Saturday 7th May saw the much-delayed London Super Trunk Show go ahead. Organised by Jesper from Shoegazing and Justin of the Shoe Snob Blog, the show featured a selection of makers from across the world, all finally together in one room in London to talk shoes and... uh... boots... and ... well those were pretty much the topics.
The event took place at Showcase on Regent Street. On entry, we were welcomed by the impressive sight above - the entrants for the World Championships of Shoemaking competition.
There was also the World Championship of shoe-shining and a patina competition judged by Tom of the Jaunty Flaneur / Valet. I didn't stay around for the outcome of those - to be honest I find polishing my own shoes about the limit of my interest in the topic without watching someone else do it - but I'm sure Jesper and Justin will have their own articles on that too. Here, I'm going to run through each of the vendors in attendance.
I wasn't expecting this to be my favourite maker at the shoe - I've seen a fair amount of Norman Vilalta shoes online, and while undeniably very distinctively styled could never see a place for them in my collection.
Seeing them in person was rather different though. It's difficult to capture the full breadth of Norman's styles and designs, but it certainly seems like he will try his hand at pretty much anything, mostly with a good level of success. He seems to have a savant level understanding of what rules can be broken when it comes to a shoe's design.
I thought his most impressive shoe, and the ones that seemed to be getting the most attention, was this lazyman in a cherry red patina. The elasticated section is on the other side from the photo.
I also enjoyed these side-lace oxfords and unusual laced Chelsea boots - messing around with lace placement and arrangement seems to be one of Norman's favourite things.
His shoes are mostly available from his own site, with prices around the £900 mark.
If you've been following the quality men's shoe scene for the last few years, you probably already know about Acme. A Chinese maker offering hand welted options in a range of really appealing designs, they initially started out as extraordinary bargains for what you got, though with price hikes over the years they are now merely good rather than great value.
Sadly, Covid threw one last spanner into the works this year - although Acme's sample shoes arrived safely, their staff did not - with China on lockdown, it wasn't practical for any Acme reps to attend, so they relied on some very game volunteers to step in instead.
This meant I couldn't really have as detailed a chat as I was hoping for, though I did get to confirm my sizing on a sample shoe, which was worthwhile (they run pretty true to standard UK sizing, FYI).
As far as the actual product - yes, I can confirm they live up to the hype, and yes, I'm extremely tempted to order a pair. Acme are extraordinarily flexible in what they can produce, so I will need to give this some careful thought.
Standout models for me were the racing green hatchgrain split-toes pictured above, with dainty little alligator facing details, and a very sharp pair of wingtip brogues shown below.
Acme shoes are pricey, though exact costs will depend on your makeup. Obviously since they are coming from China you would need to factor in taxes and duties, etc.
P.S. I loved their little feather-design shoehorns with iridescent finishes - you can see them in the back of a couple of shots.
A maker with a very strong showing at the show - they had a great range of models and styles on display.
I confess most of the shoes left me a bit cold - while technically clearly very accomplished, they are a million miles away from what I would consider wearing day-to-day. Very exaggerated shapes and dramatic patinas were the order of the day, and for better or worse, Covid has only made my taste in shoes more boring and functional.
The distinctive sole finish on full effect here. There is something quite nice about knowing this intricate design will quickly disappear as soon as the shoes are worn in earnest - it's a very flamboyant addition.
A slightly more sober model below shows that they don't just make crazy shoes!
And a rather less sober model below shows they really can make some crazy shoes.
Paolo Scafora shoes mostly start just north of £1,000, but are well worth a look if you want something that makes a statement. They're not for me, but it was great to get a look at them.
Another maker that you will have heard about if you've been keeping an eye on men's shoes recently. TLB rocketed into view very quickly, and are well regarded for their quality to price ratio, most especially for their Artista line of shoes.
Truth be told, TLB Mallorca did little to wow me - in all fairness, I think that's a "me" problem rather than their fault. Set against makers like Acme, Paolo Scafora and Norman Vilalta, it was inevitable that their offering would pale in comparison.
They did bring their A-game in terms of their setup, with lots of models to look at and try on to get an idea of sizing. But I didn't find the styling substantially more interesting than, say, Crockett & Jones, and while they offer some fantastic features for the price, I think my taste in shoes has become a bit rarefied (snobbish, some would say) to pick them up.
European buyers can shop directly from TLB's site or from retailer Skolyx. Both also offer some interesting customisation options for very reasonable surcharges.
Okay, so after some moaning entries a more positive one. I was very pleasantly surprised by Bridlen, an India maker who you would be forgiven for not knowing much about, but should give some consideration to.
Their main line Goodyear welted shoes were extremely impressive for the price (starting around £220), and they also have made to order options if you drop them an email.
They don't look extremely exciting in photos, but there was a robustness there that surprised given the price point.
I was really interested by these Galway-style boots in Russian reindeer leather - I could see a commission of these with a brown leather and suede shafts as providing some impressive value.
CNES had a heck of an impressive table on display, no doubt about that. It was lovely poring over the various options, and the pricing is punchy with various Goodyear welted and hand-sewn models available for about $200.
A nice pair of wholecut crocodile oxfords, though a bit aggressively patinaed for my taste.
Eye-catching sole finishes were in good evidence. I don't know if I like this or not really, but it's impressive regardless.
Some nicely finished, lasted shoe trees. I'm a sucker for a colourful shoe tree.
Most of the above are a bit flamboyant for me, but they also showed off some more understated models like this longwing austerity brogues in a hatch-grain leather.
Mori of Shoemakers
Not much to say about these guys sadly - only a handful of models on show, but the reps seemed to be on phone calls for most of the time, which made me a bit wary about chatting with them.
The models themselves were well made, but noticeably less outlandish and colourful than some of the exhibitors above.
Beautiful, stunning shoes, that are so far out of my price range that it's almost moot discussing them. The brainchild of renowned maker Daniel Wegan, previous winner of the World Championship of Shoemaking, Catella is a purely bespoke operation, meaning prices upwards of £4,000 per pair.
It was a modest table, but the shoes themselves were by some distance the finest shoes on exhibition. Maybe one day!
So the aesthetic isn't going to set the world on fire, that much seems clear, but Modum are trying something new in terms of how their shoes fit. Users can scan their foot with Modum's app, customise their design, then receive a pair of shoes made to a perfectly fitted personal last. Prices start around £500.
Now, it would be naïve at this point to say anything other than... that's the theory. Shoe last-making is an art - a dying art - and the human foot is a complex, baffling thing. Achieving a perfect is something that still escapes some bespoke makers who charge £5,000+ for the privilege, so to expect technology to fill the gaps is no certainty. But they do commit to a perfect fit, even if that means adjusting or even remaking the shoe.
Stylistically, Modum's approach is classic and conservative. I guess I have a worry that they exist in a strange space - people that care enough about their shoes to go through this process will probably want shoes with a bit more flair and character - people who just need classic business shoes for a reasonable price are already well served by any number of established makers.
But far be it from me to crap on a maker that is trying something new, so I wish them all the best.
Septieme Largeur are a French maker that I completely forgot to take any photos of - apologies!
They are well regarded for their value proposition, but maybe more known for their work in bringing unusual custom patinas to the wider market. Indeed, they have a wide range of blank "base" models of shoe that you can customise your patina for as part of the order.
So that was the shoe - a nice day out certainly, and I'll be sure to follow up with any orders I place as a result.