special mention of the Simpson and the Rain), the large choice of patterns, and above all, the very serious quality of construction.
As for the Cordovan Shell models (the house’s speciality), sold at around 550 euros, these shoes deliver the quality you expect, my personal favorite being the outstanding ruby red Brogue with the Simpson last that can be admired here.
A very fine house, without any real competitors in the price range.
Viva Espana !
++ : Super value for money.
— : Allegedly some sturdiness issues with the soles ?
An Inspiring Story with Promising Beginnings
Average price : 360 euros
The presence of Justin Fitzpatrick (London’s most British American) in this list is as much due to his exemplary life story, as it is to the maturity (and very honorable quality) of his very first collection which has been until recently only available at Gieves & Hawkes (1, Savile Row).
Fortunate enough to be the former student of the late Stéfano Bemer (to whom the red and black saddle-oxford above is a direct tribute), young Justin has developed his brand with passion and dedication. Built in a small Spanish factory, his beautiful, Goodyear welted collection is based on three classic lasts, including a very « British » last designed by Tony Gaziano. All models are mostly classical with some discreet twists.
Particularly notable is the one-cut loafer model « Laurelhurst » with its nice medallion.
Now located at the Spitalfield shop of bespoke tailor Timothy Everest in Mayfair where Justin’s shoes are sold, Justin continues to expand his product offering, and to pay tribute to many of the style features he learned from his days with Stéfano. An on-line store is also now available.
++ : Well made, offering interesting twists and original colors, certain design features pay tribute to the work of Stéfano Bremer .
— : Some lasts are religiously conservative.
A Brand Reborn
Average price : 400 euros
Joseph Cheaney and Sons, one of the historical makers of Kettering in Northamptonshire (Gaziano & Girling is now located here), was at one time part of the Church and Co. group (i.e., the Prada group) until 2009, when the Church cousins, William and Jonathan, decided to leave the Prada group–but taking Cheaney with them.
Since then, the two cousins decided to redevelop the historical Cheaney manufacture (founded in 1866 !) with the clear ambition of offering an alternative to certain houses positioned in the upper-price segment (who could they be… ?) through the means of quality products sold at aggressively-competitive prices.
Thus, this is how the “Imperial” range ( priced at around 550€) became relevant again…after a long stretch of uninteresting lasts/models that once looked strangely like a cross between a Prada and a Church’s model.
The products are all made in Kettering. The Imperial range offers some good handmade finishing touches with a very satisfying leather quality. The lower ranges of the brand (the Classic and City ranges) are respectively priced at 415€ and 345€ and have stepped into an avalanche of rounded tips with massive lasts–very British indeed, but not entirely up to our taste since the shoes can carry a lot of bulk, although the price/quality ratio is decent.
For the Kilts enthusiasts among you, Cheaney offers a nice Ghillies range, with some models sporting an interesting dash of Donegal tweed splendor.
A mutating house that we will follow closely.
++ : Good overall quality, a very serious offer and coherently priced.
— : A few clumsy lasts (especially in the Classic range).
Shell Cordovan !
Average price : 400 euros (550 euros pour le Cordovan)
Alden is another major actor in the American market, positioned slightly above Allen Edmonds in terms of pricing. Alden is perhaps THE go-to brand for quality (classic) shoes in the USA. Vastly available around the world, Alden shoes have many good things in their favor in terms of quality of construction (especially their very nice made-in-the-USA Goodyear welt), overall sturdiness and finishing touches.
Unfortunately the lasts remain, year after year, desperately classic and frankly not overly exciting. Though seriously made, Alden plays it very very safe on many levels.
However, the Shell Cordovan (one of the house’s specialty) is as impressive as ever, and always beautifully made. We are still in love with the Shell Cordovan Tanker Boot by Alden for Leffot in New York …
++ : A very serious house, the Cordovan range is an undeniable success, a vast choice of offerings.
— : Very classic, perhaps too conservative.
