Parisian Gentleman’s Men’s Shoe Review 2015-2016 (Part 1/2)

Hugo JACOMET

Parisian Gentleman’s Men’s Shoe Review 2015-2016 (Part 1/2)

Today, we have the pleasure of publishing part one of the Parisian Gentleman Shoe Selection for 2015/2016 !

Part one reviews 33 houses from across the globe, producing quality shoes ranging in price from $180 to $640. Part two, which will be published later this month after carefully curating and finalizing the selection, will cover brands priced $680 and upwards. Together, the complete review will analyze a total of 59 brands, with prices ranging from $180 to $1800.

This list is the most important of its kind since the creation of PG and one of the most comprehensive quality men’s shoe selections available today.

This review however, includes some changes from our previous reports :

- For the first time, and in order to be tuned with the quick evolution of the men’s shoe market, we’ve decided not to limit the list to ready-to-wear only. Indeed, the gap is narrowing between ready-to-wear (RTW) and made-to-order (MTO, which is RTW models and sizing, with more customization choices ranging from patinas, soles, quality of leather, designs and even lasts).  To be clear, we have now entered an era of intense customization in men’s shoes.

- In order to clarify terminology, when we speak of MTO, we address the customization possibilities listed above. When we speak about made-to-measure (MTM), we address the creation of a shoe according to your measurements, but on an existing last that has been modified and not made from scratch (ex nihilo), as done in traditional bespoke.

- As you will see, this is an international shoe selection, and as such, we didn’t include shipping cost. Some houses cover shipping cost for free, while others charge based on distance and numbers of pairs ordered. Verify all incidental costs so you won’t be misled in terms of the total out-of-pocket price. As a rule of thumb, shipping cost within the same continent shouldn’t exceed $35, while overseas shipping rarely costs more than $50 for a single pair.

- The prices indicated are either an average cost (as prices can vary from model to model), or the price level we recommend to invest in the brand (since some houses offer a wide range of various quality and pricing).

- While the Japanese shoe market is arguably one of the most dynamic in the world with the constant emergence of new (and often excellent) bespoke bootmakers, we didn’t include shoes from 日本国, unfortunately—reason being that most Japanese RTW shoes are simply not suited for western feet and traveling to Japan to make a couple of bespoke pairs would be a costly venture, far exceeding the price range our selection covers. Further, given the excellent health of the local market, most Japanese shoemakers have little interest in international sales. This doesn’t mean we aren’t following the Japanese market with keen interest – quite the contrary in fact.

- The current high exchange rate of the British pound impacts the quality-price ratio of British shoes, for our readers who live outside the UK. This caveat aside, British shoemakers and brands still make up a sizable portion of our selection since Northampton continues to be a worldwide cradle of quality shoemaking.

- Unless we indicate differently, prices do NOT include shoetrees.

Without further ado, we begin the Parisian Gentleman 2015/2016 Shoe Selection, in ascending order of price.

 — — —

 

MEERMIN

Champion of Quality-Price Ratio 

Average pricce : $179

meermin.es

Meermin - PG Selection English

Meermin has been the talk of the town since our 2014 selection. The brand hails from Majorca off the coast of Spain, and is led by one of the branches of the famous Albaladejo family. Meermin has exceeded our expectations with its impeccable products sold at a low price, especially the Goodyear welted “Classic” line, priced at a very competitive $179, and the “Handwelted” line, priced at an incredible $295.

Most everything at Meermin has improved since last year. For example, its website dramatically raised the bar, by putting together an intelligent system called MTO Groups offering made-to-order models with specific materials, lasts and styles through crowdsourcing: customers commit to buy a certain pair of shoes if a certain sales quota is met.

To make it simple, the idea is that each model is put up for sale on the website, and it has to reach a threshold or pre-order quota for production to start. Quite an interesting sales technique and very much in touch with the times of today’s market.

Meermin remains more than ever a house that we support and is still a fantastic gateway into the world of quality shoes.

++ : An excellent quality-price ratio, a wide range of models to meet every taste and need.

— : For such a low price, there isn’t much to complain about, all points considered.

 

HERRING

UK’s Online Distribution Expert

Average price : $185

Herringshoes.co.uk

Herring - PG Selection English

Herring is a family-owned business specializing in the distribution of British brands made in Northampton (i.e., Church’s, Loake, Alfred Sargent, Tricker’s, Cheaney), all the while offering its specific brand online.

The “Herring Continental” range has various models produced outside the UK (India, Portugal and Spain, depending on the model), which are sold at very competitive prices. In fact, for the price tag, some models are impressive in terms of style and make – such as the oxford pictured above, or this beautiful monk strap sold at $188 (shipping included).

The website itself is Herring’s strongest suit though, and we suggest you bookmark it and keep an eye on the site for sales and promotions.

++ : A very wide choice of British shoes, a home brand that offers a good quality-price ratio, and complete transparency as to where shoes are made.

— : Perhaps overly British in style – nothing flamboyant. Serious shoes with little to no embellishment.

 

VELASCA

The New Kid on the “100% Made in Italy” Block

Average price : $190

Velasca.com

Velasca - PG Selection English

Velasca is one of this year’s big sensations. Founded by two young Italian entrepreneurs, Enrico Casati and Jacopo Sebastio, Velasca offers a good selection of shoes made in Montegrenaro, Italy.

