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

Hugo JACOMET

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

After untold hours of work and preparation, we are happy to present Part II of the Parisian Gentleman Men’s Shoe Selection for 2015–2016, reviewing classic men’s shoes from around the world, priced at $675 and up. Part I reviews shoes priced under $675 and can be found HERE.

 

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ANTONIO MECCARIELLO

A great talent of contemporary men’s shoes

Average price: $675

Meccariello-calzoleria.tumblr.com

Antonio Meccariello - Selection PG

Antonio Meccariello is part of the new wave of Italian bootmakers, among the likes of Bestetti, discovered and championed by blogs and forums across the internet, that quickly became a darling of the shoe world—and for good reason.

With a workshop located just 20 miles northeast of Naples, the Meccariello name seemingly popped out of nowhere on the Styleforum in mid-September, 2012, in a thread featuring dozens of photos of jaw-dropping shoes (HERE), that quickly caught the attention of discerning shoe lovers across the globe.

Amongst the avalanche of photos on the Styleforum surfaced breathtaking, never-seen-before patinas, admirable Norwegian stitching on oversized soles, as well as a good sampling of sleeker and more elegant models.

This visual shockwave had the immediate effect of putting Antonio on the map and triggering numerous orders — such is the power of the internet mob !

Since then, Meccariello’s reputation has been on-the-rise. Options for impressive handwelted shoes include:

– the Argentum RTW line, priced at a more-than-fair $560,

– the Argentum MTO, priced at a competitive $650, with a choice of seven models, three lasts, various leathers, and complimentary shoe trees,

– the Argentum MTM, completely handmade with a large selection of lasts, leather (exotic leather aside) and patterns — priced at $750,

– for those who prefer the royal treatment, the superior Aurum MTM range features exclusive lasts, a selection of premium quality leather and a superior level of finishing for $1300 (see the brand’s Tumblr and Instagram).

On all MTM ranges, Antonio offers the option of last modification for an additional $400, which includes a machine-made Goodyear welted trial shoe. Traditional bespoke complete with a unique last (obviously) and a pair of trial shoes starts at just $2700.

Everything is done by hand at Meccariello…including the ordering process. Since there’s no website, this means you must arrange your order through email. Even if placing an order through correspondence can be annoying, the extra time involved should likely be worth the effort.

For the hardcore aficionado however, a trip to Naples for a personal visit and precise measurements should not disappoint.

++ : Arguably one of the most exciting and original bootmakers on the market today, complete with a fantastic quality-price-style ratio.

— : A somewhat rustic customer experience, reserved for those who don’t mind spending time choosing and waiting for their next pair.

 

CHURCH’S

Give Church’s another chance ?

Average price $735

Church-footwear.com

Church's - Selection PG

Church’s has been absent from our columns for a while now, but we have reinstated the brand in this selection for several reasons. As you most likely know, if you’ve been following the menswear market, Church’s is the biggest producer of men’s shoes in Northampton—with more than 5000 pairs produced each week (!)

Church’s was well-loved, if not adored in the 1980’s and 90’s. Some of you reading this review may have participated in heated discussions pitting Church’s the British against Weston the French, which fueled plenty of passionate debates among connoisseurs back in the day.

As a little personal anecdote, the Grafton derby brogue (pictured above in its current version on last 173) was the second pair of real shoes I had ever owned at a time when I could only be described adequately as a “broke student” (at that time the Grafton was on last 100, for the connoisseurs). Funny enough, my first pair happened to be a triple-soled brogue from Weston…that I arranged to pay in four separate installments.

Ever since Church’s was bought by the Prada group, the brand disappeared from the radar of former long-term supporters to enter the macrocosm of “fashionable brands”. Production became more industrial, and the once-revered quality of Church’s shoes quickly became questioned : was the company being run by bootmakers or by a throng of cost-controllers more concerned with profitability than quality?

When I visited a Church’s boutique recently however, I once again felt a strong attraction to the downright unbreakable and immortal Grafton derby, but perhaps I had my (nostalgia) blinders on…

The Burwood Oxford also left a very good impression, as did the Chetwynd brogue. The leathers were also much better than expected.

Maybe Church’s has decided to stop questionable practices like using bookbinder leather? For those who may not know, bookbinder leather involves a process used by luxury fashion brands like Prada, Gucci and the likes, consisting of chemically coating leather of average quality to mask defaults–creating a pleasing sheen that unfortunately quickly breaks down and cracks with not-so-extensive wear.

Yet we wonder, is Church’s attempting a comeback ? This is highly uncertain at this point, but as an old Grafton faithful, I have to give Church’s another chance. It’s a matter of principle.

++ : Timeless models like the Grafton will never go out of style, and the recent collections may be returning to more classic roots.

