This has many advantages. But it also has a large disadvantage: it removes, or at least makes less frequent, the unique adrenaline hit of retail.
So we replace that giddy, credit-card-bashing thrill with other things – principally, the joy of quality menswear growing old beautifully.
That’s what this column has always been about: the perspectives gained by how great things age.
These bespoke Cleverley shoes were of course, in one way, old before they were made. The Russian reindeer leather was part of that famous haul that had been sitting on the bottom of the ocean for hundreds of years.
But while that gave it definite character, the leather would have to carry on ageing in an attractive way for it really to have enduring appeal.
So far, that has happened well. So while the sides of the straps quickly showed signs of wear, the fraying stopped at the stitch line, preventing the strap from actually falling apart.
The buckles were made from an antiqued brass that looked a touch artificial when the shoes were new. But as they have been rubbed and nicked, the look has become much more natural.
If you want something to show signs of age (as you might want in a leather bag, or in a denim jacket perhaps) then this is probably the ideal: wear that becomes noticeable, but pauses or at least slows down at a particular point, so it doesn’t affect the integrity of the piece.
I polished the leather twice with dark brown (otherwise with tan), to see how it would darken.
Interestingly, the darker colour worked its way in between the hatched pattern on the shoe, exaggerating the pattern.
But while this was subtle after the first application, it became significantly more pronounced after the second, so I stopped the process there.
You can see that more of that effect remains on the toe and heel in the top images, where the polish has been less worn away by wear.
The fit is very good, although not quite as good as my second pair of Cleverleys – the black imitation brogues.
We had some small issues around the buckles and wear they sit against the bones of the foot, which remain. The only practical result is that they get a little painful after a full day’s wear.
We also put toe taps on the shoes, which was a mistake. While I definitely benefit from having something to protect the toe, as I walk heavily on that part of the shoe, brads (nails) are nicer as they are less prone to make a noise, or slip.
The shoes here are worn with my Cerrato cotton trousers, and green socks.
Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man
I read a brief about the Russian reindeer exclusive to Cleverley.
Was carried aboard the Metta Catherina, which met its fate during a storm on 10th December 1786. Owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, the hides also need permission from the Prince of Wales.
Beautiful shoes, Simon and it’s like you’re owning / wearing a bit of history!
I’m interested in your comment about toe taps being a mistake. Is that a general point or specific to these shoes? I’ve been debating whether to get them on a new pair to prolong the life of the soles. Would most Northampton shoemakers be able to fit brads to an existing pair?
For me, a general point, and yes definitely worth asking about brads
I dont really notice the Toe taps / French Blakeys on my shoes except when I walk upstairs. Around town I dont really hear them.
They definately extend the life of the sole though. I have been wearing a bespoke G&G pair for 5 years now perhaps 2 – 3 occasions each month (walking 10,000 + steps on each occasion that I wear them). Despite stomping my very ‘heavy’ feet over this distance they have only ‘just’ developed the need for a repair. Other shoes without French Blakeys usually last me about 1/5th that distance. For this reason I ask for French Blakeys on all my shoes now…..just be careful and dont run on marble floors when it has been raining.
Could you explain brads to me? An internet search only offers an unfortunately named shoe company… Are these the nails in the toe like many shoes already have, or something different?
Yes the nails in the toe
A very nice pair of doubble monks! The aged leather looks marvelous.
Nice post, though I have a totally unrelated question. I would like your opinion regarding follow up alterations to bespoke tailoring. I have had the privilege of having several garments made on saville row over the years. As I suspect is the case with many readers, our body shape changes over time and thus the necessity to have garments periodically altered. Naturally one would assume that the best option would be to return the garment back to its maker, but I live in the USA so this isn’t always practical. Furthermore, I have found the cost of alterations by many of the bespoke tailors to be extremely expensive, particularly when compared to experienced local tailors.
I am sure that certain alterations are best made by the garment’s maker and thus worth the price, but what types of alterations would you be comfortable working with other tailors? I think this would make an interesting topic on your blog.
Would you mind asking this on an alterations related post? Thanks
This post is a very good one. For I suspect many readers have been wondering for some time how these monk straps have been fairing so far.
Yes, great things age fairly well indeed. Provided one knows how to take care of them. Actually, the care of shoes is surprisingly exacting. As J. Fitzpatrick a.k.a The shoe snob would put it it all boils down to how one treats them from day one upon purchasing them.
By the way, this pair is a case in point, how rakish you are quite bent, Simon. For this choice of style for this specific leather is rare, even among the dandiest of today dandies!
Sorry, I might have missed it, how long ago did you have these made?
Your comments on the hatched Russian reindeer leather reminded me of I question I have wanted to ask. Do you have any views on the wearing and use of different leathers at the same time? I am not think so much of shoes and belts, more shoes and other accessories. For example, while wearing these monks would you wear a watch strap with heavily textured leather or skin, such as alligator or ostrich, or would you opt for a smooth calf? What about your wallet? Do you normally use something plain to avoid ‘pattern clashing’ with other skins on more noticeable pieces? Does this ever come to mind when you are selecting a briefcase or notebook?
No, in general I wouldn’t worry about those leathers clashing. Worry more about whether they are just too casual or formal for the overall outfit
Hello Simon! Lovely read! I was wondering, how long do bespoke shoes last? For example, one takes care of them, but not obsessively. How long might they last if one does care of them obsessively?