Velasca is a great example of the direct-to-consumer business model which has been making waves in the market for a few years now.

The idea is to eliminate the middle men between the production line and the consumer. In Velasca’s case, this translates into limited physical retail locations, with only two small shops—one in Milan and one in Munich and a well designed user-friendly website, as well as highly engaged social media activity. For example, Velasca has introduced a few models in collaboration with Fabio from “The Bespoke Dudes”.

Velasca provides an almost complete range of styles at impressive prices, especially if you consider the $25 discount on your first purchase (provided you answer an evaluation survey). They also offer free shipping for all of Europe and North America!

A strong new contender in this segment of the market.

++ : A complete range of products smartly priced for the quality offered, an easy return policy, free shipping.

— : Little to complain about at this price range, especially considering the quality customer experience.

 

JACK ERWIN

Direct-to-Consumer, the American Way

Average price : $195

Jackerwin.com

Jack Erwin - PG Selection English

Created in 2013, Jack Erwin is an American brand born straight from the digital economy – direct-to-consumer : no physical stores (barely a single fitting room in Tribeca NYC)…no wholesalers, no agents, very little structural costs. All this results in quality shoes sold directly to the customer at competitive market-shattering prices (less than $200) !

The collection, initially made in Portugal, but now made in Spain, is not large but should cover most needs : four Goodyear models, seven Blake models and a small range of three loafers. Nothing overly original, but still with a modicum of flair, Jack Erwin is a step above the classical American brands with heavy lasts and redundant patterns (e.g., Allen Edmonds).

A solid initiative we’ll continue to follow closely. Note that up until now, Jack Erwin only ships to the U.S.

++ : A nice little collection made in Spain sold for less than $200, classic but discreetly stylish and available through a user-friendly website.

— : Only available in the U.S.A.

 

LODING

France’s Single Price Champion

Average Price : $205

Loding.fr

Loding - PG Selection English

Loding is today 68 physical stores strong and the unmissable player in the French market, especially considering the stage on which Loding has built its fame—all shoes are sold for the same price: $205 !

The company extended its product range a few years ago by selling (also at a single across-the-board price) shirts, scarves, polo shirts and socks on top of its extensive shoe collection. It’s always nice to see a successful brand remaining relevant in an ever-evolving market, and Loding does manage to do so – which is quite the feat considering the steep competition.

The shoe range at Loding is large and most lasts are rather pleasant. Although the leather quality varies, which is not surprising considering the price range, Loding remains a competitive option in the market, though other brands on-the-rise may threaten its leadership position.

Loding is no longer alone in its market segment, as it was in its golden years. This means that if Loding wants to remain a market leader, it will have to take serious action such as improving consistency of leather and quality of fit, while keeping its affordable pricing.

++ : A vast network of stores in France (and a few stores abroad), a wide collection of styles for a good quality-price ratio.

— : Leather quality can be random, fit can at times be inconsistent.

 

SHOE PASSION

Direct-to-Consumer, The German Way

Average price : $240

Shoepassion.com

Shoe Passion - Selection PG English

Launched barely two years ago, Berlin-based Shoepassion.com has made a name for itself, thanks to a great range of quality shoes sold at affordable prices. Based on a direct-to-consumer model, Shoepassion.com owns four physical stores (all in Germany) as well as a nice e-Shop that ships anywhere in the world. The brand’s shoes are made in Spain and are of a very decent make, considering the price and the Goodyear welt construction.

Shoepassion’s biggest strength is the sheer depth of its catalogue with more than 200 models, more than enough to cover anyone’s needs and taste. Shipping rates are fixed and reasonable – for instance, shipping to France is $5.60, no matter the size of the shipment. Further, the packaging is qualitative and shoe bags are offered, which is always a plus.

Also quite the rare occurrence for an online store, you’ll find on Shoepassion.com a collection of exotic skin shoes (cordovan, python, lizard, ostrich) at a good value for money.

++ : A solid e-Shop, well stocked, good quality-price ratio and pleasant customer experience.

— : Given the price, no significant drawbacks.

 

LOAKE

Affordable, Quality British shoes

Average price : $260

Loake.co.uk

Loake - Selection PG English

Loake is a British shoemaker installed in Kettering, next to Northampton since the end of the Nineteenth century. Loake makes (extremely) classic shoes of honorable quality at relatively reasonable prices, despite the current British pound conversion rate.

The “Loake Shoemakers” range carries models made in the UK for less than $265, like the 747 – a simple and very classic cap toe Oxford, or the Braemar, a full brogue derby as British as it gets.

The superior range, “Loake 1880″ features some stylish choices made with premium leather, like the discreet and supremely versatile Buckingham brogue – priced at a reasonable 215£ in the UK.

There is not much more to say really ; Loake remains in every aspect a safe choice for those who would like to enter the world classic British shoes.

++ : Serious though classic in style, made by a house who has earned its stripes, production transparency (e.g., “made in India” shoes are sold for less but the manufacture location is clearly indicated).

— : Lower leather quality on the lower-priced models not made in the UK, some lasts can be boring with limited styling, no delivery outside the UK.

 

DUGGERS OF LONDON

For Brogue Lovers

Average price : $275

Duggersoflondon.co.uk

Duggers of London - Selection PG English

Duggers of London has been one of the 2014 selection’s good surprises, thanks to their small range of quality country brogues sold at fair prices. While the strong British pound penalizes those living outside of the UK, if you love brogues and are on a budget, that shouldn’t prevent you from getting a pair of Duggers ; the quality-price ratio remains one of the best available despite the circumstances.

