Saint Crispin’s shoes: Reflections two years later

Friday, March 23rd 2018
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I now have three pairs of Saint Crispin’s shoes: the alligator/calf wing-tips pictured above; brown-suede chukka boots; and most recently a pair of dark-brown suede cap-toes.

I have ordered steadily and regularly, each time gaining in confidence based on my experience with how the shoes have aged, and on the consistency and service of the Saint Crispin’s team.

We had a couple of real issues with the first pair, as mentioned in my review.

But those were corrected (that pair being re-lasted) and it is telling that when I received my second pair and my third, those same issues were still fixed.

Given that this gradual creation of a perfect fit is such an attraction of bespoke, it’s incredible how many bespoke artisans are inconsistent with it.

Although Saint Crispin’s at this level isn’t strictly speaking bespoke, they absolutely succeed in this regard.

In this post I wanted to focus on two other points that are distinct about Saint Crispin’s, and upon which my thinking has developed over the past two years.

The first is structure.

In that first review, I mentioned how stiff Saint Crispin’s shoes are to start with. This is largely down to how they hand-peg the waist of the shoe, and then use a longer, firm stiffener through the waist.

When you first put a pair on, and for the first dozen or so wears, this feels pretty constrictive. In my review I said it was the one thing I wasn’t sure I could ever get used to.

Two years later, my opinion has probably changed. Those first wing-tips are just as comfortable as any other shoe, but are more supportive and have a cleaner look through the waist.

When I received by suede cap-toes (below) I knew exactly what to expect, and I’m wearing them in gradually and satisfyingly. 

The second area is hand dying.

Saint Crispin’s start with natural-coloured crust leathers for their shoes, and then dye them individually, once the leather has been cut into the shoe’s constituent pieces.

This creates a natural variation in the finish, and makes it a little less colour-fast.

Most other makers get dyed leathers from the tanneries instead, and add variation with burnishing, finger polishing, or a painted patina.

When I first bought my wing-tips, and in my first review, I talked about how much I liked this process because it meant the shoes had a personal colour, and looked aged very quickly - as some of that colour faded with wear.

Over the past two years it has occasionally been annoying, largely because the shoes need more cream and polish than other brands to maintain the same look.

I know this is something that puts others off too, particularly if they didn’t realise this in advance and were buying into Saint Crispin’s more for the value or the personalised last.

However, I’ve come to accept this aspect of the shoes, and even love it.

I’ve learned to use cream (such as Saphir Pommadier) a little more than I would on other shoes, and to leave areas like the vamp to crack and fade while I keep the heel and the toe polished.

It’s also worth pointing out that any brand that does a hand-patina finish on their shoes is doing a very similar dying process, and that too needs more careful upkeep (as mine, for example from Berluti, G&G or Corthay, also have).

Compared to my original review, I’d say this is the area that potential customers need to carefully consider whether they like or not. (Although, it should be noted that Saint Crispin's can do other leathers if requested, such as aniline calfskin.)

Elsewhere, my view hasn’t changed that Saint Crispin’s is great value for money, given it is hand welted and handmade generally, with a personalised last that can approach bespoke for fit.

The design choices and ranges of materials are also great.

With my cap-toes, for example, I went for a finer, more closely cropped suede (‘Hunting’) than with my chukka boots, given they were a smarter model.

I just need to find a way to get Saint Crispin’s stocked in London now, so I don’t have to do everything remotely.

I may well have experimented with a different last, for example, if I had a range of them close by.

Trousers worn:

  • With wing-tips: Green cotton Loro Piana, from Whitcomb & Shaftesbury
  • With chukkas: Cream heavy-wool Pardessus from Holland & Sherry, by Elia Caliendo
  • With cap-toes: Grey heavy-wool Pardessus from Holland & Sherry, by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury

Photography: wing-tips, Hannah Miles @photographybymiles; cap-toes and chukka boots, Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

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ajbjasus

Hi Simon – I too have 3 pairs of St C, sourced via Drakes, who sadly no longer offer this – do you now deal with them direct? I ask as the website suggests this option is not available. It would be great if it was, as their standard last works for me.

