Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by VegTan, Jul 8, 2013.
Well I guess the truth sets you free. Thanks for your knowledge and information, DWF and Dibadiba.
Did it set you free in a positive or negative way? No longer going to purchase shell, or sticking with it?
DWF said a lot of things in that post, both about cordovan, the charts, regular leather and his opinions of all of all three. I stand by my personal experience with shell. I think the not so fine creasing, or rather "bending" makes it last longer due to dirt and dust and such not rubbing on itself. I see nothing wrong with having both calf and shell in rotation.
I have heard other shoemakers express a sort of hatred toward working with it. I know Philp Carr of St. Crispins was trying to talk me out of it saying it was, "unnecessary". I really had to pull his leg. Also Tony Gaziano said he doesn't like it either, however he tries pushing stingray on people, which is odd...
I imagine sting ray is probably most durable out of the lot, at least scratch resistant wise.
I agree with you that shoemakers as a whole probably aren't any too fond of cordovan...but I wouldn't term it hatred. It's more frustration and dislike than hatred--when you have to deal with uneven inconsistent thicknesses even in the same shell; the propensity to tear; the odd way in which cordovan reflects light; even the difficulty of trying to skive an edge down to a feather (there is no grain to speak of); it's hard to like it especially when your reputation and often your profit margin (slim as it may be for a bespoke maker) is at issue. I don't hate cordovan, I just don't like to work with it and I don't see any real benefits over good calf.
As far as stingray is concerned if you could see the back side of a sting ray skin you would have your doubts about it. It is a very loose network of fibers...almost like a hair net...and when it first came on the market the only way you could use it was to "back it" with a thin piece of kangaroo to give it the integrity and tensile strength that it lacks on its own.
The other thing is that a good shoemaker takes a certain pride in the fineness/finesse of his work--the closeness of the stitches; the straightness of the stitch line; the precision and cleanness of the cut edges. None of that is possible with stingray (barring some technique that I am not familiar with)...the 'tiles"/beads will break all but the thickest needles (and deflect even those) and cutting through the beads is more a process of breaking them than cutting them. So, I don't like working with it...in fact, I'd rather work with cordovan.
Parenthetically, I don't like working with deerskin or moose, either. Or shark or eel or frog. Or unnaturally textured leathers. It's the responsibility of a good shoemaker to try to steer a customer away from leathers that will not yield the results or the longevity that the customer may be envisioning. The customer has hopes, the shoemaker has experience. The best bespoke is a sharing and a merging of both.
Interesting on stingray...
With cordovan I have seen some very odd shoes, where each pattern piece reflected light in such a different way that each piece looked literally like a different color. Then turning the shoe you could see how it really was just the light. Very strange. I have also seen some shell that is very rough, some that is like glass, and as you said varying thickness. It does seem that the RTW shoes at the $1K+ price point finishes it a bit better and for some reason uses thinner shell, possibly to get the similarly refined look of calf on a dress shoe.
My RL Marlows are like that regarding lighting. In some angels they look like tan/brown specs. The shell on them is also insanely thick.
Most, if not all, of that's on the tanner. Unfortunately, there aren't all that many tanners who make shell. Horween is notorious for being indifferent to the concerns of all but the biggest of their customers. Another case of "What's Job One?"
That said, the way cordovan reflects light can be controlled...to some extent...by how each component is aligned on the shell when it is cut. Shoes that appear as if they were made out of different colours, may reflect more on the haste/expediency of the shoemaker than on the quality of the leather.
And then it became the "charm" of shell cordovan
So which exotic leather is actually nice to work with then, crocodile/alligator?
DWF, what I think I am hearing is that you don't like cordovan as a material for working with, rather than for it's durability (or potential durability) for shoes, much the same way a carpenter favors wood while a stonemason favors stone? Am I correct? I don't think a carpenter would try to assert that wood is more durable than stone, all things being equal. That doesn't mean that wooden structures haven't outlasted stone structures. I can completely see why cordovan is not favored as a material by shoemakers, and that many seem to have either a love/hate or a hate/hate relationship with it for the reasons you stated above. It seems that most use it because the customers demand it. Heck, it wasn't even produced by Horween for use as a shoe leather originally anyway. Rather, it's production for razor strops was the original intention for it. They modified their recipe for it when the demand for razor strops dropped off (with the advent of the disposable razor) so that it would be more supple and suitable for shoemaking, as an adaptation to keep their business alive. It is published that the lower tensile strength of cordovan has to be taken into consideration when it is being used to make shoes due to it's tendency to crack during the lasting process. However, once the shoe is effectively made, it would seem to me that tensile strength would be a relatively irrelevant metric for shoe durability.
The original post from JermynStreet was seeking to determine if anyone can personally vouch for the longevity of shell shoes being greater than calf shoes (and I think most are personally vouching for shell's durability). This is being debated in a couple of other threads as well. I know the internet is full of information that can't be believed, but it does seem that the general consensus among wearers of shell shoes is that shell is more durable. It is recognized as being anecdotal evidence even by those making the claims, since a study of this would have far too many variables, but the anecdotal evidence seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of shell being more durable. Bear in mind that much of this anecdotal evidence is also coming from people who baby their shoes much more than necessary, so it can't necessarily be said that they aren't caring for their calf at the expense of their shell. In fact, the most prevalent method for caring for shell (the mac method) seems to be that putting any product on shell should be avoided if possible (which seems suspect to me for long term leather health, even of cordovan). If shell can last for many years of regular use, with virtually no conditioning agents used, and still look radiant, is this not a surrogate metric for the durability of the product itself?
Not accepting the anecdotal evidence in this case seems to be unfair, due to the many variables that would confound the results of anyone seeking to develop hard data. Couldn't the same be said for many of the other debates about shoes that we have here in StyleForum which are based on anecdotal evidence? I think you generally favor experience over textbook (hard data) yourself when people argue with you about what you have found to be true through personal experience of working with leather and making shoes for decades.
I wasn't seeking to put words in your mouth with anything I have said. If I sounded that way, please excuse me. Thoughts?
No offense...because you may be a fan of shell...but "charm" is usually in the eye of the beholder. What a customer...who has little idea of the origins or deficiencies of the materials, or how that might affect technique..regards as charming may be seen as something altogether different by a shoemaker.
And all too often the customer associates "charm' with something that is immediately identifiable or has a certain cachet rather than anything of substance.
Alligator is usually (depending on species) quite nice to work with and has its own timeless cachet that adheres to the leather itself rather than the brand. And in many instances that's something both the customer and the shoemaker can agree on.
Alligator is rather specific though, no? I mean, I understand the timeless cachet of alligator cowboy boots and the circumstances one would wear them, but if somebody came into the office wearing alligator dress shoes vs. shell cordovan dress shoes attitudes would be very different.
I had to google tioraidh!
I have two pairs of Alden LHS loafers. One in calf and one in shell. Same size and last. The only difference is the shell one is unlined. They are both old enough to have been resoled once and they are both worn pretty often. The calf has cracks in some areas and shoes scuffs and nicks in the toe. The shell one looks more or less unmarked except that the once white stitching is now darkened by polish (the only "aging" is the lighter color in spots where the shoe fits most snugly). I can't know until the end, but it seems to me that the calf one will not last past one more resoling while the shell one seems to have an unlimited lifespan ahead of it (but maybe it will die of a sudden, unforeseen heart attack or stroke).
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