— :  Tasteless tacky models like the Shanghai range, and a mountain to climb to regain lost credibility.

 

SANTONI

Difficult to navigate, but can be worth the effort

Average price: $ 770

Santonishoes.com

Santoni - Selection PG

While being indisputably one of the greatest names in the world of Italian men’s shoes, it’s no small feat to navigate Santoni’s extensive catalogue. Prices and ranges are diverse, and there can be serious gaps in terms of style and designs—with models ranging from the superb to the utterly forgettable.

Santoni remains on the fence, caught between catering to the trendy high-fashion crowd or pleasing the fast-expanding classic style community. However don’t get us wrong, it’s still very much possible to find gorgeous shoes at Santoni which are well-made and impeccably finished. For example, take a look at the above Goodyear captoe Oxford and at this more than convincing Monk Strap.

Also worthy of attention are a few limited editions, albeit with stratospheric price tags (well above $2000 for some), but all the same spectacular in terms of tasteful lasts and finishing, like this stunning Three Eyelet V Front Derby, or this model at Shoes and Shirts in the Netherlands.

Santoni is like a thrift shop in some regards ; you’ll find everything from the rare gem to the painfully uninteresting. In many ways, Santoni is a brand that mirrors the beautiful and chaotic Italian market in all its splendor and in all its excess, for better or for worse.

Every shoe lover should take care not to neglect Santoni. There are some amazing models which can suddenly surface when and where you least expect it, particularly in the most discerning retail shops around the world.

++ : Many superb shoes (in some collections).

— : Many uninteresting shoes (in other collections).

 

J.M. WESTON

A French national treasure

Average price: $800

Jmweston.fr

J.M. Weston - Selection PG

J.M. Weston is a French national treasure and one of the only traditional shoe brands in the world to own its own manufacture, as well as two tanneries — making it the envy of the entire market.

National pride aside, Weston is a unique brand in many ways : one house tannery is producing vegetable-tanned leather for the uppers (at Le Puy en Velay, owned by the Descours Group, owner of Weston), while the other tannery (Bastin) is strictly dedicated to producing the famously indestructible Weston soles.

J.M. Weston is a true institution of high end men’s shoes and one of the last bastions of “Made in France” excellence.

Weston is indeed a place where the French label still holds authentic meaning—and should in no way be associated with government public relations campaigns which use the “Made in France” label  ad nauseam, as a way to trump up artificial industrial patriotism.

It may sound like a simple observation, but if Weston shoes continue to sell well and create a lavish fan base not only in France but also abroad, it’s due to the fact that their products are stunning, extremely well made, sturdy, and will likely never go out of style.

Among the many great classics of the house, you might already know the famous 180 Penny Loafer, the incredible Chasse Derby, still entirely made by hand, as well as the more contemporary Conti Oxford and Flore single buckle monk.

Any shoe lover should seek to own a pair from the brand, if only to appreciate the quality of construction, the fit (which sits very close to the foot), and the firm but real comfort of a pair of Weston’s – even if you have to expect a standard break-in time for total comfort.

++ : Beautiful shoes crafted in an exemplary manufacture, amazingly sturdy products, made by one of the last bastions of “Made-in-France” quality.

—  : Prices have been inflating for a few years now (perhaps in order to keep everything made in France ?)

 

FRECCIA BESTETTI

At long last, Bestetti’s ready-to-wear lives !

Average price : $850

Frecciabestetti.com

Freccia Bestetti - Selection PG

We recently dedicated an extensive article to Riccardo Freccia Bestetti, in which we covered in great detail the now-almost-cult brand’s different ranges and recent news. You can read it right HERE if you so wish.

To sum things up for the sake of clarity, Freccia Bestetti now offers two RTW lines : a properly made Blake line priced at $675, and a hand welted line of notable quality, priced at $1000. The MTO line (also hand welted) is priced a $1350.

The now famous Novecento range, entirely crafted by hand to your measurements on modifiable lasts, is priced at $1860.

We’ve been waiting patiently for Bestetti’s RTW line to become a reality and can only rejoice to see the arrival of boots and shoes with such a definitive signature style on the market. At long last, Bestetti delivers, and it’s a joy to see.

The distribution is still fairly limited, but you can find Bestetti’s products at a few select shops, like for instance Sir Max in Amsterdam.

++ : Superb lasts, good quality ready-to-wear crafted directly at the bookmaker’s workshop with a strongly distinctive style.

— : Limited availability that should improve over time.

 

ZONKEY BOOT

Well made shoes and boots with real flair

Average price : $850

Zonkeyboot.com

Zonkey Boots - PG Selection

Zonkey Boot is a small Austrian company founded by Alexandra Diaconu & Michael Rollig (founder of Saint Crispin’s in another life) that designs fine footwear, crafted with care and a consistent streak of good taste.