The shoes are great – my only gripe is that one pair was made in the wrong colour – black suede instead of brown !

Dan

Is there a particular reason for them not having any UK stockists? I guess in part I cannot think of any physical store retailer that stocks multiple higher end brand shoes outside of the big department stores which is probably a roadblock.

Given the pricing I’d certainly be interested in their semi-bespoke service but with no UK stockists, no European trunk shows etc looks like I won’t be

ajbjasus

Thanks Simon. On a related topic – can one use Saphir renovateur without sripping off the old polish from shoes, and does the Pommadier reduce the need to use renovateur ?

Anonymous

Depending on wear and storage, Renovateur should be used a couple of times a year as it removes dirt, restores the original colour to the leather and nourishes too.

Pommadier will not nourish in the same way, but will absorb marginally better than paste. Equally it will not buff to a shine to the degree a paste will.

Paddy

Do you know why they are not in London? Vass shoes are similar but now readily available in London.

Personally, I think it is a risky business to do things remotely especially with shoes hence I havnt bought from them- please find a way for them to come here perhaps via trunk shows!

Yosef777

Paddy not sure what you mean when you say Vass are similair to SC but i do agree with simon in terms of “breaking in” and the fact that the finish is a bit delicate. (I thought i ruined the “patina” on one of my SC’s when i used the saphir cream but it was easily remedied by using a butnof a darker wax polish on the toe, vamp and heal areas.

Paddy

Hi Yosef,
What I mean is that Vass too are hand-welted, hand-lasted and hand-soled.
There are a few bits of similarity between the two. brands.

Philip

The advice that I have been given by companies that sell other makes of crust shoes is not to use a renovating cream, for the reason you suggest. The advice I have been given is to stick to mild shoe creams.

Paul

Hi Simon,
The green cotton trousers look interesting. Is it a heavy winter cotton ? Did you have them pleated with side adjuster ? I have had some trousers made by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury and had then described recently as ‘very English’ . I probably need to be clearer on what I want next time. I have also had some trousers made recently by Elia – absolutely superb at the same price as W&S.
Paul

JB

Would love to read some more on daks vs side adjusters. I’ve heard very different things of daks, some good, some bad. Overall that they give a better and more consistant fit than side adjusters, less pulling the trousers up required, but that the elastic band tend to get worn out.

Hugh

Hi Simon,
I apologise, I understand this post was really on shoes but I have a few comments on trousers.
First- is it worth having cotton trousers made bespoke? My regular tailor also offers MtM and I’ve got into the habit of having wool odd trousers MtM, and cotton trousers (chinos etc.) RTW (throughvarious different brands). The only exception being if I order a cotton suit. Is this misguided? Money aside, do you think it’s better to simply order everything bespoke? The logic behind my method is essentially that 1. Cotton doesn’t drape and therefore is not worth having made bespoke instead of MtM and 2. Trousers are easier to fit than jackets and therefore it’s not wort having them made bespoke- better to just have them MtM
My question therefore is (money aside) should I be having all my trousers made bespoke and my MtM/ RTW trouser adventures are ignorant and misguided?

John

Hi Simon,
Thanks for sharing this experience.
An opportunity I would seize on to ask you whether there is a difference between St Crispin and British shoemakers in the way they construct their uppers. The British makers are known to make thicker uppers, which I personally prefer. But I suspect that St Crispin make thiner ones – as French or Italian shoemakers usually do. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is so, as new St Crispin shoes would then need a greater deal of time to break in.
John

Lee dunning

Love the chukkas Simon, M&S have just released something quite similar, worth looking into if cant afford the crispis price point! The Alligator shoes you have on here Jeffrey West do something very similar but a little more pointed, more to my tastes really. Are M&S goodyear welted?