Good English Shoes : Serious and Sturdy
Average price : 400 euros
Another historical Northampton factory (a region undergoing a serious revival in these times of tradition-washing), Tricker’s is a house worthy of serious consideration by lovers of the English school of shoes.
At Tricker’s, like at Grenson’s & Co., there are no frills and no extravagances. The models are simple, the lasts are rounded and very classic, and the whole result screams solidity. Like many Trickers aficionados, we have a (very) big soft spot for their country brogues, illustrated in the above picture (Bourton model), which are as pleasant to wear as they are impossible to wear out.
All of their products are made in the house’s own factory, which incidentally also makes quite a few products for more fashion-oriented brands.
A very respectable house, whose Jermyn Street store remains an absolute must-see for those who love good English shoes.
++ : Great shoes, beautifully made, fantastic country brogues !
— : Rounded lasts that might not be to everyone’s tastes.
Good-Looking Shoes, Full of Personality
Average price : 400 euros
Caulaincourt is part of the new wave of Parisian houses founded and animated by bona fide shoe lovers, with a real offer brimming with personality.
Created in 2009 by young Alexis Lafont, Caulaincourt is slowly building a personal identity for itself with surprising consistence, season after season, which is quite a feat in the currently exploding market.
With a quite “dandy” effervescence in the world of men’s shoes that sets the brand apart from the crowd, Caulaincourt offers models that are surprisingly balanced ; thinner than the English school, and shorter than the Italian school.
The house offers two main ranges–the first range is a permanent offering (the Paris range), and the other range varies according to the calendar seasons (the Club range), with both ranges reflecting the great creativity of the house. Their bi-matter Balmoral boots are particularly worthy of attention : very daring and brimming with flair.
The finishing touches are good, and the prices are fair in regard to overall quality (Blake Rapid and Bolognese constructions).
A brand on the rise, whose passion and seriousness we can only applaud.
++ : Serious work, full of personality.
— : Some models could be too noticeable, but is really a matter of personal taste.
And the Immortal Ginkgo
Average price : 400 euros
A very respectable house from the Northeastern region of Alsace, France. Heschung is now well-known throughout the world for its impeccable construction and quality, its mastery of the Norwegian welt and for the incredible longevity of its products.
The house style is historically focused towards outdoor wear, which makes Heschung a more « casual » brand than the rest on the list (with their « urban » collection being quite new).
But Heschung harbors a true treasure in its midst : the perfect shoe for a weekend outdoors. An emblematic model that every country shoe lover should own one day — the famous Gingko model, the ultimate « hunting boot » (in this price range).
Available in interesting bi-material combinations, the Gingko is stylish, comfortable, sturdy, and a great choice for any and all nature outings.
++ : Magnificent norwegian welt, incredibly sturdy.
— : Only one truely convincing model… but you’d be hard pressed to find anything wrong with it.
Handmade Shoes for Under 500€
Average price : 450 euros
Vass was founded in Budapest, Hungary, by the eponymous bootmaker. Slowly building up a very good reputation since a few years, mostly thanks to the English-speaking forum community, Vass has made a name for itself amongst shoe lovers around the world, amateurs and connoisseurs alike.
The reason for this enthusiasm is simple : the Hungarian house offers entirely handmade shoes for less than 500 euros.
The house models remain very classic, although how could we not mention the « U-shaped » model, developed by the brilliant Roberto Ugolini, that became one of the house’s signature models, and which is rather unusually distinctive. The designs are overall elegant, and the leather quality is decent.
Of course, the finishing touches could be perfected, but this is only a slight fault that is to be expected from handmade shoes in this price range; yet, this point is ‘ nitpicking ‘ considering the final product’s undeniable appeal.
The flip side, however, would be the house’s questionable quality control, or even its somewhat random overall organization which is rather embarrassing for such an acclaimed house. In this regard, Vass is the textbook example of a brand whose praises have been loudly sung by the fora and, as a result, that has quickly faced logistical problems and delivery delays due to a fast increasing demand and higher level of expectations.
That being said, when Vass’s shoes meet the said expectations – and they most certainly do the vast majority of the time – their irrefutable charm makes you understand what the fuss is all about.