What we love about ZB  is that the brand has quickly created a style of its own— distinctive to the point of having an almost-signature character… not an easy feat in such a saturated market.

Take the ankle boot shown above : typical Zonkey Boot style, a simple hybrid model, casual-chic and yet discreet, dripping with flair.

Most of the house’s boots have that irresistible je ne sais quoi ; for further convincing, take a look at these stunning suede/leather Derby Boots and Whole Cut Boots in vegetable-tanned box calf.

The brand has taken off recently which is great news, and is now distributed in many lovely and reputable shops like Brogue in Geneva, B & Tailor in Seoul or Michael Jondral in Hannover.

Should you not be able to visit one of the above stores, the Zonkey Boot e-Shop is well-designed and easy to use, with straight forward and honest customer service.

++ : Quality products with a distinctive style, Made in Venetia, boots are particularly interesting.

— : No real drawbacks other than the brand isn’t yet distributed in some major countries (like France).

 

JAN KIELMAN

Poland’s bootmaking superstar

Average price : $850

Kielman.pl

Jan Kielman - Selection PG

Jan Kielman is Poland’s most famous bootmaker. The workshop was founded in 1883 and saw its heyday during the roaring 1920’s, with a throng of famous patrons who quickly became faithful to the brand. One such customer was a young captain of the French Army, posted in Warsaw and working as a military instructor…otherwise known as Charles de Gaulle.

These days, the workshop is directed by Jan Kielman’s grandson Maciej, and has enjoyed a boost in international recognition for a few years now. This newfound success is a result of Kielman and his team of 15 in-house bootmakers producing fully handmade MTM shoes at prices that are especially easy on the wallet, given the work entailed.

Kielman’s shoes are fairly convincing in terms of aesthetics. Nothing revolutionary, but the lasts are slim and elegant enough to set themselves apart from many other local brands, who tend to lean towards more traditional, sturdy and massive lasts.

The house upgraded its website recently and now features a full gallery of models sorted by color, perhaps an unusual way to categorize a shoe collection, but pleasant nonetheless : you can see it HERE.

The company has built a strong reputation on its boots in particular, as well as on its whole-cut shoes, cut seamlessly on a single piece of leather. Kielman proposes ordering shoes from their eStore, which provides a comprehensive DIY tutorial for measurements; but, as we have no feedback on how well this method works, you may want to play it safe and visit Warsaw for your first order.

++ : Beautifuly handcrafted MTM shoes with excellent value for money.

—  : A visit to Warsaw for in-shop measurements may be warranted, at least for your first order.

 

MARIO BEMER

A restart, full of promise 

Average price: $850

Mariobemer.com

Mario Bemer - Selection PG

Mario Bemer is the brother of the late, highly-regretted and regarded Stefano Bemer — undisputedly one of the greatest shoemakers of his generation.

After Stefano’s passing in 2012, around six to eight months later, the Bemer brand was bought by the Florentine family who also owns Scuola del Cuio, a company specializing in high-end leather goods.

Initially, Mario Bemer was involved in the new Stefano Bemer company, but quickly decided in late 2013 to form his own company by creating a completely new shoe brand bearing his own name.

Mario’s company is organized around a traditional bespoke workshop in the center of Florence, where one of Stefano Bemer’s Japanese brethren-in-spirit and brother-in-arms, bootmaker extraordinaire Seiji MIYAGAWA, runs the show.

The house also produces a collection of particularly creative RTW shoes. Mario conceives the style and creative design, researches and selects materials, and then cuts the uppers himself inside his small atelier in Via Maggio. The uppers are then hand welted in a small factory near Florence using strictly Italian leathers. His brand is thus, one of the very few that hand sews the upper to welt on all production.

Mario worked closely with his brother Stefano for several years on the RTW division of the brand, and feels a responsibility to craft shoes that pay tribute to his brother’s obsession for quality and creativity (e.g., Mario himself personally assembles and checks each pair of RTW shoes to this day).

The brand’s shoes are variations on classical themes, working with many different colors and textures (e.g., canvas and velvet). Performance is one of Mario’s focuses, as the brand is known to add rubber chips, injected from inside the sole, for extra flexibility as well as traction (!)

As of now, the Mario Bemer brand has broadened to offer three different classical lasts, all available through the RTW line.

As we had the opportunity to view Mario Bemer’s 2016 collection recently and during last summer’s Pitti Uomo, we can attest that the new range is one of the most exciting on the market. Expect lots of daring patterns, like the eye-catching yellow and white, leather / canvas derby shown above.

If possible, don’t miss the splendid in-house bespoke by the uncompromising Seiji. Well-worth the price indeed : starting at $2700 with an extra one-time fee of $400 for the last.

++ : A highly creative and well made RTW line, classic and daring with audacious models.

