Forgive my ignorance, but could anyone help me understand why these shoes are not priced higher? Or what the differences are with higher priced shoes? The colours, styles, detailing of JF's shoes are just gorgeous and have that x-factor. I feel like there are a dozen of his creations I'd like to purchase but cant help but feel like im supposed to buy C&J or Vass or something...what do i need to know?
Now that I'm 6 pairs in, I think it's only fair that I write J. FitzPatrick Footwear a review. If 6 pairs isn't a clear "endorsement" then I'm not sure what is! Apologies in advance for the many photos to come.
Anyway, I first met Justin a little under a year ago at Leffot for his trunk show. I can safely say this was my plunge into the world of high-end shoes. For those of you that don't know, Justin packed up his life to move to Florence, where he trained under the late Stefano Bemer making bespoke shoes and learning the craft. From there he went to Gieves and Hawkes as an artisanal shoe shiner, while launching his brand of shoe care products and designing his shoes. His shoes are made in Spain by what appears to be a pretty good factory.
What attracted me to his shoes were the mixed materials and patterns used. There were some models that I don't think I would personally wear, but others I instantly fell in love with. The first shoe I bought from him is the Wallingford. This was all before I had a reasonable understanding of what makes a good shoe in terms of leather, construction, components, etc.
Nonetheless, the leathers are sourced from some really good tanneries, like suede from C.F. Stead, museum calf from Ilcea, and others from Annonay. In all of my 6 pairs, I have never seen a single pair with a flaw in the leather, and not a single one has had excessive creasing. He uses good cuts of the leather and it's clearly visible.
But above all that, and what I think Justin needs to emphasize more with his photos, is the shape of his lasts. His round toe lasts in particular are fantastic with a nice form-fitting shape. As I said earlier, Justin trained with Bemer, and there's some clear similarities with Justin's JKF last and some of Bemer's lasts. The photos below show a strong resemblance. This is very hard to find from a brand that prices shoes at less than $400 with the present currency exchange.
This patina is present after 40+ wears, but probably accelerated by my then unknowing overuse of cream polish and Renovateur. Sorry for getting the creams and wax onto the suede! Still need to figure how to get that out...But continuing on about his lasts, they're shaped really nicely, which is pretty hard to get from shoes priced so competitively. A few more photos below showing the lasts getting the love they deserve.
These two Magnolia Oxfords are F-width on the classic round-toed TMG last. They maintain the elegant shape and curves that are even more accentuated with his E width lasts.
The curves are again visible on my MTO boots in F width, this time on the soft-chiseled LPB last.
One thing I've noticed with the lasts from high-end makers like GG, Bemer, Bestetti, etc., is the lacing actually leans off and to the forefoot side on each respective foot. While Justin's last do not present this as dramatically as the previously named makers, they certainly have it to a reasonable degree, which provide a much more elegant look of the shoe.
More photos showing the last shape, the Wallingford (JKF) and the Wedgewood (TMG) are both E width (This was before I realized I had wide feet and am actually a UK7F, not 7.5E)
Some other makers use lats that have a flat progression from the vamp to toe, and others even bulge back up a little towards the toe. I personally love how Justin's lasts continue to slope downward from the vamp all the way to the toe. This is just my personal preference, as I think it adds to a sense of refinement, "sleekness," and elegance to a shoe. This is shown particularly well in the photos of the Wallingford oxford and the Wedgewood boots, but also shown on my MTO boots on the soft-chiseled LPB last.
Another detail about his lasts that need to be emphasized are the heel cup. The photo here shows the nice shape it holds, after already having molded to my foot reasonably well and losing some of its curvaceousness. This sort of shape is tough to find on shoes in this price range.
We can talk about leather quality until the cows come home, considering pretty much every Joe Schmoe brand says they use really good leather, sourcing from the same tanneries as the big guys. While this may be true and I'm confident Justin uses really good leather, his shoes are a step above the rest in the lasts and patterns. They patterns are well suited to the lasts, with lines and brogues of the oxford meeting certain "turning points" of curvature on a given last. Overall, just very well balanced and complement the designs of the shoes well.
For less than $400 right now, these are some of the best valued shoes I can think of. Other details like the closed channel stitching and slightly beveled waist on the sole are indicative of handwork and craftsmanship that is uncommon on shoes in this price range. Further, his soles are bark tanned and the ones I've left un-topy'd have held up extremely well. Might need toe-taps because I'm a weird walker with weird feet.
Now for a bit of criticism...I'd like to see some fudge wheel work on the welt. This extra decoration (when done well) adds a little bit more class and elegance to a shoe. Further, a slight Cuban heel (where it becomes narrower the further down you go) would be a fantastic addition. I know Justin has made improvements to his shoes in terms of components over the past few years, and I hope his sales volume reach a point where he can add these two details to really separate himself from the boys. While the shoes already beat those priced in the $500-$700 range (I'm looking at you, C&J and Alden), they're priced significantly lower.
If you have "normal" feet (whatever the heck that means), there's no reason why you shouldn't try a pair of JFF shoes. Justin is a great guy, and more importantly he's accessible to his customers, which is really valuable. Lastly, for those of us in the US, the minimum customs price to be taxed on is now $800, and Justin offers free shipping to the US on his shoes.
If you're looking for your next pair of dress shoes, or want something with some mixed material and a little more pizazz, definitely give JFF a look and reach out to Justin.