I have seen cheap shoes look good and expensive shoes look terrible. More often than not, it is not so much about the components of the shoe as much as it is the execution of the design. But the design is made up of much more than one may think. Now, the idea of attraction is quite subjective but then again I just don’t think that it really is when it comes to being on a subconscious level. What I mean by that is even if you have these people who think that horrible shoes look good (block square toes, horrible winklepickers), when put next to a bespoke Japanese shoe or a pair of non-exaggerated Bestetti’s, no matter what they may say (putting aside the ego) one cannot help but feel attraction to what is nice and thus realize what is not. Whether or not they admit it is another story…. Okay so what makes the shoes attractive then? Well for me, there are 3 components that make up a shoes’ level of attraction:
1. The Shape
For me, the shape is the first thing that makes a shoe beautiful. No matter how right you get everything else, if the shape is not right, the shoe is ugly. Why are we all attracted to bespoke samples (I would say bespoke shoes, but they are not always that attractive depending on the foot they are made for!)? A bespoke last is made to have shape, quite rightly so being as the foot has shape. It is not a block. And it curves in many places, not just the instep and the arch. The more that you show these natural curves, the more elegant the shoe will be. The less you show it and the more the shoe just looks like a blob the less likely it can be held as attractive. Sure it can be held as functional, but not attractive. There is nothing attractive about a bloated Rockport that has no shape. Let’s not lie here.
The problem however is that the bottom line for most companies is to make a profit. And to do so means that you need to sell as many shoes as you can. We all have different sized feet and therefore it can be hard to accommodate all of those different shapes. There are more people in the world with broader feet than there are narrow and the companies know this. Therefore, it is easier to make block like shoes that have no shape that can thus “fit” the majority of people with broad feet. Sure the people with narrow feet suffer, this is without doubt. The majority of the world of shoes is not catered to the narrow market. Now here is something to think about: the cheaper the shoes are the more block like they are, trying to cater to everyone. As you go up the rings of quality, the more refined and exclusive the shoes gets, thus being more catered to those of the narrow-medium foot than the likes of the wide foot. Strange huh?….no not really. The nicer the shoe is, the more the last is going to be shaped and thus the harder it will be for a wide foot to fit into a small, tight waist, unless of course that brand has wide fittings.
2. The Pattern (i.e. what you would refer to as ‘The Design’)
The way in which a seam/line/detail lies on the canvas of the shoe makes a huge difference. One millimeter of difference can create a massive change to the overall presentation of the final product. The way in which the wing cap is created, i.e. how the point comes together, how wide or narrow the “W” shape of the cap is and thus how the lines fall down on the side of the vamp all make big differences. Same with the throat line of an oxford (the seam below the facing), whether it’s angles are curved or pointed etc. All of these little details make a big difference to the overall beauty of the shoe.
Now, imagine that they all have to be perfect and that certain ideas have to go with other ones. For example, you would not want a shoe that has a very square throat line but then have curved lines everywhere else on the shoe. It will become off balance. It may be intriguing at first but not as intriguing as the shoe whose lines are all in cohesion. When it comes to the pattern, most of the time we are not even understanding why we find the shoe beautiful, but we do mainly because of how that pattern sits on the shape of the shoe….understanding these two things as a last maker/pattern maker is what separates the big boys for the amateurs….
3. The Leather
Funny enough the leather for me is the least important. So many people are insanely fixated with having perfect leather that is blemish free and that doesn’t crease. I guess that working in the industry for so long and seeing thousands and thousands of shoes in my time, I soon realized how unrealistic this idea of always having perfect leather actually is. Having nice leather is great, having perfect leather is even better, but the best thing about leather is the fact that it can be manipulated, where as the shape and pattern cannot be changed once it is done. You see the top grade leather if not maintained can look like crap. And the cheap leather with blemishes can be made nice if shined properly and has consistent upkeep. So while of course, I would always prefer a nice, high quality leather, the real key to your shoes looking beautiful is not the grade of it but rather the upkeep of it. There are not too many things more beautiful than a well polished shoe….
Justin, “The Shoe Snob”