— : Only one retail store (in Florence) as of yet.

 

 

 

NORMAN VILALTA

The unmissable Catalan bootmaker

Average price: $950

Normanvilalta.com

Norman Vilalta - PG Selection

Norman Vilalta is an Argentine-born bootmaker who earned his stripes in Florence, before settling in Barcelona–where he became one of the most well known craftsmen in the region and a rising star of the trade.

Norman’s success didn’t happen by chance : he earned his reputation by being an excellent master bootmaker and a gifted shoe designer. In our opinion, Vilalta is of the same breed as Pierre Corthay, Tony Gaziano and Anthony Delos : artisans who bring something new to the table with unforgettable and distinctive designs, hopefully destined to become modern classics.

The first two RTW lines Norman launched garnered a lot of attention based on strong, original personalities, like the above stunning two-eyelet derby boot which is part of the aptly named “Savile Row meets Rock’n’Roll” collection. The whole collection is worthy of a look : see these grained leather Derbys with oversized rubber soles which Steven Taffel of Leffot NYC, describes as “Smart Shoes”, both stylish AND comfortable.

We at PG love Norman’s work, and anticipate a great future for his RTW line, bench made in Almansa (Albacete), and finished by hand in his workshop in Barcelona. All lasts come from Vilalta’s bespoke production. For the MTO offer, add around $250 to the final  invoice.

If you are lucky enough to live in Barcelona or plan on visiting the city, be aware that Norman will open a new boutique soon, near his workshop.

The next logical step for Norman is to identify distributors to make his brand available throughout the world. We hope this will happen soon because the work and the products deserve it.

++: Unique casual chic styles, strong designs across-the-board, great overall quality.

— : Fairly difficult to find, but distribution should hopefully improve.

 

PAOLO SCAFORA

A little-known Neapolitan gem

Average price: $1000

Paoloscafora.it

Paolo Scafora - Selection PG

Paolo Scafora has been one of our greatest discoveries of last year as well as one of our biggest sources of frustration when it comes to locating the shoes themselves.

Shoe lovers who have made the trip to Naples speak highly of Scafora’s production, but few of us actually have a clue as to how (and where) to get our hands on a pair, outside of the brand’s workshop in Naples.

Last year at Pitti Uomo, we had the good fortune of sharing a dinner with Paolo Scafora, a most charming, generous and knowledgable gentleman with a passion for his business. However, Paolo remained discreet in regard to the development of his brand, and was fully aware that finding his products could be a struggle – though Neapolitans seem to relish this kind of exclusivity.

Since our dinner together, we haven’t had the chance to catch up with Paolo for an update on how the brand is developing (if you have any news to share, please do so in the comment section below).

We’ve learned that some forum members order MTO directly from Scafora, and that the Crossword store in Brussels is selling a limited number of RTW models. Paolo is also known for frequently traveling to NYC to meet bespoke clients.

The shoes themselves are superbly made, seamlessly uniting functionality and aesthetics . The workshop is known for its mastery of Norwegian stitching construction, as you can see HERE . Incidentally, this link will also take you to one of the rare online stores that distributes the brand.

Paolo Scafora’s brand is a true gem with an enormous potential for growth with better distribution channels. Hopefully, one of tomorrow’s big players.

If you’d like to know more about Scafora, refer to the Styleforum report HERE.

++: Notably great shoes, fantastic leather, quality and finishing.

— : Did we mention the brand is hard to find ?

 

SCARPE DI BIANCO

Gorgeous shoes, set to invade the U.S. market

Average price: $1000

Scarpedibianco.com

Scarpe di Bianco

Bill White once headed the famous Italian house Sutor Mantellassi (est. 1912)  in the U.S.A., but quit the company in 2007 after the brand was sold to the Korean group E-Land. Two years later, he created Scarpe Di Bianco with a handful of former bootmakers from Sutor.

Di Bianco shoes (crafted in Tuscany) took off with rapid success in the United States, with a network of more than 40 multi-brand retailers and a very active e-Store.

A big part of Di Bianco’s success is due to its sleek and elegant lasts, a welcome change from clunky-heavy-lasts typically found in many American mainstream brands. Patterns are sophisticated on the whole, even though some models have exaggerated brogueing with too many perforations for our taste. The leather quality is very good, with a special mention going to the pebble grain leather. The colors available are stunning (see HERE).

Various constructions are available, including Blake rapid, Goodyear and Norwegian. A safe choice indeed, if you live in the USA.

++ : Beautiful lasts, patterns and styles. The pebble grain leather brogues can make the heart skip a beat.

—  : Mainly (if not exclusively) available in the U.S.

