Leffot's shop on Christopher Street
Words by Pete Anderson Photos by Albert Thomas
“It’s a good exercise to have,” says Steven Taffel of the monumental, solid ash table that is the centerpiece of Leffot, West Village shoe merchant to the few. The 14-foot, blond wood table is the shop’s only real fixture. Built for Leffot by Hudson Furniture in the nearby Meatpacking District, it serves as display for the uncommon shoes Leffot tends to stock, and its size serves as a limit to what Leffot can reasonably carry. As a store owner, says Taffel, “There’s so much good stuff to buy. The table takes you from a purchasing mode to a decisionmaking mode.”
The table in question
Since Leffot opened in 2008, Taffel seems to have made the right decisions. The shoes on the table are widely considered the finest in the world, and many of the models can’t be found anywhere else. Leffot’s blog, updated often with straightforward hi-resolution photos of new stock, has a large following, and customers come from the neighborhood as well as across the country and beyond. Leffot will mark its third anniversary this year in style, with a special edition Edward Green shoe--the Westminster double monk, in this case made with navy blue shell cordovan.
Leffot's concept was partially inspired by a character in Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex who was a fan of Edward Green shoes.
“I was originally thinking of traditional menswear,” says Taffel of conceiving the store, which he opened after a career in clothing, including 10 years at Prada. But then it occurred to him to focus on footwear--he thought NYC was lacking in sophisticated shoe departments. “I’ve been in Manhattan 20 years, and there wasn’t anywhere to go to find them. What was there wasn’t that inspiring.” You could go to certain department stores, “but I live and shop downtown.” He and his wife found the space, which had been a toy store. “My wife designed the space. We took everything out. Stripped it down... to focus on the shoes.” They took the bars off the windows, furnished it sparely, and opened up shop.
Note I did not acquire my shoes from Leffot.
Taffel’s wife also designed the shop’s crest: two “gentleman rabbits” (rather than the usual, fiercer citizens of the animal kingdom) wearing Taffel’s children’s initials and bearing a shield and equestrian boots, over the inscription numquam jactate. according to Taffel, that’s Latin for “never brag.” I took Taffel’s word for it, because with that motto of modesty and his dry humor, he seemed like a man I could trust. Taffel describes the shoes in store as “more or less classic,” ignoring the orange patent leather Corthays on display, and the Viberg boots in peanut bullhide or blue roughout. Not that I wouldn’t trade most of my own shoes for a pair of bullhide Vibergs. “Edward Green and Corthay make a basic shoe you can wear for work or business,” says Taffel.
Viberg putting the casual in business casual. Leffot currently has three Viberg boots, and a fourth is in the works.
It turns out to be true. On the table are many pairs that wouldn’t draw stares from anyone who wasn’t already a Leffot shopper and trying to determine whether they were Corthay or Aubercy. There are subtle medallion toes, bluchers and bals, suede chukka boots, Norwegian split toes, reverse welts, work boots and chelsea boots, but worn with the right combination of clothing these are mostly details only immediately apparent to the satisfied wearer. Of course next to the shoes are leather swatch books containing a veritable color wheel of leather tones, for special orders, so if you want a pair in periwinkle calf, no one’s stopping you. I didn’t see any phoque.
Taffel carries only shoes that meet his criteria for craftsmanship. He’s less interested in designers than outfits that manufacture their own shoes. He’s happy to talk with customers about construction and background for each style or maker. Underlining the craft focus is a pair of hides in the store--a tanned chromexcel hide on the floor by the entrance holds bags from Basil Rakuc, and a much smaller piece sits on the table under some small leather goods. That’s a cordovan shell, and it’s a good prop for explaining the “specialness” of cordovan. Although it’s various properties are a subject for debate, there’s no doubt it’s more difficult to piece together an upper from such small hides. Taffel, says, however, that its use is not the exclusive province of American styles like penny loafers and wingtips--he has in the past ordered shell cordovan wholecuts from Edward Green. The maker refers to the material as “crup.” We’ll stick to “cordovan.”
You still tying your shoes, plebe?
Leffot has not had overwhelming success with all the lines they’ve carried. Taffel originally stocked Weston and Artioli shoes, and has replaced them with shoes and boots from Ron Rider, Quoddy, Wolverine, and others. Although he has no intention to expand into men’s clothing (further than the small selection of Psycho Bunny accessories he carries; the designer is a friend), Taffel is considering carrying women’s versions of the shoes he already carries. He gets a lot of interest from women who’d like brogues and boots in their sizes and in different leathers. Leffot offers a number of small leather goods themselves: Cordovan NATO-style watch straps, for example; and one-piece, no-seam money holders called “The Fold” that are cash carriers for the card case crowd. Also ox-horn shoehorns and Leffot-branded shoe care items. All are carefully sourced and chosen to fit in with the shop’s overall themes of craftsmanship and exclusivity. As for where he likes to shop himself, Taffel prefers to keep it local. On the occasion of our drop-in, he was in A.P.C. New Standard jeans, a Lord Willy’s shirt, and Leffot’s private label bucks. Styleforum APPROVED. The bucks are UK-made on an elegant last and a red Dainite sole.
Leffot’s private label shoes.
Despite the blog’s success, real e-commerce isn’t in the works yet. Still, Taffel and his staff take many orders from enthusiasts who’ve seen the shoes online first. People call and ask for their size in one maker, giving their size in other makers as a reference, but Taffel prefers to measure customers in person using the Brannock devices he keeps under the chairs in the shop. The instruments, which haven’t changed in nearly a century, are an old-school shoe salesman touch that we remarked you don’t see so much anymore. Taffel has found they’re the best tool for the job. As Gertrude Stein might say, an 11 isn’t an 11 isn’t an 11 isn’t an 11, necessarily. Leffot's blog is a reasonable substitute, but a trip to the store itself should be on any NY itinerary for guys interested in what they wear. Maybe first on that itinerary; you can always see the Met next time you're in town.
If black is for the city and brown for the country, what is patent orange for?
OK, who ordered the “Blindingly awesome watch straps on a bed of shell cordovan”?
Bags from Basil Racuk’s small-batch northern California workshop
Boots from Rider Boot.
Albert put on a clinic in softcore shoe, uh, you know.
Brogues and longwings and all weather walkers from Alden.
Plenty of time for love, Dr. Jones.
Church's kiltie monks should set the blogosphere aflame.