++ : The quality/price ratio, handmade appeal, and the very kind Mr. Kuti (sales director).
— : Finishing touches that are not always up to par, fluctuating quality assurance, and some logistical issues (despite a lot of good will).
CROCKETT & JONES
Quality, Elegance and Discretion, the British Way
Average price : 450 euros
A sound investment. That’s what comes to mind when Crockett & Jones is mentioned. Founded in 1879 in Northampton, its manufacture is the region’s second biggest, right behind Church ‘s.
C&J shoes are well made shoes – classical in their lasts and shapes, elegant and discreet in their patterns. Lots of timeless models (the Chelsea, the Connaught, the Pembrook) that every shoe aficonado has owned, or will own one day.
Two price ranges are available. The « main line » is sold at around 400 euros, while then « hand grade » is at about 550 euros (many connoisseurs are skeptical as to the real added value of this line, do the few hand-made operations really justify the 150 euros you pay for them ? But that’s another subject…)
A safe bet nonetheless.
++ : The consistent, objective quality, the discreet lines and the wide choice.
— : Perhaps a slight lack of personality, but that’s of course an extremely subjective judgement.
(Another) Fine House from Northampton
Average price : 450 euros
Another manufacturer hailing from Northampton. Alfred Sargent has been producing traditional English shoes for four generations, though its name was largely unknown until a few years back, as the house was mostly producing for other brands.
Since a few years, and after going through a very difficult period, Alfred Sargent found its second wind thanks to the quality of production rising significantly (perhaps a benefit realized as a result of having Tony Gaziano’s production line in-house for a few years) and major stylistic work on the house collection.
The end result is convincing: a collection of English-styled shoes with soul, like the above featured Toe Cap Oxford.
A very fine house that could prove itself a relevant alternative for lovers of English shoes who are looking for something slightly less understated than the usual.
++ : English classics with that little extra something, easy to find with the Manfield / Bowen network in France.
— : Confusing price offer, difficult to find (outside of Manfield).
An Underrated Parisian Gem
Average price : 450 euros
Altan is a small Parisian house, renowned amongst Parisian shoe aficionados, whose work definitely deserves a broader audience.
Famed for its astounding elegant Adelaide Oxford featured above, as well as for its warm and welcoming little shops, Altan Paris is a house that is growing slowly but steadily. The ever-increasing number of satisfied customers come for the qualitative collections of well-built Goodyear welted and Blake shoes (made in Italy, Spain and Portugal), which Altan offers in raw leather condition, ready for a patina.
Speaking of which, the house’s patinas are usually nothing short of spectacular, which factors heavily into Altan’s current notoriety. Very few houses offer such a level of service, of which Altan likes to say, « enhances the costumer experience ».
A fine house to consider should you ever find yourself in Paris, where Altan has two shops including one dedicated to made-to-order and bespoke.
++ : Very stylish, beautiful designs, great overall quality, good value for money.
— : No shops or physical distribution outside of Paris (but, at last, a good online shop : http://www.laboutique-altanbottier.com).
The Apparel Art Spirit is Still Alive
Average price : 500 euros
Marc Guyot does things his way. This is true with shoes as well.
The reason why Guyot’s shoes are not as renowned as they should be (especially outside of France) is because of Mr. Guyot’s obsession with the Golden Age (1930s to 50s),which has lead to his unfortunate bittersweet tendency of being one step ahead of the others in terms of design, which at times has meant creating models well before they comes back into style. This happened with Balmoral boots, which Guyot had in stock way back when–way before their current full-blown revival.
The Blake stitched construction is correct and the leather quality honorable, but the main interest lies elsewhere – it is the outstanding design element (that could be straight out of a Lawrence Fellows illustration) that is Guyot’s true selling point, as the above « 30’s style oxford » well demonstrates.
As a positive point, Marc Guyot’s shoes are not for everyone; but these shoes are certain to eventually catch the eye of the men’s classical-shoe-aficionado.
++ : The designs, brimming with personality and finesse.
