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…