TLB Artista shoes: Review

Monday, August 17th 2020
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Spanish shoemaker TLB sent me these ‘Artista’ suede oxfords to try, following my mention of them in our round-up of cheaper shoe brands last month. 

I have to say, I was immediately impressed. Not necessarily compared to the top-end shoes I usually cover - such as Edward Green or Gaziano & Girling - but certainly compared to shoes at a similar price level. 

These cost €425, putting them at a price between mainline Crockett & Jones and fellow Spanish maker Carmina. They compare very favourably with both. 

The most obvious things are on the outside of the shoe. For example, the relative smallness of the heel, which sits almost flush with the shoe above it.

It’s much easier to cut a bigger, squarer heel on a shoe because there’s more room for error - you have to be less careful you don’t touch the shoe itself during construction. More care means more time, which means more cost. But a smaller heel is finer and more elegant. 

As is a bevelled waist, which you can see on the shot of the bottom of the shoe below. The waist is that part of the shoe where the letters ‘TLB’ are stamped, between the front of the sole and the heel. On this shoe, that waist is slightly domed, or bevelled. 

The waist is also narrow, cutting inwards as it approaches the heel. This lines up the sole more closely with the shoe above it, like the heel, and looks more elegant as a result. 

This last point is not something you get with English shoes at this price level, which tend to have a wider, flat waist - normally called a square waist. Nor on Spanish competitors, even though there is often more value for money there in terms of finishing. 

Also notable is that this shaping of the waist has been done on a rubber sole, which is more unusual than a leather one. And that the stitching (which you cannot see) runs all the way to the heel, where some other cheap makers achieve a slim waist with cementing or Blake stitching.

Of course, it should be said these points on finishing are partly a question of style. If you want a more casual shoe, you don’t necessarily want a fine, elegant finish. 

But that look is always more time-consuming to achieve, and therefore more expensive. So the value for money is objective, and impressive. 

The quality of the raw materials - the lining, the sole, the upper - is hard to assess fully without a good few months of wear. 

But you can get a sense of it from the initial feeling, and the TLB Artista certainly feels nice here. The suede is soft and pliant, almost on a par with top-end makers (unlike the Myrqvist loafers I mentioned in that recent piece). It’s ‘Janus’ reverse-calf suede from tannery Charles F. Stead. 

The softness is helped by the fact that TLB use less reinforcement on their leathers, which has advantages and disadvantages. It will mean an immediately softer feeling shoe, but perhaps not quite as much structure and shape-retention in the long term. 

The nap of the suede is also quite fine, with an almost velvet-like look. Personally, I don’t like this as much as the less fine variations, but that is personal. 

It’s also fair to say that differences in quality are less noticeable in suede than leather, as leather quality will also affect how it responds to cream and polish over time.

One materials point that can’t be argued with is the heel stiffener, which is pure leather. 

This is only usually found on top-level shoes, with most brands at this level using leather board, and cheaper ones using plastic. 

Being leather means the stiffener - which sits inside the heel cup, reinforcing it - is able to adapt to the wearer’s heel. Less of an issue if you have an average size and shape heel, but surprisingly important to fit and comfort if you don’t.

The Artista shoes are cleanly made, without any of the little errors in the heel or sole edge that you often see in cheaper shoes. But the make is still not quite on a level with the top-end makers mentioned earlier. 

An example would be the line of stitching that runs around the edge of the rubber sole, in the picture of the bottom of the shoes above. 

You can see there that the line more accurately follows the edge of the sole on the right shoe, than the left. This was also the case on the pair I received. 

It’s a minor point, but likely reflects the speed with which the shoes travel through the factory, compared to those of more expensive makers. With production processes, as noted earlier, time is money. 

TLB is a young brand, having been set up three years ago by Toni Llobera Barceló when he left another Spanish producer, Yanko. 

He joined another factory in Inca, Mallorca which had been making women’s shoes previously - so not Goodyear-welted. They started a Goodyear line, and now the factory is all Goodyear. The Artista range was launched in 2019. 

One thing you quickly become aware of when you work with a factory - especially asking them to make something for you - is how much inertia builds up over time. Making the same way for years creates structures that are hard to break down, from simple things like the route a product takes around the factory, to human things like how many people work in different areas.

All of these are much easier to change in a new factory, or a new production line, than with a large existing one. Toni has clearly benefited from that. 

In conclusion, TLB Artista shoes offer great make and superb value for money. But there are some small caveats. 

One is that some value comes from a finer make that you might not want or need. Another is that, great as they are, I wouldn’t put them in the same bracket as Edward Green or Gaziano & Girling. And a last one is style - keep in mind that shape and style are as important as anything else. These suede oxfords, for example, are a little more elongated than most English makers at the same level. 

But if you typically buy at this price level, and like the style, you should certainly be considering Artista.

Pictures courtesy of TLB; Skolyx, retailer of TLB; and lifestyle photography by Adam Natt @adnatt