Ah, Shell Cordovan. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll have gleaned by now that this most prestigious of shoemaking materials comes from the Horween tannery in Chicago, which has been tanning authentic Cordovan since 1905.
The skin itself isn’t technically leather, although it behaves in much the same way. It’s a leather-like membrane or ‘shell’ taken from a horse’s hindquarters as a by-product of the meat industry, and it differs from calf’s leather in the way it’s tanned and the way it wears. It’s a remarkably strong material with a dense micro-structure, so a single Cordovan skin will be tanned for at least six months by Horween before its ready to ship – a lengthy process that builds up a rich saturation of vegetable oils and liquors in the skin.
This ensures that Cordovan is pliable, but remains strong and resistant to stretching, which in turn helps it to take-on and maintain the shape of a last. Its strength also ensures that Cordovan shoes, if properly cared for, wear comfortably for years – if not for decades.
With this in mind, meet the quintessential investment loafer, our unlined Harvard penny loafer in Dark Brown Cordovan. These are a firm favourite of our guest editor, Aleks Cvetkovic, but while he recommends white socks and dark denim as the perfect partners to the Harvard, we’ve styled these to be worn to the office; with tailored charcoal wool fresco trousers (healthy turn-ups nod to the Harvard’s preppy heritage) and crimson herringbone cotton socks from the London Sock Co. This splash of colour pops against the relatively sober trousers and shoes, and adds a touch of character to a formal pairing. On top, a softly tailored navy blazer and sky-blue button-down shirt would complete the look.
While the Harvard are undoubtedly useful, the classic colour-way for Cordovan is Burgundy. Our Cavendish tassel loafer is a long-standing favourite with customers, and this pair is as classic a representation of Cordovan as you could wish for. Unlike the Harvard, these are lined, which makes them more than appropriate for ‘three season’ wear. Here, grey flannels are set against sky blue and navy houndstooth socks, again from the London Sock Co., which contrast nicely with the reddish hue of the Cavendish. Plain charcoal or navy socks would work just as well, but a handsome pair of loafers like these call for socks with personality.
Next up, we see Cordovan at its most casual. For evidence of the skin’s versatility, look no further than our Harlech derby boots in Whisky Cordovan – a very particular shade of tan, unique to the Horween tannery. The Harlech is an underrated boot in our collection; clean-cut with straight toe-caps on the sweeping 341 last, finished with storm-welted double-leather soles. It’s timeless but contemporary at the same time, and this makes it a clever choice to wear with jeans; whether in dark indigo denim, or a well-washed pair in mid-blue like this pair of vintage Levi’s 501s. Rolled-up hems show-off the boot’s speed-hooks, and a slimmer cut to the jeans compliments the Harlech’s lean profile. Of course, these would work just as well with dark chinos or hearty washed cords and a chore jacket – anything that adds a bit of ‘workwear chic’ to your look.
Whether formal or casual, every man should own at least one pair of Goodyear welted Cordovan shoes. They have their own distinct character and feel reassuringly robust to wear. Shell Cordovan is iconic, and it’s only fitting then that it be used to make some of the most iconic shoes in our collection.