It depends more on how often you wear them, and how heavily in that time. But certainly 15-20 years, often more
Is it just me, or does those DMs have a high vamp and extremely low sides (not sure of the correctly nomenclature – I mean the part directly below your heel)? Was this a particular design choice, or the standard Cleverley DM?
Good spot, they do have particularly low sides, yes. This was a question of fit, partly to deal with my low ankle bone and partly the position of the buckles
Such a good point on replacing the thrill of the immediate purchase with the joy of watching something age well.
On a related note, do you have any tips on how to deal with nicks or large scuffs? I take very good care of my shoes normally but somehow managed to catch my EGs on something sharp under a chair, leaving a big unsightly gouge out of the leather. I’ve tried polishing them a couple of times but the difference in color and texture is still very obvious. Have I ruined them forever?!
There’s not much you can do of out has actually gouged the leather I’m afraid. Still, small and big things will happen to shoes over time and it might even just be part of their character in five years time
A good cobbler could probably fill in the gash with resin and polish it to the same colour. Depending on how much flexing there is around the gash, it could be quite a long lasting solution.
Yes, interesting points about enjoying something age well. It makes a lot of sense with materials like leather and metals, but can you please comment about how you view that as it relates to fabrics? Most of the money spent in fast fashion which enables the thrill of consumerism is on regular clothes. I’d be interested to see if this perspective crosses over into how you feel about your nice wool blazers, coats, trousers, and even accessories like scarves–if at all. Or are you unhappy with how natural fibers like wool/cashmere pills and wears?
It’s certainly not the same, but there are some pleasures there too. Perhaps I’ll write the next one in this series on tailoring and we can talk about it more there
That venerable Eton outfitter New and Lingwood also bought a quantity of the hides and had sample shoes made from them at as you can appreciate, expensive prices. N & L claim to have bought the best of the hides, soaked them in water and treated with some dressing so that the hides retained their water resistance, immunity to humidity changes and their musky aroma.
Has any lucky reader bought N & L’s shoes to see if their claim is correct? I do not believe N & L make these shoes any more.
An unfair head start using the reindeer Cleverley!
I’ve never had a pair of bespoke shoes, but I’ve always imagined, perhaps naively, that with those one can expect perfect fit and comfort, far better than with ready-to-wear shoes. Yet from this and some other review articles, I get the impression that it’s not uncommon for high-end bespoke and made-to-order shoes to have serious fit issues.
Could you comment if this has been true in your experience? I have a lot of difficulty finding stylish shoes that fit well, and I’ve been considering looking into various custom options if it means I could be guaranteed a perfect fit, in which case I’d find it worth the considerable expense. Or is this expectation unrealistic, and custom shoes are valuable only for aesthetic purposes?
It’s a big question, but broadly yes, you should be able to achieve a perfect fit. It’s just that that won’t necessarily happen quickly or easily. The best way to think about it is as going outside a set, reliable system and starting from scratch. That has great potential but also more risk.
Hi. I see that Crockett and Jones are using new production Russian leather that is tanned in England, using authentic methods. Do you have any information or opinions on this new Russian leather? Do you know whether it is available to other makers as well?
Hi Josh, is C & J’s Russian leather made from reindeer or from bison/bovine? It is reindeer leather which I believe Simon’s article is about. If C & J’s leather is reindeer then I enquire as to how much of it was found on the Danish brigantine in 1973. The N & L shoes that I wrote about nearly 2 weeks ago, were advertised in 1997!
The C&J is English Ox hide.
A quick question about fit if you please, relating to this idea of wear. When buying shoes I always want them to be just on the tight side of snug when new, so that as they bed in and loosen they become just right. Clearly it would be a mistake to buy anything uncomfortable, not least because there’s no guarantee they’ll stretch much at all, but I find that all leather gives at least a little. Even cordovan moulds to your foot shape. When I’ve bought shoes that are very comfortable to start with I find they can become a bit too roomy with time. Could you please say if you agree or if you try to get a perfect fit from the word go? And what about bespoke shoes, will they account for this at all? I know that your general advice is that shoes should ideally be snug at the heel and roomier at the toes, I’m thinking more about compensating for any change over time. Thanks.
I generally agree- have a look at my piece on leather stretches
I actually found it just after I posted the comment! Oops, and thanks.
I am posting here as this is the most recent post on shoes.
First of all, thank you for your wonderful blog, of which I have been a silent reader for a very long time now.
I was wondering if we could reheat the subject of cobblers as your recommendation of Merrifield’s (https://www.permanentstyle.com/2008/12/merrifields-i-found-a-cobbler.html) is 8 years old already. Do you still recommend them? Have you found someone better over the years? Justin from the Shoe Snob recommends Tony’s Heel Bar in 9 Crown Passage in St James. Have you tried them at all?
All the best,
Hi. I’m actually planning a post on them currently, and yes I’d recommend both Tony’s and Kokos in north London.
Hi — and thanks. I finally got round to giving Tony’s a try to put in toe taps. I’m not based in London so I took the shoes in whilst in town on one trip and picked them up on the next. I couldn’t be more satisfied; they did a great job indeed, perfectly aligned and invisible from the side.
Do you know if Cleverley’s RTW is still made by C&J? I just happened to check their shoes on Mr. Porter, and some of them (https://www.mrporter.com/en-gb/mens/product/george-cleverley/shoes/chelsea-boots/jason-roughout-suede-chelsea-boots/25185454457295258) don’t look like Crocketts at all in terms of soles and finish.
I don’t, sorry.