 

AUBERCY

As Parisian as Parisian gets

Average price: $1100

Aubercy.com

Aubercy - Selection PG

Aubercy’s worldwide fame and reputation is inversely proportional to the size of the brand itself, as its impeccable reputation is monumental compared to the intimate size of the company (which produces only a few hundred pairs of shoes each year).

Indeed, for many, Aubercy is the epitome of Parisian style.

Aubercy shoes are crafted in Bologna with a dedicated production line, its own unique lasts, and its specific leather stock.

Despite the modest quantity produced each year, Aubercy has an enormous variety of models on constant display, ranging from the most classic Oxford (like the famous and undeniably über-elegant James Oxford pictured above), to the most eccentric twists imaginable, like, for example, the Crazy Lace model–a whole cut featuring a unique zigzag lace pattern, and the Wallace–a two eyelet Ghillies.

Of course, Aubercy would not be Aubercy without the intensity and passion, infectious energy and sincerity of Xavier Aubercy, the founder’s grandson, whose personality is uncompromising when it comes to the “old-school” way of  treating customers in a luxury retail shop, with consistent care and concern.

Unlike comparable houses in the same market segment, it’s refreshing to announce that prices at Aubercy have not risen for more than two years and counting ! The extensive RTW line starts at $1050, and the fully customizable MTO starts at $1600. In-house bespoke, by respected Japanese bootmaker Yasuhiro Shiota, starts  at $5100.

Aubercy is the quintessential Parisian luxury brand with a delightful old-fashioned customer experience. We’ve lost count of how many passerbys we witnessed who stopped to gaze into Aubercy’s windows. Sorry if it sounds passé, but they simply don’t make them like that anymore…

++ : Magnificent shoes in a multitude of styles, sold in an endearing Parisian boutique.

— : No real drawbacks to be found.

 

BONTONI

Unforgettable shoes, but difficult to find in Europe

Average price : $1100

Bontoni.com

Bontoni -Selection PG

When I think Bontoni, I think exuberance – daring patinas in hues rarely seen ; I think delicate balancing work between elegant discretion and original twists. I can also smell the fragrant leather, and feast my mind’s eye on its delicate deep gold / brownish tint à la crème brûlée.

I can also safely say that I haven’t seen more than five pairs of Bontoni in my life.

As desirable as theses shoes might be, they are practically impossible to find in Europe – as Bontoni, much like Scarpe Di Bianco, is fully dedicated to the U.S. Market. You might find a pair here and there elsewhere in the world, by random chance or through a few specific stores, like the Shoes and Shirts e-Store in the Netherlands, but each model displayed on the website has a small label you must click  in order to “request availability” – meaning that the shoes may not be in stock.

Bontoni is yet another Italian brand that seems to revel in its limited international availability. But who are they really ?

The brand was created in 2004 by Franco Gazziani, whose Grandfather was the head of Valentini, one of Italy’s major shoemakers during the 1950’s. Bontoni is in fact a tiny workshop located in Franco Gazziani’s very own cellar, on his personal property, somewhere in Montegranaro in the Marches region, staffed with seven artisans and Franco’s father.

As you may have guessed from my introductory lines, one of the main draws of Bontoni’s is their mastery of colors and patinas (among a few other things, like their perfect execution of Norwegian stitching).

Whereas many brands are content with simply adding a tinge to an already beige or brown leather, Bontoni goes way beyond the call of duty by creating their colors from scratch. Bontoni craftsmen use a red-hot iron to open the pores of white leather, then brush-paint the leather, applying numerous layers of colors using a mixture of wax and various creams. The process can take up to two weeks.

Having seen a few pairs, I can guarantee that Bontoni’s mastery of the fine art of patina is neither folklore nor crap marketing – but rather a splendid piece of work by artisans that do things differently. The brand is very Italian in spirit and styling, but there’s also a little something unique about each pair, and we at PG simply love it.

++ : The Bontoni touch is real, the patinas are to die for.

— : Hard to find outside of the U.S.

 

EDWARD GREEN

The British luxury shoemaking icon

Average price : $1150

Edwardgreen.com

Edward Green - Selection PG

Edward Green is one of those brands with a ridiculously loyal fan base with some of the staunchest supporters you’ll find in the world. The brand is beloved by many who affirm that a pair of EG is the best in terms of quality RTW shoes, with undeniably sophisticated models and ultra-fine finishing.

While we at PG attempt to stay objective in such matters of the heart, we admit to being huge Edward Green fans as well.

Created in 1890, the Northampton house was relaunched with no small amount of flair by the late John Hlustik, in the 1980s. Since the year 2000, John Hlustik’s significant other, Hilary Freeman, has helmed the venerable institution, staying true to the original principles of unflinching quality which made the brand famous and highly respected.

For the anecdote, Tony Gaziano — fresh out of George Cleverley — headed up the bespoke side of EG before creating his own brand.