Founded by a former Bata employee and an eCommerce expert, DOL markets a fine, if a bit limited assortment of Goodyear welted, made in Spain shoes built around seven different models of brogues.

A sweet little collection, well thought out and not the least bit pretentious. We at PG can’t help but favor the orange lined models, which are surprisingly easy on the eyes…

A serious small e-Shop with a good reputation. Recommended, especially if you live in the UK.

++ : A good looking range of honest brogues with a few twists, a quality online experience.

— : Leather and finishing can vary as typically seen in this price range.

 

SEPTIEME LARGEUR

Good Value for Money with Strong Style

Average Price : $280

Septièmelargeur.fr

Septième Largeur - Selection PG English

Founded by Marcos Fernandez Cabezas, a prominent figure in the French men’s shoe market, who also founded Bowen, Emling and Markowski—Septième Largeur is one of the very few brands on the list that hasn’t increased in price since last year’s selection…which in the current economic climate is very much appreciated.

Septième Largeur’s patterns are tastefully designed and the collections are vast enough to suit almost every taste. The lasts are classic in shape and full of character. And regarding the fluctuating leather quality that 7L experiences at times, this is a sporadic problem that is not unusual for companies making shoes in Spain or Portugal within this price range, unfortunately.

A remarkable small French company for sure, selling quality products at a budget-friendly price. It’s worth mentioning that 7L just expanded globally with the opening of two shops in Asia – one in Singapore and another in Taiwan.

++ : Slick RTW models, with the option for a “patina shoe service” on some styles,  fair pricing.

— : Occasional leather quality issues, fit not always perfect.

 

ED ET AL

A Very Nice Small House from Singapore

Average price : $285

Edetal.sg

Ed et Al - Selection PG English

Ed et Al is a tiny shoe shop nestled away in Singapore whose founder Edwin Neo is a bona fide cobbler trained in Hungary a few years back.

The story is that Edwin noticed the lack of quality local-made custom men’s shoes, and so launched his own company in 2011, offering in-house MTO and bespoke to start with, and then developing an honorable Goodyear RTW line made in Vietnam.

Since its inception, the small Singaporean label has launched a total of six collections.

Ed et Al’s shoes are straight-forward and tasteful, holding their own against many houses with higher priced models. The locals have caught on, and the brand now boasts a sizable customer base, and more recently Ed et Al is beginning to branch out internationally.

Shipping cost is included in the price above (i.e., $45 included in the price for overseas shipping). But, if you’re a Singapore local or visitor, then you can nab a pair of Ed et Al shoes at a lower cost of $240—a great deal.

We salute Ed et Al’s initiative, which testifies that quality-of-make isn’t always a matter of geographical location but more a matter of hard work, know-how and honesty—three words that describe this lovely house.

++ : An honest product, well made with flair, an excellent deal, especially for Singaporean locals or visitors.

— : The leather quality should continue to improve.

 

RAMON CUBERTA

A New Name to Remember

Average Price : $330

Ramoncuberta.com

Ramon Cuberta - PG Selection 1

Ramon Cuberta is a (very) young bootmaker from Barcelona offering traditional bespoke shoes at $1,700, which is a steal (even considering the price increase from last year’s $1,100 introductory price!)

Ramon has quickly made a name for himself in the world of shoe lovers, with our favorite Shoe Snob (Justin Fitzpatrick) being among the first to spot his talented and hardworking nature. The promising launch of Ramon’s bespoke operation propelled him to immediately work on a micro-range of Goodyear welted RTW shoes produced in the region of Almensa, and finished with care in his own workshop in Barcelona.

The first “line” by Cuberta (if you can call it a line) has only two models: a simple oxford and a double-buckle monk. A MTO line is also already in progress for the near future.

If you find yourself in Barcelona, you must pay a visit to Ramon. .

++ : Solid RTW made in Spain, with finishing applied by hand by a real bootmaker.

— : Only two models for now, only available at Ramon’s small workshop in Barcelona, patina can easily be upgraded.

 

YANKO

The Bombastic Comeback of a Spanish Giant

Average price : $340

Yanko.com

Yanko - PG Selection English

In the 1980′s, Yanko was one of Majorca’s men’s shoes titans, producing more than a million pairs of shoes each year for brands all around the globe.

However, the 1990′s brought with it a dark patch which almost destroyed the brand and the factory. With bankruptcy and failed reboot issues, the company fought to stay alive.

Yet today, Yanko has made a comeback after a successful relaunch in 2007 under the helm of young businessman Antonio Llobera, who helped the brand rise from the ashes and put it back on the map.

With all of its experience, Yanko is on the market again with a few multi-brand retailers, as well as through an e-Store dedicated to the brand (Shoeparadis.com).

The new line is well done and mostly complete, with elegant lasts—we especially like the 915. The quality is surprisingly convincing, given a price hovering between $300 and $350. Shoes and boots are very well done and the finishing work is immaculate, not to mention the leather quality, which is surprisingly high for this market segment.

Yanko is back, that much is certain, with more than a few solid arguments to stake its claim. To be continued…

++ : Solid overall quality, precise work, great leather for the price.

