A little while ago I wrote about "patina" - that is to say patina in its traditional definition, which is the gradually occurring finish that develops on a pair of shoes over time due to wear and exposure to the elements.
For some people achieving a patina is simply an unintended result of wearing their shoes - they don't give it any more thought than that. It's an inherent mark of quality (in that a badly made pair of shoes won't survive long enough to develop a patina).
While I think certain online communities can over-fetishize the formation of patina by intentionally destroying and abusing a pair of shoes to accelerate a patina, which seems somewhat masturbatory to me, it's an interesting facet of the hobby nonetheless.
This post is about the other and rather accelerated kind of patina - for those with less time or a much more specific aesthetic effect in mind. Patina artistry is a niche but intriguing industry of people colouring shoes, sometimes to mimic the effects of natural patina, and sometimes to create patterns or colours that would otherwise be impossible.
There is a certain duality at work with patina creation: to wit, to you must destroy before you can create. In this context, the patina artist must first remove the existing colouring of the leather and strip it back as much as possible before they apply the new colouring.
Speaking broadly, it's easier to work on already lighter coloured leathers, or if working on a darker leather it's easier to aim for a darker finish. As you can imagine, stripping a black pair of shoes back to get a light tan end result is arduous work (and maybe not even possible or worth the effort), whereas getting a pair of black shoes to a dark racing green is much more achievable, and a less risky proposition for all involved.
Choosing your artist
There are a couple of people specialising in this craft in London, but the one I tried out was the Jaunty Flaneur. Previously based in the Cad & Dandy on Savile Row, they now have a place in the Valet (also on Savile Row), which also offers specialist dry-cleaning and hand-pressing for high-end suits.
The process is fairly simple - drop off or post your shoes, and discuss with Tom (the owner of the company) what sort of effect you are after. Tom is a real pleasure to talk to - fellow shoe nerds will know how rare it is to find somebody with a similar level of interest in your hobby, and to call Tom's knowledge encyclopaedic would be a disservice to encyclopaedias. He's clearly passionate about what he's doing, and can advise if what you are after is a good idea, or if it's going to be too risky to aim for given the leather involved.
The shoes in question were my beloved Saint Crispin's austerity brogues. Not a pair I would usually consider getting re-coloured as I loved the existing dark brown, but I had clumsily damaged the finish of the delicate crust leather with some Saphir Renovateur shoe cream - not a product I had ever had issues with before, but apparently more than capable of discolouring Saint Crispin's leather. They had been left with several unsightly splodges in quite visible sections.
I was very sad.
I discussed with Tom and we ended up settling on a cherry red colouring, not unlike the rather delightful Gaziano & Girling St James II that I recently reviewed, pictured above. A wrench to lose the original colour, but I already have a good coverage of brown shoes so some red would be useful - incidentally, I wrote recently about the surprising applications of red in a shoe rotation.
As mentioned previously, the patina process is one that begins quite destructively. The leather is stripped back of existing dye with some pretty harsh alcohols - a distressing mental image perhaps, but good quality leather is a hardy substance and can take such abuse.
Once this is done, dyes are carefully applied, in strategic layers and locations to give the desired end result. This is the nerve-wracking bit - having tried a bit of my own dying of shoes, achieving an even coverage, with no streaks or splodges, and a consistent colouring between the two shoes - well, it's not easy, I'll say that.
The end result was a very pleasing one. The depth of colour achieved is impressive. The colouring is a vivid cherry red - perhaps even bolder than I expected - but in a wardrobe of black and brown shoes, they are a welcome addition.
There is some light burnishing around the edges of the panels, which adds some depth to the colouring. Not quite a museum marbling, but certainly more arresting than the original shade which was relatively flat.
An unexpected benefit is that the colour of the leather now matches the bright red lining. Unexpected because I had largely forgotten they had a red lining. So that's neat.
The only nitpick I'd have, and it's a minor one, is a slight splodge just above the right toe. I'll see how it wears in over time (obviously being rather more careful with which products I use to condition them in future). But the shoes are so show-stopping that I think it would take a real pedant to notice. I'll be breaking them in at a wedding in April.
The shoes came with a great mirror polish and a nice pair of branded shoe bags, which is always welcome, and a great touch that adds a sense of professionalism to what is otherwise a pretty niche service.
This patina cost £140. It's not a cheap thing to do, but there is a lot of detail and labour involved to get this kind of result. If you do want to try it out yourself, there are ample guides out there on the internet, and the essential products you need to get are not expensive. But be warned that it's a real skill, and trying it yourself will give an appreciation for the quality of work that professionals can provide.
If you are looking to repair or rejuvenate some shoes, or maybe reinvent a pair that you don't normally wear, I'd highly recommend them. At £140 it's substantially cheaper than another pair of high-quality shoes and is rather more sustainable too. They also offer high-quality resoling and toe-tap application. Get in touch with them on Instagram for pricing.
As of writing, they also announced that the Jaunty Flaneur was taking over the wider business at the Valet, to provide a one-stop shop for suit and shoe care. A great idea I think, and I wish them the best of luck with it. If you're looking for them on Instagram you'll find them at @notesfromthevalet rather than the Jaunty Flaneur.