Many thanks
L.D

Lee Dunning

Wow thanks Simon! Ive never heard of Cockett and Jones but I will give them a bing search. Why should STC be so expensive? from what I can see they are no different to Jeffrey West, are they bench made as well?

Ralph

I really like the appearance of the uppers that SC achieves through their process of building up the colours by hand. It produces a richer and more interesting look compared to using leather died by the tannery. And as for them demanding more polish and attention – I’d welcome that as there’s a real satisfaction from polishing shoes well and achieving really good results. It’s a pity that SC aren’t more accessible for us in the UK.

M

Hey Simon

What’s your view on Vass shoes? Think they have opened recently a small shop on Savile Row so interested in hearing out your thoughts or feedback you have heard from others you trust.
Cheers
M

RolleFC

I have several pairs of Vass, and theee pairs of StC. Vass is fully handmade, so also the sole seam which is machine sewn on StC.
The finish on Vass is less refined, no burnishing, only solid aniline leather. Also much less ”rigid” construction, not as much arch support and not as tight waist.
Also less consistent in sizing between pairs, but exceptionell value, especially when bought from Vass directly.
I stopped buying from Vass now, and actually replace pairs with StC, but mainly due to fit problems from my hallux valgus (personal last from StC).
If your like Vass estetics and fit well in their lasts, they’re a bargain.

Itchzi Kunst

Konichiwa Simons, I have 6 bespoken pars of STC schus and am love with all of them, they all pythons make. looking for pars of chinchiwa shoes and want you recommend me some good maker and manufacturer.

thank

Itchzi

Thomas

Simon, just had to smile about the comment you made that the first time issues were in fact fixed when it came to the second and third pair. One would think this should be obvious, but in fact it never ceases to amaze me that with so many makers who claim to go for the carefully crafted personal pattern you almost always get the same initial issues that needed correction the first time in subsequent orders. I cannot speak for shoes here, but it has certainly been the case for me with jackets and shirts. Seems like everyone does hand patterns but almost nobody likes to keep perfecting them…

Tim

Hi Simon,

It’s great reading about how these shoes approach bespoke fit through careful last adjustments. I’ve recently commissioned a pair of chukkas via mail from bespoke maker Jan Kielman and will be improving on the fit for my next pairs. The value they provide is really good, for what is basically a bespoke shoe, just without the high markup for the fancy details. I can see myself ordering many more pairs from them once I get my fit dialed in (my feet are a bit oddly shaped). This strikes me as a very similar experience and process you’ve been going through.
Have you perhaps considered commissioning a pair of shoes from Jan Kielman? I’d be very interested in your opinion on their product.

John

To me at least, this post also offers a new opportunity to really know, based on your own experience and what you have gained so far from the shoe industry itself, what the true and incontrovertible facts about the difference – or differential benefits – between hand-welted and goodyear welted shoes.
Sorry to resume with this topic.
But I’ve read so contradictory statements about it, that I can’t honestly say with high confidence what should a PS reader has to know.
Thanks.
John

John

Thanks, Simon! That would be of great interest!
John

tdang93

Thanks Simon for this post. It really helps crystalize my decision to order something from St. Crispin’s this April.

One quick question: with regard to upkeep, do you apply the cream polish and then polish it to the high shine with water?

Anonymous

Skoaktiebolaget shows a price at €1,356. The cost is good when compared to the bespoke offering in central London but the factory is in Romania (average p.a. wage €6,180 so 25% of UK average wage plus lower costs and overheads. Turnover is approx. €2 million so 25 staff x average =€154,500, €100,000 for rent and overheads, €50,000 materials plus another €100,000 for unknown = total costs €404,000. That leaves 300% profit markup). You may respond with ‘it doesn’t matter where the factory is’ but the issue is mark up over cost – is the price comparison to local RTW offerings (Lobb, Cleverly, Green, Trickers) therefore fair?