— : Limited in terms of last choices – at least online, hard-to-find physical retail so far.

 

GRENSON

Massive & Sturdy English Shoes

Average price : $350

Grenson.co.uk

Grenson - Selection PG English

It takes a special kind to love Grenson ; you have to be partial to the “country look” with thick, ultra sturdy soles, generous brogueing and massive lasts with round tips.

Grenson country brogues, pictured above in the Archie model (recognizable by the deliberately oversized perforations) had success since a few years, with minimal design and serious construction quality, even for the models which are made in India.

Since more than a century, Grenson has had its own factory in Northampton where they make shoes for other brands, as well as their own lines – namely G ZERO and G ONE (the highest quality lines in which you can find marvelous shoes like this full wing tip brogue — though for a higher price than indicated).

The more affordable G TWO line is made by hand in India, in a factory that the company has owned for many years.

Great for more casual moments and leisurely strolls in the countryside …

++ : Big, sturdy, durable shoes with a pleasant aesthetic for those who love massive shoes.

— : Overly massive in some models, little room for subtlety—but it’s the house’s style, no excuses.

 

STIVALERIA SAVOIA

Very Classical Shoe Finery From Milan

Average Price : $400

Stivaleriasavoia.it

Sitvaleria Savoia - PG Selection

Stivaleria Savoia, owned by Neapolitan tie maker E. Marinella, is nestled in a quaint boutique in a traditional area of Milan. The house enjoys a solid reputation among established local clientele for its quality classic shoes.

The bespoke is made by the in-house bootmaker, assisted by a few other bootmakers working from their homes in Milan. The result is a well made tradtional bespoke production for a reasonable price, starting from $2,250, considering the sheer quality of the work involved. In Milan, the word is that Stivaleria Savoia’s shoes are particularly well-suited for those with sensitive feet.

Although the bespoke work is at the heart of the house business, a line of ultra-classic ready-to-wear shoes, ankle and full boots is on display from $400. The collection is highly conservative and the quality is more than convincing ; the Goodyear construction is finely-made, and the leather is without reproach for such a price.

The mood, ambience and welcome by the Stivaleria Savoia’s staff  is discreet and warm, reminiscent of a traditional British haberdashery (the house also provides a range of hats, luggage, umbrellas and knits).

In an age of great changes in the way we consume and spend our money, this tiny old-fashioned Milanese house is a staunch model of what luxury retail meant decades ago. A peaceful and relaxing place scented with good leather, and a location to visit the next time you are in the capital of Lombardy.

++ : Classic shoes, made with a lot of care and seriousness, staff is discreet and professional, and the shop is charming.

— : Only classic and traditional styles to be found.

 

COBBLER UNION

Shaking the Market of Luxury Shoes

Average price $420

Cobbler-Union.com

Cobbler Union - PG Selection English

Created in 2014 by Daniel Porcelli, Cobbler Union is one of last year’s biggest revelations, and a fast-developing brand on all fronts.

Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Cobbler Union’s focus is to make high quality shoes produced in small batches in Spain and to shake the market by selling them at ultra competitive prices. When we met Porcelli in Atlanta last spring, he explained to us that his ambition is to ‘reinvent the definition of luxury’ and no less.

Cobbler Union’s intent is to openly target the man accustomed to paying significantly higher prices for the same quality of shoes.

CU’s shoes are very well made and tastefully designed with nice lasts, a lot of flair and decent quality leather. Customer service is excellent: shoes arrive with a beautiful presentation and the return policy is painless.

The made-to-order offer is worth mentioning for its extreme flexibility. You can customize up to four elements: the last, the leather, the sole and the patina (for an added cost of $100 for two elements, $150 for three, and $200 for four elements). For a custom order, the final product will be delivered to your doorstep in 90 to 120 days maximum.

PG likes Cobbler Union because the value is, in our opinion, almost without equal in the American market within this price segment. Incidentally, Cobbler Union just opened its first physical store in Atlanta, but more on this later.

++ : Excellent products, top notch service and great value for money.

— : Few negatives for such a quality-price ratio.

 

CARMINA

The Quality Shoe Army from Majorca

Average Price : $430

Carminashoemaker.com

Carmina - PG Selection

Carmina is the masterwork of the famous Pujadas / Albaladejo family, who’ve been making fantastic shoes since the end of the Nineteenth century. As one of the first companies to install a Goodyear shoe manufacturing facility in the Balearic Islands in 1905, needless to say, the Albaladejo’s know what they’re talking about when they speak about shoes.

Well known for the undeniable quality of their shoes, Carmina is adored worldwide, which is natural considering the enormous influence the family has had on the ‘quality’ shoe market segment.

Carmina’s shoes are never short on style and flair, and the last-design selection is simply enormous. We personally harbor a lot of love for the Simpson and the Inca lasts…

We can’t talk about Carmina without mentioning their mastering of shell cordovan leather. This fantastic horse leather is the speciality of the brand, as shown in this double monk blue cordovan shoe mounted on an Inca last.

One of the real perennial staples of quality men’s shoes.

++ : Splendid shoes, a fantastic collection of lasts, safe and stylish.

— :  Recent inflated prices, although the quality-price ratio remains excellent.

