The Grand from Baudoin & Lange: Review

Monday, March 4th 2019
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At the beginning of this year, Allan Baudoin and Bo Langeveld introduced their first fundamentally new design since the Sagan in 2016.

Allan’s initial concept was a winter Sagan, which makes sense given how dependent the soft, open, low-soled Sagan is on warm (or at least dry) weather.

However, for me the new shoe – the Grand – is not so much a winter shoe as a dress one. It has the same shape and aims as the Sagan, but is more of a smart loafer.

That does mean it can be worn more of the year than its predecessor, but it’s still a light, slim-soled slip-on.

Indeed, the sole was originally to be just cemented (glued) to the upper rather than stitched, although the current model is now Blake-stitched.

But enough of the back story. The new Grand (pronounced the English way, not the French) is competing in a much bigger market than the plain Sagan. There are hundreds of loafers out there, in a full array of constructions, leathers, shapes and places of manufacture.

Is the Grand sufficiently different to those? Does it stand apart as much as the Sagan did from other Belgian loafers?

First, let’s look at the materials. The slim leather sole is high quality, but not that different to other good loafers.

The upper leather, made from Italian baby calf, is more distinct. It is more supple than that used by traditional shoemakers. But at the same time, it is higher quality than the mainstream Italian loafers you’d associate with this kind of soft, flexible slip-on.

That’s because it is a real baby calf leather (in an age when ‘calves’ are getting bigger every year, thanks to growth hormones).

So the upper sits between two worlds.

The footbed, though, is perhaps most different of all.

It was interesting talking to Allan about the dozens of different footbed manufacturers he looked at – often going from booth to booth at trade shows. I was also lucky enough to try several of them out, as the Grand developed.

Footbeds for sports shoes are supportive and breathe well, but are thick. Those designed for orthopaedics are often cheap and rarely breathe well. The ones made for dress shoes are slim and last well, but usually have little consideration of support or cushioning.

The supplier Allan eventually selected seems to have aspects of all three. If you look at it in the shoe, the curved support around the heel and cushioning are clearly different from a regular dress shoe. But it’s also slim and breathes well.

It is this quality point that most clearly separates the Grand from those cheaper flexible loafers, whether the Italians or more recent brands like Harry’s.

All this makes the Grand rather expensive. It’s £480, which is a lot of money for a Blake-stitched shoe.

But this is a similar approach to the Sagan: taking one particular category of shoe (here the comfort-driven, flexible loafer) and maximising the material quality.

For me, it’s the kind of loafer to consider if you already buy Edward Green shoes for around £1000 - not if you usually buy Crockett & Jones for under £500.

One way in which the quality comes across is polishing.

The Grand's tight-grained baby calf means it can be polished to something approximating a mirror shine, which is not the case with cheaper loafers. (Indeed, they often coat their uppers to make them look shiny, knowing polish won’t be able to achieve the same effect.)

However, shoe fans will know that the internal structure of the shoe is also crucial to being able to polish. It’s why you can’t keep a polish on the vamp of a shoe, but can on the toe or heel.

Here is perhaps Allan’s biggest change to a regular loafer. The extra layer of leather inside the toe of a shoe, and the lining itself, have both been cut away at the sides of the shoe around the joints.

This allows the shoe to be more flexible and comfortable, yet retain the look of a dress shoe.

In a previous iteration of the Grand, the structure and lining were also cut away from the top of the shoe, over the toes. That was very comfortable, but it meant that area wrinkled and would not polish, making it look much more casual.

Allan’s original structuring solution seems to be a nice point in between.

In answer to my earlier question, of whether the Grand is as different as the Sagan, I’d probably say no.

The Grand has more innovation, but it’s subtle and technical. There are more shoes trying to achieve similar things, and there won’t be the ‘wow’ moment that people often had when they first felt the softness of Sagans.

But the Grand is genuinely different, and has a bigger potential market. If sold well, it may eventually become more popular than the Sagan.

From a personal point of view, I’ve found the Grand fits me better than any other ready-made loafer, but still isn’t great.

I’ve learnt from long experience that loafers rarely fit my thin ankle and wide joints. Anything that holds the ankle is too small for the toes, while and I slip out of anything that’s comfortable at the front.

The sheer stretchiness of Sagans made that easier (though I still probably need the back of a 42 and the front of a 43).

The Grand fits better than any other loafer, largely due to the footbed. Its cupping of the heel seems to make that stay in place better, and its thinness at the front provides more space for the toes.

But it’s still not a great fit, and won’t be something I’ll be able to walk around in all day.

Most others won’t have my problem though. For them, I highly recommend trying the Grand, particularly if they place a high value on comfort.

Just don’t see it as comparable to a Northampton oxford at the same price. Rather, it should be compared to a similarly high-spec Blake-stitched or cemented shoe, such as the Gaziano & Girling Fresco line.

The Grand is currently available on the Baudoin & Lange website in dark oak (pictured), oxblood, black and chestnut. And you can see them in their shop, open on Sunday or weekdays on appointment - 7 Ezra Street E27RH, Columbia Road Market. 

They will be in some department stores later in the year. 

Photography: James Holborow for Baudoin & Lange.

Also pictured on me:

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