Anonymous

We can debate costs but your points are detailed and reasonably made. I have gone to your other posts on StC. and understand your points re. quality, particularly on construction. I remain a little confused however by the differential between the StC. approach and ‘full bespoke’ in StC. a personalised can be made, shoes are formed to the last, colouring is in-house, construction is by hand, shaping is of a high quality and designs can be personalised. What then is missing from the StC. process that does not make it bespoke (accepting that time on the last may be shorter)?

RolleFC

Sole seam on StC is sewn by machine, which you would not see on a bespoke shoe. Perhaps not very important since they are hand welted, but nevertheless.

Paul

Dear Simon,

Your 2-year reflection gave me hope to continue with the St.C, having rapidly graduated from RTW.

I would like to add a reflection for people who are contemplating a switch to St.C from RTW brands, based on my own experience.

St.C fits VERY precisely, and if the fit is off by a millimetre or so, expect to fight it for a while. It will more or less settle with time. My second pair, on an amended personal last, still require modifications, while I have heard of people still adjusting their last on the 4th or 5th pair.

Sometimes, the fit can be made worse in certain spots. My personal last, which was an amendment from an MTO pair, constricts the ball left foot significantly. This issue is slowly fixed through wear, but it was very uncomfortable at the start that my toes actually became quite numb.

Having said all that, I would concur with how beautiful the St.C are, and how well they kept their shape. It’s now very hard for me to go back, and I’m looking forward to wear them for years to come.

I guess the testament of how good and supportive they are come from the fact that I am commissioning a third pair, with extensive modifications. But I would like to stress again, for those who are making the jump from RTW to St.C, be extra careful, and take your time

Arthur

Hi Simon,

I was looking for a post on shoes where I could ask a question about shoes; rather, a few questions.

firstly, on formality – would it be correct to say that calf or smooth leathers would be more formal than pebbled grain or, otherwise, textured leathers, which would, in turn, be more formal than suede?

Also on formality – would a penny loafer be considered more formal than one with tassels?

Lastly on formality, which would be more formal (if either) – a round toe or one more angled or square, such as a chiseled toe like the Cleverley toe or the square deco of G&G?

I would also like your take on which one would be more versatile – smooth leather v grain leather v suede, penny v tassels, round toe v chiseled?

On durability, with all things being equal, what is the longevity and practicality of an unlined shoe v one that is lined? I know that an unlined shoe has a more softer structure an is lighter, but is it also less durable, would it be considered more fragile, and then less formal? Also, is an unlined shoe considered more of a spring summer shoe, or is it permissible and/or desirable to wear it year round, assuming winters are relatively dry even if they are cold?

I realize that there are a lot of questions to think about and that there are other factors that may come into play for both formality and durability, but I am hoping for some guidance. For example, how would a plain calf penny loafer compare against one that is a pebble or hatch grain against one that is in suede? Would a tasseled loafer be less formal in suede than in calf and would it, in turn, be less formal than a penny loafer (I know that you are not exactly enamored with tassels)?

I hope that I have not totally muddied the question and that my line of thinking is a bit clear.

Thank you in advance for your thoughts on the subject.

Arthur

Thank you Simon. That was quite a comprehensive answer. Much appreciated.

On colour, what would your ranking be vis-a-vis versatility? Would a mid brown work best? How much lighter or darker? Would the colour used for the G&G Crompton be among the more versatile colours? What about a non-brown colour, such as navy, tan or even black?

Thank you so always.

Arthur

Thank you Simon. I was glad to hear that it will be offered by G&G. I’ve always liked it and it is on my list of shoes to get.

Sterling

Hello Simon,

I have flat feet and no essentially no metatarsal arch because of it. I find it really hard to find a last that I fits properly with out leaving a gap underneath the tongue and on the outside quarter of the shoe.