 

GUSTAVIA

The Second Life of Sam Gouasmia

Average price : $430

Gustaviashoes.com

Gustavia - Selection PG English

Gustavia is the new name of the store led by Sam Gouasmia, cofounder of Altan (left bank), who split with the other Altan Bottier (right bank) last year and renamed his store Gustavia, abandoning the former Altan name altogether.

Sam has enjoyed a good reputation among Parisian shoe lovers, which has gone a long way towards maintaining his core customer base. His work emanates good taste, and the man is always happy to help inquisitive customers – he’s indeed well known as someone who is truly passionate about bootmaking.

Gustavia’s shoes are produced in Portugal with well designed patterns full of personality and gorgeous patinas finished in the store by Sam himself—of course, the patina is free of charge.

If you’re in search of a quaint shop to talk lasts and patterns with a passionate man who keeps to the old school definition of what luxury retail and craftsmanship entails, then you owe it to yourself to visit Gustavia the next time you’re in Paris (make sure to plan a few hours ahead of time, just in case).

++ : Shoes full of flair, designed by someone with a passion for the craft. The patinas are superb.

— : Limited number of models to choose from, but then again, it’s the restart collection.

 

CARLOS SANTOS

The Eternal Next Big Thing ?

Average price : $455

Santosshoes.com

Carlos Santos - Selection PG English

Carlos Santos is an esteemed Portuguese shoemaker who makes a vast amount of shoes for other brands, but also has his own collection sold under his own name, which never really made it big because of too much marketing chaos.

Being among the first to support Carlos a few years ago, we anticipated nothing short of a glorious future for his company, given the quality of his work and the notable aesthetics of his shoes. However, weak strategy and questionable marketing decisions have challenged the company’s development, leaving us to wonder if Carlos Santos will one day reach his full commercial potential.

Carlos Santos’ shoes are excellent, but distribution logistics are caught up in an artistic blur that has resulted in sheer disorganization. Santos’ shoes used to have a physical retail presence at Marc Guyot in Paris, but it is now become nigh impossible to get one’s hands (or feet) on a pair of CS – particularly under his own name.

His ever-changing lines and collections make little sense ; what happened to the superb “Handcrafted” range, that has suddenly disappeared from the brand’s website ? And what about the prices, that shuffle around, depending on which website you’re on ?

Fortunately, for those of you living in Paris or visiting, it’s still possible to find a few models of Carlos Santos with a nice patina at JM Legazel, whose “Patina Bar” is installed in the shopping gallery of the Palais des Congrès de Paris.

Logistics aside, Carlos Santos produces exceptionally beautiful shoes—if only we could find them without having to become scavengers.

++ : Great overall quality, classic designs, properly made.

— : Incoherent strategy (if any), obscure distribution pattern, esoteric pricing.

 

JOSEPH CHEANEY

The Wonderful Second Life of a Historic Brand

Average price : $485

Cheaney.co.uk

Cheaney - Selection PG English

Cheaney is a brand re-launched in 2009 by the Church’s cousins after they decided to leave the Prada group in order to reboot the historical Joseph Cheaney manufacture, founded in 1866 in Kettering, near Northampton.

We’ve been keeping an eye on Cheaney for a while, and we must admit we like the direction the brand is taking. The brand’s shoes are unambiguously British; yet, with a certain discreet stylistic shoe last and pattern design evolution that one can only appreciate.

Even if we’re referring to one of the most ‘British’ brands ever with serious, solemn and sturdy shoes as far as the eye can see, the most recent of the Cheaney collections manage to shine with unique personality, which makes the brand a fantastic choice for those who seek British shoes with a discreet twist. See the above Oxford brogue, straight from the aforementionned collection.

The “Classic” line is competitively priced despite the strength of the British pound. The  house top-shelf ”Imperial” range is also stunning at $760 for a sturdy pair of shoes made with quality burnished calf leather. We particularly love this whole cut with a simulated wing tip.

A quality house in every way, well deserving of a strong spot on the list.

++ : Great quality with sophisticated simplicity, strong value for money, excellent entrance doorway into the world of  high-end english shoes.

— : Styling on entry “City” range’ is slightly boring.

 

VALENTIN FRUNZA

Made By Hand in Moldova

Average price : $500

Valentinfrunza.com

Valentin Frunza - Selection PG English

Valentin Frunza is part of a new generation of quality Eastern European bootmakers emerging from lesser known countries. For example, how many of you even know where Moldova is located, without checking a map first…let alone the city of Chisinau)?

Let’s take advantage of this review to brush up on the geography: The Republic of Moldova is the small country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine.

The first wave of talented eastern bootmakers hailed from Romania (Maftei, St Crispin’s) and Hungary (Vass, Rozsnyai). The second wave is currently coming from Poland and a few small countries like Moldova that also have a bootmaking culture.

Valentin Frunza is a young Moldovan bootmaker who learned the craft from his father starting when he was 12 years old. Later, he traveled to Hungary to hone his boot making skills. Recently he opened a bespoke and ready-to-wear operation of his own in Chinisau, Moldova’s capital city.

In his small workshop, Valentin toils away, making shoes by hand on lasts bought in Romania with leather acquired from the German tannery Rendenbach.

His first few models are surprisingly mature, given the artisan’s age – with an eye-catching line of boots entirely made by hand sold at about $500. Needless to say, such pricing is hard to beat for a pair of handmade shoes—reason being that Valentin developed his range first and foremost for the local clientele.