— : The durability could be a bit better, the irregular stocks, many models are available for a limited time only.
The Most International of Italian Houses
Average price: 500 euros
Santoni is an Italian shoemaker that crafts quality shoes, mostly Blake constructed with handmade finishing touches. The house is known for its very slender (and often spectacular) lines – though at times Santoni has gone somewhat too far, with models that are not exactly worthy of the house’s name and reputation, in terms of design and quality of construction, and that’s without mentionning the quality of the leathers.
Since a few years however, Santoni seems to have finally awakened from its « high-fashion » ambitions, and decided to set its collections straight. Exit the incoherent models and welcome back the subtle and more understated lasts (some new models are even sporting Goodyear welts). In the end, this is a welcome change as we see a return to highly elegant designs, cue to the above cape toe oxford.
Currently, the house is on the right track to once again become a very good choice for those who seek highly stylish shoes, although the quality of the leathers still remains a subject of debate.
Santoni shoes are to be picked and worn with discernment. But aside from its shortcomings, a beautiful pair of Santoni will always be a beautiful pair of Santoni.
++ : Stylish beyond any doubts, full of Italian flair.
— : The erratic leather quality, some « fashionable » models are of rather unreasonable taste.
An Institution of the “Made-In-France”
Average price : 600 euros
Serious. Sturdy. Discreet. Elegant.
J.M. Weston is a name that resonates strongly with shoe lovers all over France and indeed the world – one of the few houses that draws lots of praises for little criticism (which is about as unusual as you’d imagine).
Without doubt, these praise are well-deserved, as it is undeniable that the company from Limoges has enough strong points on its side, not the least of which is possessing its very own leather factories ; one for the soles, the other for the uppers (the former “Tanneries du Puy en Velay”).
The Weston collections are always organized around four or five iconic models (Chasse, Demi-Chasse, Ville, Demi-Ville, Golf et Mocassin 180) around which other collections came to life – including the extremely interesting « Graphic » collection – under the impulse of artistic director Michel Perry, whose reliably tasteful designs have led the house’s vision since 2001.
At a time when the “Made in France” label is largely oversold everywhere, J.M. Weston discreetly exemplifies, without needing to say a word, the lofty french image of high quality luxury products.
Weston au Panthéon !
++ : Quality beyond reproach, timeless classics.
— : Not exactly easy to come by (except perhaps for the 180 model, which we are not very fond of…)
A Beautiful Product with a Twist
Average price : 650 euros
We are usually not big fans of brands that “revisit classics with a twist”, because most of the time the twists are completely unnecessary and don’t bring anything new to the table…
Zonkey Boot could be the exception to the rule.
The brand has an undeniable flair, and their bi-matter boots in leather and wool (see the picture above) are the perfect example of why their products work so well : they are undeniably different and technically excellent. The models are designed in Vienna (Austria), and the shoes are made in a workshop around Venice, in a region famed for its technical expertise on many fine points.
Founded and helmed by Alexandra Diaconu & Michael Rollig, (the same Rollig that incidentally founded the Saint-Crispin’s factory in Romania), Zonkey Boot is a surprising brand that offers products that are bold but somehow also discreet. The “Sailor” last for example, is very well designed and nicely balanced.
The technical quality is beyond reproach, and the product deserves attention. A Truly hybrid style, rather casual but also very elegant. The “zerofourseven” model is particularly well done.
A house that we sincerely hope will continue to develop and flourish over time.
++ : Beautiful shoes, technical, original and elegant.
— : A rather clunky e-shop, some models are not of our taste (like the sneakers…)
SCARPE DI BIANCO
A House on the Rise
Average price : 800 euros
Founded by two former employees of house Sutor Mantellassi, Scarpe di Bianco is one of today’s rising stars. The brand offers a genuinely splendid collection of shoes that is seriously starting to make a name for itself.
The models are elegant and thin, but not overly so. The designs in particular are full of flair (though some models would benefit from less perforations), the leather quality is good (the grainy leathers in particular), and the patinas are very subtle. The house also offers models in three different constructions : Blake rapid, Goodyear, and Norwegian.
