Projects begun long-ago all seem to be rushing the finishing line at the same time. First it was the pea coat, and now these much-anticipated reindeer monks from Cleverley.
Lovers of bespoke shoes will be familiar with the Russian reindeer story – how a ship ran aground off the south coast of England in 1786, only for it to be rediscovered 200 years later, with bundles of preserved reindeer leather among the cargo.
It’s a great story. But what’s unique about the actual leather? Well, it’s a hatchgrain, with the criss-cross pattern on the hide cut by hand rather than machine, which gives it a more natural appearance.
It has a strong smell, which is rather attractive (think cigars and whisky) but thankfully only detectable within about a metre of the shoe. (No adult has yet noticed it, although my 4-year-old, who is rather closer to the ground, did pass comment.)
It is also prone to wear and breaking up. You can see that already happening on the strap of the shoe below, where it rubs against the buckle. I’ve seen well-worn pairs, however, and the erosion stops after it has broken the surface. If anything, the effect will hopefully add to their casual appearance.
That casual nature was one of the most difficult things about designing these shoes. Obviously any monk strap is more casual than an Oxford shoe, and a double monk particularly. There is also the surface of the leather, and the antiqued buckles we selected (hopefully those will tarnish more naturally with time).
But a Cleverley shoe is nearly always a formal one. The lining and sole is normally thinner than average, as noted previously. The last, even a standard square Cleverley, is elongated and elegant. And the sole and welt are usually very trim. They do make chunkier designs, but I tend to prefer the formal.
So getting the balance right was tricky. I like to think we’ve achieved it: these shoes will perfectly accompany flannels and a tweed jacket, though not jeans or a suit. But I’ve only had them a few weeks, so time will tell whether the welt should really have been wider, or the sole a little thicker.
Elsewhere, one of the things I like most about grain leather is the way the texture varies depending on how hard the upper has been stretched. You can see that the toe cap is a lot smoother than the vamp as a result, and the heel is subtly different as well.
The finish on the sole of the shoe is particularly lovely, with a tightly cut waist accentuated by a very angled, and painted, edge. And the pitch and shape of the heel are noteworthy. The line of the heel cup on the shoe continues beautifully into the pitch of the heel itself, as you can see below, while the bottom of the heel curves inwards nicely, to segue into the waist of the sole. It’s these kind of things that lovers of bespoke shoes live for – and some modern makers don’t bother with.
Finally, Cleverley’s new bespoke shoeboxes deserve a mention all their own. Made as draws, with leather outers and a suede (well, alcantara) lining, they are beautiful objects – and still being refined. As George Jr mentioned to me at the time, the problem now is that everyone wants new boxes for all their old shoes…
I try to make it a habit never to covet another’s possessions, but for these fabulous shoes I am will to make an exception! The leather looks stunning in both colour and texture and I can well believe it holds a wonderful aroma. Very jealous, Simon!
Why not with jeans? I think they coul look great
Just because of the length of the last and the thinness of the welt and sole. Hard to demonstrate without wearing them with denim and photographing.
Superb! Given the unique nature of the material it would be wonderful to see an update, perhaps in 6-12 months, to register the patina and character of use upon the leather.
IMHO the only thing worse than monk strap shoes are double monk strap shoes! I hope we can move on from this fetish ASAP.
Funny. I actually like their old boxes better, they’re simpler. Their new boxes are huge and they’re awesome and they are more appropriate for bespoke shoes. But I don’t have much space for any more of them. I have a couple pairs of the red Russian leather and they do seem to wear/crease a little bit easier. It’s fine though.
Absolutely stunning in every regard!
How much of this leather is there left ??
Enough for a few more pairs at Cleverley, certainly. There’s a bit scattered around the other shoemakers too, like Stefano Bemer for example.
The total stock of the Russian-reindeer leather might have been depleted by the editor of The Automobile magazine who I believe was going to have the interior of one of his fine vintage cars re-trimmed in this leather. On a very much smaller scale I had a wallet made in the reindeer leather in 1987 by MacGregor & Michael of Tetbury. The leather has worn wonderfully despite leading a hard life for 17 years. The colour has darkened slightly and the wonderful aroma gradually faded over the years. It does scratch readily but I just rub the leather on my forehead and any scratch disappears – not so easy with a shoe! Can I also say that the hand stitching on the wallet is just as good as it was when the wallet was new. I believe that MacGregor and Michael now largely concentrate on their leather courses.
Oops. 27 years not 17. How time flies.
Beautiful shoes Simon. Did you consider as an alternative a brogue, perhaps something like this?
I certainly wouldn’t have gone for a wingtip, no. If it had been an Oxford, though, I would have had a half brogue, again to add something a little casual
Off topic, so apologies…But in general, where on SR would you send a woman interested in getting bespoke garments?
Kathryn Sargent first – see my post on the jacket made for my wife.
Then Davide Taub or Chittleborough & Morgan if they wanted something more structured
John Pearse also good for women’s suits.
These are great shoes indeed! Now, a question about lining: aren’t shoes with thinner lining more appropriate for Summer?
Perhaps, though it doesn’t make that much difference to warmth, more to comfort
A question Simon, for tightly cut bespoke waists such as these, does the welt extend all the way to the heel or stops at the waist?
I would be interested in seeing these shoes as they age. Can you please follow up at a later time?
Yep, will do
How is the leather ageing? Does it still have the unique smell?
Beautifully… And yes
Hello Simon, sorry for digging this up, I’m curious to see what other shoemaker are making the 1786 Russian reindeer apart from Cleverly and Bemer?
I see this leather was retrieved a long time ago, yet items are still being made of it which leads me to wonder how large the stock is? The texture and color variation of this leather looks absolutely beautiful, I’d love to have a pair of shoes made of it some day, though I assume it would be much more expensive than a normal pair of shoes from George Cleverly, can you shed any light on this? I’m afraid the hides will run out before I’m able to afford a pair, but damn do these look gorgeous.
It is rather more expensive, yes, though haven’t checked the prices for a while.
The hoard was not all brought up at once – it has been steadily coming up over the years. Having said that, a few companies are now using reproductions of similar looking leathers
May we see a picture of how the leather has aged over the years?
Is it as supple and breathable as regular calf?
Yes, I find it to be so.
And good idea, I’ll plan a post on it.
What creme do you use on these to stop them drying out?
Normal Saphir (not renovateur)
is there a reason why you do not use renovateur on Russian Reindeer)?
Kirby Allison recommends renovateur as an all purpose cleaner/conditioner appropriate for most shoe leather types.
I have a pair of Russian Reindeer Cleverly half brogues.
I don’t use Renovateur as a normal, everyday cream on any shoes, as I find that it puts a bit too much moisture in (and takes more polish off) than other creams. I use it more occasionally, say once or twice a year, or when a shoe needs particular help (eg after rain damage)
I didn’t know this previously, but Cleverly now has a specific balm with birch oil for the Russian Reindeer hides. I just ordered me some for my boots. Figured I would pass this along.
Thank you Joel
Hi Simon, what would you advise to wear with double monks? I’ve got a pair of Church’s ‘Burghley’ in dark oak, look beautiful but they remain in the box!
I think double monks are a little bit of a fashion thing, being so unusual, and are perhaps a little out of fashion now. But I would wear them in a similar way to how you would wear an oxford – in a smart leather like that, with smart tailored trousers, a shirt and jacket
Do you prefer the lulu toe taps or the triumph toe taps? Heard that with brown shoes the triumph may fit better aesthetically