The made-to-measure on pre-existing lasts is priced at $625—practically a steal. This young man has unforetold potential to make it big in the market.

As far as we are aware though, Frunza’s shoes are only available in Moldova unfortunately, or during trunk-shows that the young bootmaker is organizing in Romania.

What a truly wonderful time to be a shoe aficionado ! Valentin Frunza is a name we’ll follow … closely.

++ : Beautiful handcrafted shoes for a ludicrously low price considering the handwork dedicated to each pair.

— : Hard to find (although if you live in Europe, a round trip to Moldava may be worth it).

 

ALTAN BOTTIER

An Established Parisian House Gaining Momentum

Average price : $500

Altan-Bottier.com

Altan Bottier - Selection PG English

We recently dedicated a full article to Altan Bottier, the small Parisian house that has developed quite well in recent years, with two beautiful boutiques in Paris and a very efficient e-Shop.

Founded in 1973 by Sukru Sensozlu, Altan started as a bespoke bootmaking business and later added a cordwaining service that has become well known throughout Paris.

The ready-to-wear was launched in 1998, but really took off in 2003, with one of the first custom patina service available at the time (besides of course Berluti, in a totally different price range). Today, Altan Bottier is led by Altan Sensozlu, Sukru’s son (though Sukru is still in charge of the bespoke side of the business).

Undeniably, Altan is a well known and reputable name in Paris. The brand’s products are of a reliable make and offered in a wide variety of constructions and crafted (depending on the model) either in Spain or in Portugal. Although certain models adhere to tradition, many others teeter on the wild side of the spectrum with ultra dynamic patinas.

The house’s collection is scheduled to expand with the upcoming addition of a “Bottier” line, sold at a higher price, featuring superior leather and high-end finishing. To be continued …

++ : A serious and dynamic brand, creative products with strong personality.

— : Potentially variable leather quality, dependent on the model.

 

J. FITZPATRICK FOOTWEAR

The “Shoe Snob” is on his Way

Average price : $525

Jfitzpatrickfootwear.com

J.Fitzpatrick - Selection PG English

Even if the British pound exchange is a factor, Justin Fitzpatrick, who trained under Stefano Bemer in Italy, continues his rise in the market and now offers a range of shoes that can easily compare with more established competitors.

We at PG have been among the first to believe in Justin’s project along with Tony Gaziano, who always mentored him and kept a watchful eye on his progress when Justin was shining shoes at Gieves and Hawkes by day and designing his own line of shoes by night.

Nowadays, each of Justin’s collections is gaining more and more success as the models he creates are growing in sophistication and quality (see the Rainier wing tip or the Montlake double buckle models).

After finally making the cut in his own country with his first trunk show at Leffot in New York (after many other trunk shows around the world), the last step for Justin to fulfill his dream would be to establish a stronger physical presence in London. Indeed, Justin’s installment at Timothy Everest’s in Spitalfields has been a good stepping stone for a promising future, albeit the location is off the beaten path.

Stories aside, Justin Fitzpatrick’s shoes merit a try as the young brand is currently reaching the success it deserves. In a market as lively and competitive as that of shoemaking, honesty, tenacity and a solid work ethic make all the difference.

++ : Innovative designs, solid quality, honest approach.

— : A limited physical presence in London, where Justin is based.

 

CAULAINCOURT

The Rising Star of Parisian Brands 

Average price : $530

Caulaincourt.paris

Caulaincourt - Selection PG English

Founded just a few years ago by Alexis Lafont, a most passionate shoe aficionado, Caulaincourt is indisputably one of the more recent French success stories with the opening of three boutiques in Paris – including a shop near the Champs-Elysés, as well as a nice online store.

The reason for its success is simple. Caulaincourt’s shoes are undeniably great-looking, well constructed, relatively affordable and consistent in quality.

Most of the brand’s shoes are made in France, with a refinement and sophistication rivaling the most daring of Italian brands, specifically in making delicately elongated shoes—that are in fact shoes of standard length, carefully styled to appear sleeker. Caulaincourt’s knack for perfecting such a delicate form trumps Italian brands that tend to actually over-elongate their lasts.

Different types of constructions are available (Goodyear, Blake, Bologna). The entire range of models is convincing, particularly aesthetic-wise. Caulaincourt’s bi-material boots are very popular on social media platforms and we can absolutely understand why.

Caulaincourt’s made-to-order is remarkable as well, allowing for a wide range of alterations on a given model for a reasonable additional charge of about $200.

++ : Full of personality and consistent quality with a lot of style.

— : Few drawbacks.

 

BARBANERA

A little Rock’n’Roll and a Whole Lotta Style

Average price : $550

Barbanerashoes.net

Barbanera - Selection PG English

Founded in 2011 by two sets of brothers, Barbanera is a fresh young brand from Italy that has managed to reach a level of fairly confidential appreciation (worldwide) thanks to the strong personality of the shoes made in a small factory in Tuscany.

Take the Gatsby, for instance, a classic spectator model with a Barbanera twist, or the Jerry Lee, a hybrid, monk derby with a removable fringe. And what about the superb Ruskin model, a riding boot straight out of a James Dean movie ?

Barbanera’s style is a glorious chaos cobbled together from various influences – from the Italian roots of the founders’, to their passion for motorcycles and Rock’n’Roll music (Sergio Guardi, one of Barbanera’s partners, was once a professional bass player in Germany).

