As a chap who pays a fair bit of attention to the sartorial side of one’s appearance I have always had a love of shoes. I am oft found sniffing about (perhaps not the best choice of words) the shoe factories in Northamptonshire where some of the world’s finest shoes are built.
They say choose English shoes for quality, Italian for flair. Well, we could debate that all day, but what if you could have it both ways? Have your cake and eat it, so to speak. Well, for the past years there has been a secret underground club of gents who have been walking around the streets with shoes so stunning that ladies have been fainting in the streets as they stride past (disclaimer – I’m not sure that actually happened, but it is probably true). Their secret is shoe patina.
“What is shoe Patina?” I hear you cry… well, it is the process of dying the leather of a shoe to bring depth and interest to the design. In it’s simplest form the toe cap could be darkened to bring out the toe cap shine. But it can go far beyond that by emphasising certain design details of the shoe or completely changing the colour and appearance of a pair of shoes. It is not a common practice but can really make a £300 pair of shoes look like a £900 pair of shoes.
In the quest to up my shoe game I sought out the UK’s leading shoe patination artist (possibly the finest in the world) and bravely thrust upon him a very loved pair of Joseph Cheaney double monk straps to see what magic he could conjure.
In the London Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, Mayfair is a lovely old comfortable wing back armchair and in front of it each day is a skilled artist by the name of Steven Skippen of ShoeShineUK. If ever you are in the big smoke you should take the time to sit in his chair and treat your shoes to the best shoe shine in London.
I arrived to see Steven working on a very dapper gentleman’s shoes and witnessing them come back to life was a joy. First the laces were removed to ensure a thorough job, the leather conditioned and polished back to a rich deep shine. Only the very best silicon free polishes are used and Steven unusually applies them with his bare hands. No brushes are used as he maintains that using his hands allows him to feel the leather and as skin is natural and soft it is kind to the shoes. He even warmed the polish occasionally by setting fire to it so that it would melt and be easier to apply. Again, not something that I had seen before (I’ll not give away too many of your secrets Steven, I promise!). His attention to detail is second to none and the level of shine that he achieves is incredible. Steven – you have magic hands Sir!
Back to my double monks. Being a tan colour my initial thoughts were to just have a darker burnished toe and heel and maybe some darkening of the stitched areas, but after gazing on the shoes that Steven was wearing himself, a lovely pair of plain toe oxfords that he had patinated in a rich oxblood with a burnished black toe to really show off the mirror like glaçage my initial thoughts went out of the window and I wanted some of that beautiful oxblood loveliness of my own. Be brave, I thought and the decision was made.
Reading about shoe patina on various websites it is often said that the process can take days or weeks. This is a bit of a shoe patina myth. There is no reason why this process, whilst undeniably is a very skilled job and needs artistic flair, cannot be done in a couple of hours. This was proved as my shoes were complete within 3 hours whilst Steven also tended to the shoe shine needs of his regular clients at the same time and the results speak for themselves.
So, how does the process work? First the leather is cleaned and prepared to remove all the old wax and polish so that the dye can penetrate the leather well. Then the base colour is applied with a woollen swab. Then using artists brushes and a lot of skill the darker dyes are applied very sparingly layer upon delicate layer in the areas to be darker – in the case of my shoes the toe and heel and the lower parts of the shoe near the welts. This is where Steven’s artistic flair shows as the skill is not just in the application of the dye but in knowing which parts of the shoe would benefit from being darker and how to shade the shoes to accentuate certain design features and to bring depth. It really is an art form and one that Steven had developed and honed over 16 years.
When the dying and colour is applied the shoes really looked different. Like an entirely different pair of shoes, but it was only when the leather was then conditioned and waxed that the colour and depth of the patination really came out. Steven can make any pair of shoes look great with the standard of his polishing, but on a pair that he has done a patina job on the results are nothing short of spectacular.
Check out the mini video of the process below.
There really is no excuse for a boring pair of shoes now that you know the secret. Perhaps you have a pair that you fell out of love with. A custom patina might be the answer and could rejuvenate that old pair or just bring out the best in a pair that you already enjoy. These Double Monk strap Cheaneys were one of my favourite pairs of shoes, but now they are definitely my favourite pair. Thanks ShoeShineUK!!
Now I just need a custom patina job on all of my other shoes!