Sunday, January 25, 2009

Men's shoes: Do we need a Christian Louboutin?

In this blog post, Lauren Goldstein Crowe, a luxury goods consultant, decries the moribund state of men's shoes. She may be right that it's moribund but then she laments "Where, oh where, is the Christian Louboutin of men’s footwear?" Louboutin is of course the well-known "high-end" women's shoe designer. Apparently he and Manolo Blahnik sell the most expensive and desirable women's shoes on the market.

As I describe in a comment following the article, men have plenty of choices in quality men’s shoes. In the US and UK, we have a number of quality RTW makes: Edward Green. John Lobb, Crockett & Jones, Trickers, Alden and a host of others from Italy and Central Europe (Vass, St. Crispins).

For bespoke, look again to England (Cleverley, Foster & Son, Gaziano & Girling, John Lobb St James), Italy (Ugolini, Gatto, Bestetti), France (Corthay, Berluti) or Central Europe (Vass, Maftei, Balint, Scheer).

The problem is not in the lack of quality makers for both RTW and bespoke. Quality men's shoes have been around for decades - long before Christian Louboutin ever became popular in women's shoes. The real problem is that men do not understand or appreciate quality shoemaking while the cost of labor has inexorably risen. The result is that fewer men are able to both appreciate and afford shoes made by the makers mentioned above. But that loss is I hope offset by the increasing self-education of men in this area - witness this and countless other blogs and discussion forums on men's clothing.


texquire said...

I disagree. Plenty of men appreciate quality shoes, enough to support the companies you named. The "problem" lies with the inherent difference between high end menswear, and high end women's fashion.
High end menswear is not responsive to fashion and trends. A quality suit/shirt/pant will look and feel much like it did 100 years ago. The fabrics, cuts, and construction are for the most part, static. Men today still aspire to look like Fred Astaire, the Duke of Windsor, and Gianni Agnelli. A Northampton cap toe oxford will look and feel the same as it did 100 years ago. In fact, it's a selling point for men. If I get the John Lobb oxford, I may never need to purchase that shoe again. I can have it restored, but that spending is done until I want something different.
The fashion/trend sector of menswear lies in the lower tiers, occupied by Versace, Kenneth Cole, and the like.
High end women's clothing is 100% fashion. It doesn't matter how long the Laboutin shoes last, because their style life is very short. After that, the shoe may have many miles left, but will be replaced with a newer fashion.
What's the significance of this?
Changes in fashion is the engine that drives sales. The well made cap-toe oxford never needs to be replaced, but the trendy heel does, no matter how well constructed.
A few quality manufacturers, Allen Edmonds comes to mind, have made an effort to bridge the gap between quality and fashion.
In short, I disagree that men don't appreciate quality. If anything, men appreciate quality more than women. It's that men don't appreciate fashion to nearly the same degree as women. And if your shoe looks just as good last year as it did this year, there's no reason to replace it.

tintin said...

A great post. I had a conversation with John Carnera at George Cleverly a couple of years ago about the what it costs him to make a pr a shoes, what he can sell them for and how it relates to expenses. I have to tell you this...compared to the cost of a bespoke suit - - custom shoes are a helluva value. Consider, as textquire points out, that the fashion does not change. You rarely outgrow shoes. Hard to lose like umbrellas, hats and raincoats and gloves. Some leather, cordovan for instance, can last for donkey years. And they only get better as they get older.

A bargain indeed.

erasmus said...

Texquire, your larger point about men's and women's clothing is quite valid. Men's clothing is clearly different from "fashion" as understood and appreciated by women. However, that does not explain why the majority of men's footwear sales today is in the lower price segment (i.e. nonwelted shoes). Bespoke and quality handguided/machine-made shoes make up a very small percentage of total sales.

While I agree that clearly a certain percentage of men appreciate quality, I wouldn't go so far as to say that "plenty of men" do. If that were the case, we should see the number of suppliers and annual production remain the same or increase.

However, the number of quality of men's shoemakers has declined across the board since World War II. This is an unfortunate fact. Northampton used to be the epicenter of English shoemaking with dozens of makers. Now less than 5 or 6 remain. A similar decline in production has occurred in the US. Why? Partially due to what I describe - changing men's tastes and preferences for lower cost goods aided by cheaper substitutes made overseas. Price is clearly a critical factor in what gets sold today, along with the willingness to pay for less handwork, lower quality leather, etc.

erasmus said...

Tintin, I agree that bespoke shoes are not as expensive as they might seem. On an annualized basis over the lifespan of a pair of bespoke shoes, the total cost of ownership compares pretty well to buying a new pair of dress shoes every couple of years.

Joe said...

nice blog u have

sleevehead said...

Joe - Very nice use of contemporary pictures and persons to show what a sense of style means today.

Air Force 1 said...

The shoe fashion has been changing very quickly and I think its important to keep yourself updated with what's in trend and hottest in 2009. I just read about this new addition in Nike sports shoes which is Nike Auto Force 180 and this holiday edition 2009 is really cool. It has got a vulcanized sole which gives it a cool casual look. Its a good buy and you can check this out when its available.

HeelZ said...

This shoe belongs to Steve Harvey - in blue suede with a red sole with three gold bars in front of the heel.

Since I can't attach the picture, you can find it on my blog -

So I agree - there are plenty of men's shoe designers. Us girls want to keep Christian Louboutin to ourselves.

sleevehead said...

Heelz - Interesting product you have there. And it does seem Louboutin is sticking to women's shoes (although I suspect his men's shoes would probably sell well).

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