Barbanera is one of the true pleasant surprises of this year’s selection ; a young brand we’ll keep under scrutiny. In an overly serious and sometimes stern market, a healthy dose of playfulness can be refreshingly salutary.

++ : A strong sense of personality that permeates all models, great overall quality.

— : Hard to come by a pair due to a limited distribution, random delivery delays.

 

TRICKER’S

An Immovable Force

Average price : $560

Trickers.com

Tricker's - Selection PG English

Founded in 1829, Tricker’s is one of the oldest manufactures in Northamptonshire.

Despite the strong British pound, Tricker’s offer is still very much coherent, and we don’t deviate from our 2014 posture  :

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 sturdiness. Like many Trickers aficionados, we have a (very) 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 brand’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 a good English shoe.

++ :  Fantastic country brogues, beautifully made.

— : Rounded lasts that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

 

VASS

Budapest’s Most Famous Bootmaker

Average price : $570

Vass-Shoes.com

Vass - Selection PG English

Laszlo Vass is a Hungarian bootmaker, known and respected by shoe lovers from around the world as one of the first bootmakers from Eastern Europe to make a name for himself outside his own country.

When the world discovered Vass’s hand-made shoes a few years back at prices unheard of at the time, success followed almost instantly (albeit it took a while for the shock to dissipate – you don’t find such a quality-price ratio every day).

This sudden surge in international orders created its fair share of complications for the humble bootmaker. Many logistical problems challenged an otherwise ideal picture including delays in shipping, a loose quality assurance approach, not to mention a “rustic” customer experience for those used to the way things are handled out west.

Today, Vass sells shoes to the whole planet from his Budapest workshop, from the (recently upgraded) Vass website, or from the few retailers that stock his shoes, such as Made to Order in Paris.

Vass’s products are worthy of praise – we love the K and U lasts, and the Budapesters are an absolute must for those who like bulky shoes built to last. The finishing is consistent and the leather quality is commendable.

As for the quality-price ratio? Still excellent.

++ : Gorgeous shoes made by hand, growing line selection at a great value for money.

— : Random delays at times, customer service slightly behind Western European and North American standards.

 

ALFRED SARGENT

Great Shoes with a… Mysterious Sales Strategy

Average price : $590

Alfredsargent.co.uk

Alfred Sargent - Selection PG English

We’re fans of Alfred Sargent here at PG. The Northampton-based manufacture once housed our friends Tony Gaziano & Dean Girling when they started G & G. Rumor has it that AS benefited from Tony Gaziano’s talent and savoir-faire a little more than what was fair, but that’s another story.

The final word is that Alfred Sargent produces great shoes which are much sleeker than most of the local production.

What is disconcerting about the company is the baffling sales and distribution strategy, or lack thereof, as prices shift around between retailers with no rationale. You can find the “Exclusive” range at Herring for $680, like this splendid Adelaide Oxford, while at Manfield in France, you can find this wingtip Oxford, from the same range (as far as we know) but for $510… while the very same model is sold at almost $680 at A Fine Pair of Shoes.

What gives?

Of course, surely the aforementioned models differs in a few ways to justify price gaps, as the model at Manfield is described as “Alfred Seargent for Bowen” (which can be a deal breaker for connoisseurs).

This particular point gives us pause with Alfred Sargent, as it’s difficult to fathom how such an established name would tolerate these sorts of inconsistencies.

Incidentally, we are also confounded as to where to find the gorgeous “Handgrade” range, and at what price?

Complaints aside, Alfred Sargent remains a solid product.

++ : Proper English shoes as we love them, classic with a twist – nice lasts, quality make.

— : You’ll need a damn good compass to navigate their full offer…

 

ALDEN

Durable with Classic Flair, Made in the U.S.A.

Average price : $590

Aldenshoe.com

Alden - Selection PG English

This New England brand (est.1884) can rest assured for securing a rightful place in this selection.

The American house of Alden has been installed in the same Massachusetts town since its inception and is known for making sturdy, reliable shoes with phenomenal comfort and great leather quality—not to mention its mastery of Cordovan leather.

Distributed all around the world in a prestigious network of high-end retailers like Degand in Brussels, Leffot in New York, Upper Shoes in Lyon and Paris, Sir Max in Amsterdam, Santa Eulalia in Barcelona—Alden is more than ever the same brand everyone knows and loves.

Though the lasts are not the most refined on the market – as they lean towards bulky, rounder toes – the fit is superb to the level of orthopedics-grade excellence. And we love the boots. Especially those made in collaboration with Leffot, in New York.

Every serious shoe lover should aim to own at least one pair of Alden shoes, if only for the “experience” (as the Americans like to say).

++ : Exceptionally comfortable, beautifully made, with a special mention for first-rate cordovan leather.

— : Aesthetically “standard” – boots aside.

 

WILDSMITH

The Renaissance of Old British Glory

Average price : $600

Wildsmith.com

Wildsmith - Selection PG English

Founded in 1847, Wildsmith is one of those brands suddenly resurrected from the dead after the name and heritage was sold to investors. Current day’s Wildsmith has nothing in common with the Wildsmith of yore, but that hardly matters as long as the products are well made while offering a good value – which is the case despite, you guessed it, the unbalanced state of the British pound.