Edward Green has good reason to win over even the most demanding client : their last collection is stunning, and the shoe’s pinched beveled waist is to die for – you can observe it by flipping the shoe over and seeking the most narrow area at the bottom of the shoe.

A pair of Edward Green is a sturdy thing, made from outstanding leather with top notch finishing. The brand is renowned for its strong work technique, which includes many more manual operations than other brands in the same price range.

EG shoes are made in the suburb of Northampton, in the brand’s relatively new factory (the former one was bought over by John Lobb in 1994), which produces about 350 pairs a week. Some original EG models have remained unchanged to the point of becoming absolute classics in the world of high-end shoemaking.

For instance, the Chelsea Oxford, is a deeply refined model with classic flair. For the quintessential British brogue, take a look at the Malvern. If you seek elegant discretion, then the Beaulieu will satisfy that urge, with its stunning double stitching.

++ : One of the very best in the British market and a consistently safe choice. You absolutely can’t go wrong with a pair of Edward Green.

— : No drawbacks, provided you appreciate British flair.

 

STEFANO BEMER

A promising new beginning

Average price : $1220

Stefanobemersrl.com

Stefano Bemer - Selection PGAfter the tragic passing of Stefano Bemer during the summer of 2012, came all the significant administrative hurdles that unfortunately follow such a sad event, but the Stefano Bemer name was carried forward in 2013, and that is a wonderful thing.

Stefano Bemer, in addition to being an extraordinarily gifted bootmaker, was also known for his legendary honesty, for his deep generosity, and for his infectious passion for the craft which he graciously shared with many aspiring bootmakers. Among such bootmakers and shoe designers, we can name Norman Vilalta, Justin Fitzpatrick, and even actor Daniel Day-Lewis.

What’s in store for Bemer without Stefano ? A couple of good tidings, as it turns out : leather goods brand Scuola Del Cuoio, who bought Stefano Bemer, has opened a bootmaking school on the third floor of a gorgeous old church to carry on Stefano’s mission to teach the trade to young bootmakers.

The same building also houses the Stefano Bemer venture, from store to workshop to bespoke salon and main offices. Tommaso Melani is at the helm of it all, and so far his work has been encouraging.

The bespoke side of the business has been given to two of the Japanese bootmakers that used to work with Stefano. The RTW and MTO ranges have moved away from Florence and are now produced in a small factory in Ferrara – not far from Berluti’s new factory – and finished by hand at Bemer in Florence.

Such developments hold significance for the small Florentine house. By acquiring a larger production facility, the brand may be able to expand to its full potential.

The RTW collection has beautiful products in many regards, with benchmade Goodyear welting, proper finishing, and styling that remains globally faithful to many of Stefano’s particular design quirks. See here the superb Saddle Oxfords range and the beautiful Whole Cut.

++ : A well thought-out collection in terms of design and overall aesthetics.

— : A few models aren’t precisely up to par with Stefano’s original designs. The leather quality can vary from model to model.

 

GAZIANO & GIRLING

The irresistible ascension

Average price : $1300

Gazianogirling.com

Gaziano and Girling - Selection PG

Since its inception at the expert hands of Tony Gaziano & Dean Girling in 2006, the two talented artisans have continued to hone their skills and build their brand with much success : G&G now holds a coveted stop at the top of the food chain, shared with only a handful of already established names. It’s now no hyperbole to say that Gaziano & Girling has become one of the leading houses in the high-end segment of the shoe market.

What’s more, the Kettering-based brand remains ambitious : with the opening of a new manufacture and the inauguration of the brand’s flagship store in London at 39 Savile Row (!), Gaziano & Girling are entering a new era, further cementing their already excellent reputation.

G&G’s focus has been to bring fresh air to the conservative world of English shoemaking. Their shoes remains British by essence, but also carries an attention-grabbing continental flair.

In an industry that celebrates British understatement, G&G has managed to bring something new to the table while keeping to their British roots. A delicate balancing act, perfectly executed by the unstoppable duo.

This year’s collections are as beautiful as ever. We have a particular soft spot for the Deco range with its pinched beveled waist (and comfortable fit)—a style reminiscent of the 1920’s. The brand’s bench made Oxfords collection is worthy of your attention as well, for being one of the most sophisticated and diverse ranges of its category.

We dedicated a full article to G&G’s factory a few months back, which you may read HERE.

A splendid house by all accounts, still full of potential.

++ : Great shoes, neatly constructed, with no shortage of flair and sophistication.

— : Nothing to say as of yet.

 

JOHN LOBB

A men’s style classic

Average price : $1350

Johnlobb.com

John Lobb - Selection PG

In the shoe world, John Lobb is the house of superlatives, and one of the very few brands (almost) unanimously acclaimed by shoe connoisseurs. A Herculean feat in and of itself, when you know how passionate such a delightful crowd can be !

