I have a confession: I only bought my first pair of Shell Cordovan shoes about three months ago - so I’m a woefully late arrival to the party.
I’m not sure why I’d not tried Cordovan before, perhaps because I’ve never really been fussed about burgundy shoes (a common colour for the material), but in search of a pair of durable, all-year-round and yet relatively malleable loafers, I stumbled across Crockett & Jones’s Dark Brown Cordovan Harvards a few months ago.
These are, not to put too fine a point on it, my ideal shoes: easy to pair with tailoring, or with denim and casual wear, depending on what the day has in store. C&J’s loafer lasts tend to work very well for me; combining relatively wide foreparts (needed for my Hobbit-like ‘plates of meat’) with excellent heel clipping to ensure that the loafers don’t slip off as you walk in them. Even more importantly, because Cordovan is pretty tough stuff, these are left unlined. I struggle with stiff shoes thanks to hereditary arthritis (inherited from my dear mother), and an unlined pair of loafers like these is just that bit kinder to wear.
If you’re a regular Crockett & Jones reader, you’ll be well aware of Cordovan’s USP by now: it’s a leather-like membrane taken from the hind quarters of a horse (only ever as a by-product of other industries, to be clear), and the best stuff comes from the Horween tannery in Chicago. This is the material that Crockett & Jones uses in all its Shell Cordovan shoes. It begins life a little stiffer than conventional calf’s leather, and it’s known for its durability: a pair of Goodyear Welted Cordovan shoes, if properly cared for, will last for decades.
The other thing that finally convinced me to invest in a pair of Cordovan shoes is the materials long held cultural caché - Cordovan shoes are closely associated with collegiate style and the Ivy look. Almost every man in menswear seems to own a pair of Cordovan loafers or two, and French Ivy menswear is hot stuff right now, thanks in no small part to the emergence of brands like Holiday Boileau, and new magazines like L’etiquette in Paris. Acknowledging the trend in my own way, I’ve enjoyed pairing my Harvards with white socks, dark denim jeans with thick turn-ups, a button-down Oxford shirt and preppy tweed sports coat. And for those of you raising an eyebrow, yes, white socks are back in fashion and surprisingly easy to wear.
So, what have my Harvard’s been like to live with for the past few months? Much as hoped for; they’ve given ever so slightly and moulded to my awkward feet, but they’re not so pliable that they’re losing their shape, which has happened with some unlined shoes I’ve had before. They also don’t feel like summer shoes, despite the lack of lining, so I’ve felt comfortable wearing them right through autumn and into winter. The subtly different way that Cordovan leather takes dye lends the shoes a distinctive look too. The Horween tannery takes around six months to tan each of its skins in various different combinations of vegetable oils, and this lends my Harvards a very particular shade of coffee-come-chocolate brown that I love. Plus, they have a smooth, matte look that helps them to sit perfectly in that ever-desirable smart-casual wardrobe sweet spot.
They’re also easy to care for. Thanks to the ‘oiliness’ of the leather, lent to it through vegetable tanning, Cordovan shoes are quite forgiving with scuffs and the like. A little beeswax polish is all that’s required to heal surface marks, and keeps the leather suitably supple. Some suggest that you rub your shoes with a deer bone to maintain their appearance too, because the natural oil in the bone helps to revive the leather. I must get around to trying this - for the sheer novelty factor, if nothing else.
Suffice to say, I’m hooked on Cordovan and thoroughly looking forward to seeing how these shoes age over time. I’ve also got my eyes on another pair of Cordovan shoes (of course), C&J’s Harlech boots, so this new penchant is looking to be an expensive one. Well, you know what they say - it pays to invest in the best.