Wildsmith was relaunched in 2013 by the founders of “Cad and the Dandy” and Chay Cooper, formerly from Alfred Sargent. Wildsmith has since been offering a steady stream of classic British models made in… Northampton, at Alfred Sargent. Though the designs are classic, there’s a certain flair about them that’s discreet, but undeniable.

We particularly like this simple bi-material monk strap, as well as the St James model shown above. Classic indeed, but well made nonetheless.

However, Chay Cooper’s departure from the brand (to join the ranks of Crockett & Jones) last year makes us wonder what the future of Wildsmith will be  – the little collection hasn’t moved an inch in about a year now.

Though we don’t know much about the current situation at Wildsmith, we can still recommend their products without hesitation. To be continued … ?

++ : A lovely little collection of British shoes designed with taste and sold at a fairly reasonable price.

— : The collection hasn’t budged in a year.

 

CROCKETT & JONES

A Reference for Quality British Shoes

Average price : $630

Crockettandjones.com

Crockett and Jones - Selection PG English

Crockett & Jones is built around two ranges : the “Main Line” ($630 average) and the “Handgrade Line” ($850 average), which features more handcrafted details and first-grade leathers. Crockett & Jones remains one of the prime choices for those who love English shoemaking.

The brand’s manufacture in Northampton was founded in 1879, and is one of the most reputed makers in the area. The house seldom disappoints, delivering consistent products that emanate elegance.

C&J’s shoes are absolute timeless classics. It’s hard not to fall under the charm of the Westbourne Main Line, a perfectly proportioned Adelaide Oxford, the stronghold of the Pembroke Main Line, a sturdy country brogue or the beauty of the Camberley Main Line an original double monk boot.

Note that the brand offers different ranges depending on whether the shoes are bought from C&J shops in France, the UK or the U.S.A.

++ : Consistent quality, discreet yet elegant, wide selection to choose from.

— : Overly conservative designs at times.

 

ROZSNYAI

Ode to the “Budapester” Lover

Average price : $630

Rozsnyaishoes.com

Rozsnyai - PG Selection

Even if the name is not so easy to say or write, Rozsnyai is a splendid Hungarian shoemaker who makes by hand—in a small production unit located 200km away from Budapest—some of the most amazing Budapester shoes on the market.

If Laszlo Vass got noticed for his elegant designs, with lasts in tune with the contemporary market, Rozsnyai (whose shop is located a stone’s throw away from Vass) gets noticed for its indestructible ultra-sturdy shoes.

The Budapester is a heavy shoe, quite massive in fact, on bulky lasts, featuring a pumped up toe and a three stitched “Goyser” construction with contrasting thread.

You love it or you don’t. But if you do, Rozsnyai should be at the top of your list.

The brand’s shoes are made with great care and seriousness for a wonderful low price considering the hours of handiwork behind each pair.

++ : Handmade and indestructible Budapester at competitive prices.

— : The “contemporary” line, which you can browse on the website, is less convincing so far.

 

MARC GUYOT

The Most Dandyish Shoes on the Market

Average price : $630

Marcguyot.com

Marc Guyot - Selection PG English

Marc Guyot is arguably one of the most gifted designers of his generation and his creations are unique – almost straight out of an Apparel Arts catalogue from the 1930′s (Marc Guyot incidentally purchased the name) – whether you’re referring to his shoes, suits, or accessories.

If you think we’re exaggerating when we state that Marc Guyot’s shoes are unquestionably unique in an age of unbridled creativity that shakes the market, we’ve been following the man’s work for years now, and we suggest you judge for yourself.

Marc Guyot does as he pleases and has no problem swimming against the tide. The above model could be straight out of the 1930s. Also take a look at this saddle derby and at this tunnel eyelet derby, if you need convincing.

Prices start around $480, but we find the most notable range to be the “Tradition” range ($630), an over-the-top aesthetically bombastic shoe with closed channel Goodyear construction.

If you want to be absolutely certain that you won’t own the same pair of shoes as anyone else in your social circles, visit Marc Guyot.

++ : Shoes that brim with unique strength of personality, overall quality is quite convincing.

— : Limited models to chose from and random availability.

 

ENZO BONAFE

A Hidden Gem in Bologna

Average price : $640

Enzobonafe.com

Enzo Bonafè - Slection PG English

Some brands make us regret we didn’t recommend them sooner – such is the case with Enzo Bonafè, installed since 1963 in Bologna. For the price (and even beyond), Bonafè is arguably one of the best deals on the market for those who can afford to spend more than $600 on a pair of shoes.

Founded in 1963, Bonafè makes magnificent hand welted shoes (without “gemming”, for the connoisseurs), like these buttoned balmoral boots, which are on their way to becoming a classic model, thanks to the work of Skoaktiebolaget, a store nestled away in Stockholm, Sweden, known for its savvy shoe selection, its excellent online store, and its strong presence on online forums and social media.

Bonafè’s shoes are reputed for their excellent fit -particularly for the way they design the generous instep – and for their overall great comfort.

We’re happy that Bonafè, besides making shoes for numerous luxury houses, is emerging from quasi-anonymity and is starting to make a name for himself, because Enzo more than deserves it.

See here for a list of retailers.

++ : Gorgeous “handwelted” shoes sold at a surprisingly competitive price for a such a high level of craftsmanship.

— : Still fairly hard to find, a weak website design with photography which doesn’t do justice to the excellence of the product.

CONTINUE TO PART 2