Finally, the last stage of my George Cleverley shoes. This is the finishing, which involves waxing the edges, sealing the sole and polishing the upper.
The edges of the sole are stained in a similar colour to the upper – though perhaps a few shades darker. Then wax is added to them and pressed in with a heated iron. The heat and pressure works the wax into the leather, making it more water resistant. As this surface is a cut edge it is naturally more prone to absorbing water, so needs sealing.
The finishing on the sole – a light brown wash applied all over – is standard for Cleverley bespoke. A black shoe would also have a black, painted waist. Two rows of brads (nails) in the toe to protect against wear there – customers can also opt for a countersunk toe plate. No nails in the heel, just the barest decorative embossing around the upper edge of the heel.
The finish overall is clean and simple, almost deliberately old-fashioned. No name is entered on the inside of the shoe, just a date and customer number. (Though the name is inscribed on the shoe trees.)
For polishing, Adam (pictured) prefers Kiwi brand because he feels it gives a better shine in the long run. Polishes with more wax in them, including the Cleverley-branded line, are easier to get a shine more quickly.
With a brown leather like this, Adam would always use the darkest polish available that doesn’t contain any red pigment – that is most likely to alter the colour of the shoes. So it’s a light tan rather than a mid-tan (look at a mid-tan or brown and you can instantly see the red pigment that Adam refers to at the edges of the polish).
Polish is first applied with a brush, to get it into the brogueing, in amongst the gimping on the toe cap and down by the welts. This only needs to be done in the future when completely re-polishing or cleaning a pair of shoes: once these areas are coloured by the polish they will stay coloured unless dirt, abrasion or cleaning removes it.
That layer of polish is brushed off, and the finger polishing begins. Adam uses tap water sparingly but regularly between applications of polish. Over time, you need less and less water as the cloth becomes saturated with it. A mistake people commonly make is to apply too much water and soak the leather – they you just have to leave it to dry until you can start again.
Adam uses a Selvyt cloth, the advantage over a duster or anything else being that it is lint-free. Even when you drag it past a serrated edge like that created by the gimping, no strands will come away and stick to the polished surface.
Several layers of polish are added, over an hour or so, each one filling in more of the pores in the calf skin and so gradually creating a smoother surface. It’s important not to forget to polish the line of broguing, as this is an area that is commonly ignored and can dry out over time.
In terms of future polishing, Adam would again recommend a light tan to retain the colour of the shoe. A neutral polish will do the same, but not cover any scuffs or marks in the leather.
You can also use a darker colour to create a varied patina or antiqued effect (I particularly like black polish on the caps of brown shoes) but Adam cautions that you have to really work in the darker polish and regularly reapply. A single layer or two can easily flake off over time – and the heat created by pressure will drive polish further into the skin.
A final maintenance point Adam made was that one reason you should always rotate your shoes is wet soles wear quicker. This had never occurred to me before but it’s obvious – think how wet card or cardboard disintegrates with friction.
So that’s it. The Cleverleys are finished and ready to be worn. In the shop they felt delightfully tight around the heel and ankle, while loose in the toe box – overall, tighter than a normal pair; you wouldn’t buy ready-mades that felt this snug. But only time will tell how they really fit and wear.