I'd like to know as well (sorry, no answers here). After all the polo.com stories on the forum, I'd say claims of "handmade" on polo.com are dubious at best. I have the Greysouthern model that is currently on Bluefly (quite affordable, I might add), which look very similar to the Carlson. The leather is not the finest, and (from the pics) looks the same as used for the Carlson. The Carlson's sole looks a little thinner and more elegant. That said, I'd wear my polo shoes any day over most models from Bostonian, etc., though I doubt they're from any high-end Italian maker. I also have the Bierley boot in brown, also Made in Italy. Also, saw the Fearson model at Off 5th the other day, much much nicer in person.
Yeah, we're all at a loss here regarding the Polo Blue Label shoes. First, the quality of the Grey Southern leather is not as good as the Carlson/Fearson/Brawley shoes. It's stiffer and has more grain imperfections that are masked through painting. Not a bad shoe for the money though.
Second, I'd disagree that it's not a high-end Italian maker. It depends on what you mean by high end. Is Ferragamo high end? Maybe they are made by Ferragamo -- there are so many Blue Label shoes out there, they must be made by either multiple entities or by one that has the capability of mass producing a welted shoe.
Third, at retail, the Polo made in Italy shoes are inferior to the similarly priced Peale shoes at Brooks Brothers.
Mediocre-good scotchgrain. Â I actually picked up the last pair in size 8 when I bought my McCallums... I had to return them due to a splitting issue along the rubber sole. Â The construction on the Italian made Polo line is a significant drop from the benchgrade C&Js, while the leathers used for the uppers are so-so: pretty comparative to Allen Edmonds in regards to materials, however, I find the construction suspect for shoes with a $300+ MSRP.
And, to answer your question concerning manufacturer/origin, I think the Blue label shoes are probably subcontracted to multiple Italian makers. Â There's even a significant difference among the Blue label shoes priced between $165-385.
I mean, if you needed a pair of brown shoes and you had a limited budget, then I'd say for sure. But if you already have a couple of nice brown shoes that you like, chances are you will never wear these (unless you used them as rain shoes or something). So it wouldn't be worth the money. The Fearsons and Brawleys have pretty nice burnishing on their brown versions, but I've seen the black Grey Southerns and I can't see that quality of leather making a good brown shoe at all. The last is decent (though different and not as elegant as the Fearson/Brawley last), but the Grey Southern leather is not even as good as Mezlan in my opinion.