Made in Tuscany, but almost exclusively available on the American market (with a good network of retailers), the Scarpe di Bianco shoes bring a fair amount of panache to its price range. A house that could become, should it manage to enter a prestigious retailer or two, one of Italy’s great names of tomorrow. A quite seducing prospect, indeed.
++ : Objectively splendid shoes.
— : Some models suffer from too much perforations
As Beautiful as it is Impossible to Come by (Except in the USA)
Average price : 900 euros
Bontoni shoes have both flair and style, but you’d be hard pressed to find them outside the USA, where they are distributed at sometimes outrageous prices in big names of luxury retail.
Made in their own workshop in Montegranaro (in the Marches region of Italy), only a small number of pairs are produced per day, with the majority of shoes made with Blake rapid, mounted on thick soles of stunning quality. Bontoni shoes represents quintessential contemporary Italian flair : super lasts, great designs, and patinas that will leave you breathless.
Every shoe aficionado should own a pair of Bontonis at one point in his life.
Note that Shoes and Shirts in Maastricht (Netherlands) offers a good selection of Bontoni in Europe (the above photo was taken by them).
++ : A unique style, extremely elegant.
— : Varying leather quality, almost no distribution outside of the USA.
Tasteful British Classicism
Average price : 900 euros
This right and honorable Northampton house has reached a quasi-religious level of adoration from its steady and faithful community of followers, and represents, for many gentlemen, the quintessential British quality shoemaker.
After a difficult patch that followed the unfortunate death of owner & creative-mind, John Hlustik, and a few stylistic faux-pas that were fortunately abandoned as quickly as they arrived, Edward Green is back with full force under the impulse of Hilary Freeman, the wife of the late John Hlustik.
Eminently classic, the house epitomizes the concept of « discreet elegance » as only few houses can. What is more, the build and quality is beyond reproach, as are the finishing touches ; the leathers are gorgeous and as sturdy as it gets. And even if the patterns tend to be on the safe side, they are always tastefully designed.
Though classic in spirit, EG shoes are not boring by any stretch of the imagination. Some models are particularly exciting, cue to the « Malvern » spectator shoes, eminently stylish and osé, even more so in their bi-color version.
An essential house without which the overall landscape of men’s shoes would not be the same. Everyone should consider a pair of Edward Green at some point.
++ : Impeccable products, absolute classicism.
— : Nil.
A Parisian House, Unique in its Genre
Average price : 900 euros
Saying that Aubercy is different from any other shoemaking house is an ultimate understatement.
The Aubercy family does things their way, especially concerning the family’s passion (obsession?) of making of high-end men’s shoes.
Founded in 1935 at number 34 Rue Vivienne in Paris (and no, they haven’t moved), Aubercy produces incredibly elegant shoes that are technically beyond reproach. The shoes are made in a small family-owned workshop in Italy (as you’ll learn, with Aubercy everything is a matter of family) in which they have their own production line, their own lasts, their own leathers and their own methods and habits.
The house is known for offering a wide range of constructions – Blake, Goodyear, Norwegian welt and hand sewn welts – and also for more experimental projects like this very interesting “Hybrid” construction which combines Goodyear at the front and Blake at the back of the shoe, for a sleeker and finer silhouette.
The end result is a great range of shoes, ranging from complex models of extreme classicism (as in above « James » model, a supremely elegant Cap Toe Oxford) along with daring models, some even sporting asymmetrical designs (which can even be a bit destabilizing, even for yours truly).
A surprising house, particularly endearing and addictive, with an emotional element. Once you experience the legendary Odette Aubercy, who aside from her uncompromising reputation, proves to be a kind, charming and clever woman – you may also be lucky enough to meet the entire family, Xavier of course, but also Philippe, the endearing father, who is still as excited as a young boy when you discuss shoes with him.
A truly unique, touching house, led by a family of passionate people, well deserving of a much broader audience than the one they currently enjoy.
++ : Strong personality, pure Parisian chic, some models are very unique.