The brand was created in 1866 in London and installed in Paris more than a century ago in 1903. In 1976, the Parisian workshop and the name John Lobb were bought by the Hermès group worldwide with the exception of the UK, meaning that the Lobb family could continue its British bespoke-only operation in London.

John Lobb then introduced a RTW line in 1982, first by outsourcing the production with Edward Green. Then, in 1994, they bought the Edward Green factory, which became the John Lobb manufacture where the brand’s collection is still crafted to this very day. The current RTW collections are often directly inspired by the bespoke creations from the Rue de Mogador atelier in Paris – arguably one of the best and most respected bespoke salons in the world.

The John Lobb collections are filled to the brim with true classics, including the  William double-buckle Monk and the Lopez Loafer, as well as more contemporary creations such as the aptly named John Lobb 2014 model (see above), which is the 2014 version of John Lobb’s Saint Crispin’s day model.

The brand has made it a tradition to make a limited edition John Lobb model to be released every 25th of October – an important date for all bootmakers, with Saint Crispin being the Patron Saint of the craft!

The brand’s leathers are the best on the market – thanks to Hermès  – and the overall construction of the shoes suffers from no weaknesses.

John Lobb is the embodiment of “timeless elegance”, and truly a fantastic brand worthy of all the praise it receives.

++ : Some eminently exclusive and timeless models, made with the best leather on the market.

— : Recent and fairly substantial price surge.

 

CORTHAY

Still shaking the market

Average price : $1400

Corthay.com

Corthay - Selection PG

Corthay continues to soar in popularity with brand recognition growing worldwide, while enjoying an already stellar reputation for the quality of its make, and as one of the finest brands on the market.

Xavier de Royère can be thanked for playing a big role in Corthay’s success, after investing in the ailing brand back in 2010. Since then, the Rue Volney house keeps progressing each year, in all areas.

The new Corthay manufacture opened in 2013 in the French countryside, creating 25 full time jobs in the process. Thanks to the new factory, the brand now provides consistent quality and is finally able to meet the increasing demand for its products. Indeed, Corthay is more than ever one of France’s rising stars.

Corthay’s shoes are unique.

Take a look at the iconic Arca for instance, Corthay’s dashing signature model, and then rest your eyes on the gorgeous Wilfrid and Vendôme models – the latter being one of the most stylish brogues found in RTW today, with a smartly-placed wing tip.

For those who crave more “experimental” models,  the house occasionally introduces a few : some feature a clever use of linen, and the Brighton loafer has a vertical strap (that can be worn folded or lifted) at the back of the shoe.

Corthay is once again in great shape : an ever-increasing number of house boutiques are debuting all around the world at a steady pace, with the most recent store opened in Beijing. The brand is also well distributed in many important multi-brand boutiques, such as Leffot, Isetan, Degand, Saks, Neiman Marcus or Brogue, to name a few.

Corthay is a French success story and one of the most important names representing the “Made-in France” savoir faire.

++ : Quality shoes with a strong and unique personality, made in the brand’s lovely manufacture in France.

— : A little price inflation perhaps due to the purely “Made in France” process.

 

SAINT CRISPIN’S

Spectacular handmade shoes

Average price : $1550

Saintcrispins.com

Saint Crispin's - Selection PG

Although I usually don’t showcase my personal shoes, the pair featured above is mine and is one of my favorite models at Saint Crispin’s.

Entirely made by hand in a small Romanian manufacture, the success of Saint Crispin’s shoes clearly demonstrates that where a shoe is manufactured has less and less to do with the quality of the product. Given the global success of the brand among aficionados (who by nature are very demanding), Saint Crispin’s is a shining example that shows that the physical location of production is simply no longer directly correlated to product quality.

In this sense, Saint Crispin’s and its tireless owner Phillip Car are pioneers who have proved once and for all that a product crafted in the farthest reaches of Eastern Europe can compete with anything made in Italy or France.

The Saint Crispin’s offer has grown to match the brand’s success, and includes:

– a RTW range distributed in a select few multi-brand stores around the world, offered with complimentary MTO options (!),

– a MTM offer on existing yet customizable lasts : you chose a last, and SC’s adapts the last to your feet. The MTM option is the heart of the brand’s business. If your unique foot shape requires extra special carving, expect to pay a little more however.

– A traditional bespoke offer with unique lasts.

All models are usually very stylish and well done. We are particularly fond of the Oxfords range, with some interesting curved wing-tips. The various boots are also well worth a look as they are as spectacular as ever !

++ : Beautiful work on all models, with shoes entirely made by hand, and a house style that keeps improving.

— : Prices are clearly on the rise.