Do you know of a last/brand that has a flat and narrow build? Or is there another remedy to this issue?

Thanks.

Sterling

Thanks Simon, I will have to do that.

Rob D

Sterling, I have the same issue – fixed by a really good podiatrist who made me some removable orthotic inserts. Once you have those, you can swap them between shoes and will need to take them with you to try on new RTW or MTO shoes, but will also find with some shoe brands that the orthotics push your feet up slightly out of the shoe or against the upper and tongue, so willneed to compensate by choosing a style you can break in and stay comfortable in. The alternative to using orthotics is to go bespoke, with the sock (the section underneath the foot) being adapted to give you the exact arch support. You will need a good bespoke maker who is prepared to make repeated adjustments to get the fit right.

Ben

I have tried on a pair of SC. It is super stiff to me. The “stiffener” will disappear over time? I am just worried about if it will take forever to break in. I own a pair of horse skin dress shoes from another brand. Basically I cannot break in it…

WW

Hi Simon, do you mind sharing Loro Piana Green Cotton # for reference? Thanks!

Anonymous

Is there still not a london stockist of Stc?

Thomas Stephen

Hi Simon,

Do you recommend more or less broguing for dark brown suede Oxfords to maximise versatility?

I’m trying to decide between a punch toe Oxford and a semi-brogue Oxford with a medallion. Which would you recommend?

The suede will be Saint Crispin’s Janus calf so I believe the same as your Chukka boot both in terms of material and colour.

Cheers,
Thomas

John

Hi Simon – I notice that your Saint Crispin’s suede oxfords have some gimping along the broguing.

Do you generally recommend gimping or flat edges for suede shoes with broguing?

Thomas Stephen

Hi Simon,

After a pair of Oxfords have been broken in, at most how much of a gap should there be at the top of the lacings?

Would you consider your SC wingtips as shown in the first photo of this article to be slightly too small at the instep?

Thanks!

F. Elder

Dear Simon,

Later this year Saint Crispin’s will hold a trunk show in my city, which I will attend. This will be my first trunk show. This will also be my first pair of Saint Crispin’s. I am very interested in the 522B model in black calf. What is the best way to approach a trunk show? What should I expect? What should I ask about? What shouldn’t I do? Is there anything I should do in advance?

Thank you for considering my questions. I look forward to your response.

Kindest regards,

F. Elder

Henry

Simon,

I am truly tempted to buy a StC but considering that I try to rotate as much as possible my shoes I am afraid that the stiffness will last too much becoming unacceptable…I think to this because I am not that patient and I struggle in wearing shoes at home for example, for few hours, to soften them…and even with EG I wear them for a whole day, even a first wear…

Are mine worries realistic?

Thank you

p.s. I am referring to an wingtip Oxford…

Michael

Would a combination of neutral cream and coloured wax polish provide sufficient pigment to maintain the colour on the natural crust leather? Derek Guy mentioned that his StC chukkas required professional restoration after treating them with Saphir Renovateur. I find the Edward Green/ Boot Black neutral cream to be excellent. Still unsure about their Dark Oak alternative but then that may have been a case of too much too soon.

Michael

Sorry, to elucidate, I mentioned Derek Guy’s experience because it suggests the Saint Crispin’s crust calf is unsuited to Saphir’s cleaning products. So, if using coloured cream risks clogging the pores with superfluous pigment, perhaps sticking with neutral cream is advisable, at least initially.

Stephan

Hi Simon — Thank you for your coverage of Saint Crispin’s shoes! I am thinking about buying my first pair from them and have two questions:

1. Would you recommend the suede cap-toes in terms of style and versatility? You mentioned these shoes in this post but I have not seen a full-length coverage on your blog.

2. I’d like to either order a pair of shoes or a pair of boots. Would you recommend one over the other for a first order? I imagine that a shoe might be more suitable for assessing the fit around the heel, but I really do not know.