— : Some models are a bit « too much », but that’s a very subjective matter.
The Legend is Very Much Alive.
Average price : 1000 euros
John Lobb is the house of superlatives. One of the only houses in the sector to be practically unanimously praised by amateurs and connoisseurs alike, which is quite the achievement, to say the least.
Created in 1866 in London and installed in Paris since 1903, the house was bought by the Hermès group in 1976. Launching its ready-to-wear line in 1982, they opened their manufacturing shop in… Northampton (surprised?) in 1994, where Lobb’s beautiful collections are handcrafted. Numerous models are heavily inspired by the bespoke creations of the bespoke salon, Rue Mogador, which remains to this day arguably the most beautiful bespoke workshop in the world.
The collections are full to the brim with iconic models – like the double-buckled William and the Lopez loafer – as well as more contemporary creations so as to make the brand more accessible (stylistically speaking) to high-end shoes addicts all around the world.
Special mention goes to the sublime Philip II Oxford (see above) and the Saunton, which is probably, in my opinion, the most beautiful Oxford in existence.
The leathers are outstanding, among the very best in the market (thank you Hermès!) and the fabrication is beyond reproach.
Timeless elegance embodied. A summit of classical men’s shoes.
++ : Extremely stylish shoes, the best leathers in the market, a real boot-making culture.
— : Nil.
BETTANIN & VENTURI
Italian Panache and Hand-Made Norwegian Welt.
Average price : 1100 euros
A surprising Italian house that produces (by hands only) some of the most positively extraordinary shoes available, with a mastery of the Norwegian Welt that is the house signature.
Some designs and patinas can be a bit over the top, and some models can tease the limits of good taste, but their products are on the whole, nothing short of breathtaking.
Available at Barneys, Isetan, and in a small network of carefully selected retailers.
Built and designed for the beauty of the Norwegian gesture.
++ : The Norwegian welts, surprising innovative models
— : Some models might be a bit over the top…
The Formula One
Average price : 1100 euros
Pierre Corthay is one of the heroes of the current high-end shoe renaissance.
Celebrated in the world by a customer base of passionate gentlemen, Corthay shoes are instantly recognizable by their lines, lasts and unique designs, which literally came tumbling out of the sky into the then very conservative world of men’s shoes.
The Arca derby (see above) with its mind-blowing last and its immaculate pattern has become the emblematic model of the House and of a whole new generation of shoe enthusiasts.
After going through some difficult moments a few years back, the company is back on track again, thanks to the work of Xavier de Royère and his team – a strong second wind followed by an impressive growth that has seen the opening of physical shops all around the world (London, Hong Kong, Dubai, Tokyo).
Manufactured in a the house factory located in the outskirts of Paris (the quality assurance of which has dramatically improved in the past two years), the ready-to-wear models of Corthay are growing in popularity exponentially, for their uniqueness and their dramatic « dandy » feel.
The Formula One of men’s shoes.
++ : Shoes with strong personalities, flawless designs, and -finally !- a fantastic construction quality.
— : We are all expecting more new models from Mr. Corthay !
GAZIANO & GIRLING
One of the Rising Stars in the Small World of High-End Shoes
Average price : 1150 euros
Dean Girling and Tony Gaziano are two British shoemakers and last makers who earned their stripes from experience with the very best (Green, Cleverley, Lobb and Foster and Son). In 2006 they created Gaziano & Girling, offering a high-end British classic collection using state of the art craftsmanship methods, but with a more contemporary flair. The shoe construction process may be strictly by the book, yet G & G designs provide a certain flair that is unique to the sector.
From their past days of being produced on a dedicated production line at Alfred Sargent’s to their current status of owning of their very own factory in Kettering, Gaziano & Girling has quickly become the toast of English shoemaking for a new generation of shoe enthusiasts.
This enthusiasm is well deserved, mind you – and G&G has some serious arguments weighing in their favor. From the high level of sophistication of the designs, the amazingly elegant lasts, to the high-end technical details, this house doesn’t disappoint. Ranging from their bespoke offer (from 3000£), to their MTO and ready-to-wear lines, the G&G products seem to be worthy of their quasi-spotless reputation.