 

BOCACHE & SALVUCCI

One of the best MTM and bespoke values for money

Average Price : $1675

Bocachesalvucci.com

Bocache and Salvucci - Selection PGBocache and Salvucci is a small house from Rome providing genuine, well crafted MTM and bespoke shoes at affordable prices, given the quality delivered. Founded by Gianluca Bocache, the brand, in the past, has received boost in recognition as a result of once collaborating with fellow-Roman tailoring house Sartoria Ripense.

We have seen Bocache and Salvucci products firsthand, as their shoes are quite popular among many of our Italian friends. So far, the verdict is unanimous : besides beautiful aesthetics, the brand’s shoes are comfortable and the quality of make is notable, regardless of which type of construction you desire.

We intend to learn more about the brand and dedicate a full article to its merits, as one of our contributing editors, Paul Lux, is a faithful customer of the Roman brand. If you’re a shoe lover and are in Rome from time to time, drop by for a visit to Bocache and Salvucci…

Since Gianluca Bocache travels often to measure and fit foreign customers, check its traveling schedule if you would like to avoid a trip to Italy, and take the time to browse the brand’s beautiful website.

++ : Splendid aesthetics, and the bespoke is reasonably priced for what you get.

— : Limited distribution.

 

BERLUTI

Je t’aime, moi non plus (I love you, I love you not)

Average price : $1780

Berluti.com

Berluti - Selection PG

We made the point in 2014, again in 2015, and we will probably reiterate in 2016 : Berluti is a brand that triggers the most fiery debates in our community for good reason. Love Berluti or hate Berluti, the wrangling that continues to play out, time and time again, lacks anything but passion.

Whether we care to admit it or not, the name Berluti stirs a unique emotional dimension – a dimension that causes those who love the brand to defend its distinctive, and some say unmatched aesthetics and mitigate concerns about the delicacy, if not downright fragility of the shoes.

The brand became famous under the strong leadership of the admirably outrageous Olga Berluti, who pretty much single-handedly re-invented the luxury men’s shoe market in the 1980s by introducing lasts, patterns and patinas never seen before. Of course, Olga’s collections featured an extensive range of emblematic models, many that remain to this day.

Berluti’s shoes are made in the house’s brand new factory located in Ferrara in Northern Italy; as ever, the production is full of unique designs that makes any pair of Berluti instantly recognizable and undeniably refined.

For a few seasons now, Berluti’s artistic director, Alessandro Sartori has drifted away from the arena of classic men’s shoes and sailed more closely towards “casual-chic” shores like sneakers and hiking boots (which you may view HERE).

All debates aside, the Warhol Loafer (above) and the Alessandro whole cut should be a part of any serious shoe-lover’s ‘dream collection’.

++ : A strong personality built on strong patterns and designs, and sublime patinas.

— : Shoes can be delicate, prices continue to skyrocket…

— — —

We are currently in the process of evaluating a few other houses to be added to this selection in future updates. Among these forthcoming reviews, we’d like to preliminarily mention Sutor Mantellassi and Ducal.

– Sutor Mantellassi is the property of Korean group E-Land. The brand tries to re- launch with an obviously overdone marketing campaign which has gone to great lengths to sell the merits of their “heritage”. Sutor Mantellasi also hired the services of a few “designers” for new models –  like Scott Schuman, whom we all know to be a talented photographer but who has little experience as a shoe designer …

Even if it’s a straight up marketing orgy (the kind that tends to irritate us for its lack of substance), we are interested to see the house’s new lines in terms of quality-price ratio. We loved the Sutor Mantellassi of the past, and would like to give the brand a fair chance, if only for old time’s sake …

sutor_mantellassi_1

– As for Ducal (a five letter word starting with “Du”—not to be confused with Doucal’s !), it’s a tiny brand from Florence whose products have been catching the eye of so many at Pitti Uomo – yours truly included. To this day, we still lack key information concerning the pricing and the distribution, but we have just received some preliminary indications, and it looks promising ! More on this at a later date.

Ducal - Selection PG

Finally, we wish to salute three initiatives we like and support.

– Our good friend Paulus Bolten, one of the most celebrated Parisian patina artists, has decided to conceive and distribute an intimate collection of shoes with unbridled artistic creativity. We can’t wait to see how this small artsy line will develop. See the image below for a sample and visit Paulus‘ Facebook page.

Paulus Bolten

– Young French man Allan Baudoin is raising quite the ruckus in London, with his gorgeous bespoke production. We are particularly enamoured with his small dashing RTW Slipper collection that will no doubt become a smashing hit in the near future :

Sagan+Tri-Pack

– The new French brand Mauban, founded by a former civil servant who left his job to launch a line of serious shoes entirely “Made in France”. Talk about a vocational calling. His specialty—the Balmoral boot stands out and is full of promise.

Mauban - PG