With G&G’s first dedicated shop on Savile Row now opening and new production lines up and running, Tony Gaziano has the potential to create quite a rumble in the shoe market with his considerable experience, creative designs, and indomitable spirit.
What else ?
++ : Magnificent shoes, strong personality, impeccable construction.
— : Nothing really
Fully Handmade Shoes of Outstanding Quality
Average price : 1200 euros
Saint Crispin’s is an Austrian house (originally a Bespoke house) from Vienna that crafts its shoes in a Romanian workshop they own, where 19 craftsmen work tirelessly to produce handmade shoes of the highest quality and technical value, the heights of which few houses can pretend to reach outside of traditional bespoke offering.
Even if this selection is ready-to-wear only (the MTO and the bespoke will be treated in another article), the Saint Crispin’s models we have been lucky enough to see and try blew our expectations away. Handmade with beautiful leathers (not quite up to par with Lobb’s, but still), with a fantastic build quality and impressive finishing touches that complement perfectly the beautiful selection of lasts and designs, which though relatively classic, are always tastefully interpreted.
The criteria that sets Saint Crispin’s apart from the rest of this selection, is that every pair of shoes is produced as an individual unit as everything is hand-made and no series are produced. And guess what ? There are no price discrepancies between ready-to-wear and made-to-order. If you like a model, but you’d prefer it with a different kind of leather, or with another design altogether, or if you wish some details altered, the pair will still be made in 10 weeks at no additional cost.
A very unique and different approach that could be best described as « custom hand made shoes on modifiable preexisting lasts ».
A clever offer that is perfectly and meticulously executed. A house fully deserving our closet attention.
++ : Incredibly qualitative offer, an experience close to bespoke.
— : No price difference between MTO and RTW (and vice-versa), which is great, but which also means that distributors often have limited stocks of off-the-peg shoes.
A Jewel of Emotion
Average price : 1200 euros
Berluti is, without a doubt, the high-end shoe brand around which constantly looms the most passionate of debates, diatribes and panegyrics, as sectarian and violent as it gets between the proponents and the opponents of the venerable Rue Marbeuf house.
And there is a simple factor to account for that : emotion.
Like it or not, Berluti shoes convey an emotional dimension that is absolutely unique. Anyone who has experienced the emotion of walking in a pair of Berlutis, will easily understand what I mean. This unparalleled feeling attained by wearing jewels such as Berluti, can take you to a place where you feel that you are at your very best.
The house became incarnated under the impulsion of uproarious Olga Berluti, who litteraly reinvented the men’s shoes market in the 1980s with the introduction of lasts, designs and patinas never before seen. Berluti offers a wide range of shoes strikingly unique and refined in style.
One such model everyone should own once in a lifetime : the one-cut Alessandro.
Berluti shoes can be fragile (please don’t sing in the rain with your Berlutis…) but of a breathtaking class nonetheless. All that remains to be said is secondary.
++ : Unique, exceptional designs and patinas.
— : Fragile. Shoes that one should wear with care and discernment.
Über British, Über Stylish, Über Pricey
Average price : 1400 euros
One of the legends of London bespoke, still offering a very convincing range of RTW shoes that manage to convey the fantastic lines and distinctive shapes of classic George Cleverley bespoke models.
Made by a Northampton manufacturer (Crockett and / or Edward Green it would seem), the Cleverley RTW range is not lacking in character, quality of construction, and style.
The very active website Mr Porter, always on the lookout for good opportunities with historical brands (the Sulka Tie comeback is just around the corner !), has added Cleverley to its catalog with some exclusive models of very good taste, including a surprisingly dainty brogue (a true oxymoron) which you can admire here.
As British as British can get, but is the price really justified … ?
++ : Cleverley magic at work: models are extremely elegant.
— : Pricey…
We hope that this updated selection will help you, as the French say, to find the “chaussure à votre pied…” (shoes that fits your tastes).
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