It’s that time of the year again – the Parisian Gentleman men’s shoe review of 2015 is just around the corner.
This will be the fourth edition of our selection – following the 2009 and 2013 reviews, and of course the one published last year, which became one of PG’s biggest hits, with more than 500 000 unique visitors evenly distributed within the French and English versions of the article.
Truth be told, we didn’t really know what to make of these numbers back in 2014. Internet numbers can grow to ludicrous extremes, and are often over-evaluated by many a micro-blogging platform. To be perfectly forthright, we weren’t completely aware of the impact we had on the houses and brands we wrote about, especially the youngest ones.
To put it another way, we weren’t sure how to accurately measure the influence our recommendations and reviews had on a brand development – which is, you will agree, a rather critical piece of knowledge for us.
However, most notably after the publication of the 2014 shoe review, we received a number of e-mails from quite a few of the brands featured in the list. This gave us the answer we were after, straight from the companies themselves.
One standout came from Daniel Porcelli, founder of the excellent on-line store Cobbler Union, who thanked us for including his brand in our selection. Daniel explained that being on our list gave his brand new venture a sizable boost in terms of notoriety and credibility.
Since then, Cobbler Union’s range has grown in scale to became one of the best choices available (quality-price ratio-wise) on the North American continent. Daniel and his team also recently opened their first physical store in Atlanta USA, but more on that later.
This example, taken among many others, brought us no small amount of pride of course. It’s always refreshing and energizing to receive first-hand accounts of the influence your work carries and it encourages us to continue working evermore in-depth on our now yearly suits & shoes selections.
The vast amount of positive feedback we received comforted us in our editorial line as well : contrary to many online forums, we almost exclusively write on brands and artisans we like. We know all too well the efforts it takes to create a brand from scratch, and we have no desire to hurt anyone’s business simply because we don’t like what the brand has to offer. To each his or her own market : at PG we’re not interested in polemics and endless debates with none of the parties emerging victorious.
Of course, we are compelled to continue offering the most exhaustive shoe review out there, all the while staying as precise and well-documented as possible, which is quite the challenge. The men’s shoe market is a sprawling beast : to give you an idea of what’s to come, in 2009, our shoe review featured 18 brands. That number grew to 22 in 2013, and to 36 in 2014, all budgets included, ranging from 150 to 1500 euros.
The 2015 shoe selection will feature 59 brands. And when I say brands, I mean houses whose shoemaking and bootmaking activities constitute the majority of the business, if not the only business (i.e. not global brands making shoes as accessories).
If the sartorial revolution is a real phenomenon, it may remain difficult to spot its effects when walking down the street. However, the soaring men’s shoe market figures do not lie.
The sheer number of bespoke bootmakers is literally exploding, and many houses that were unknown to us when we started PG six years ago are beginning to make a name for themselves. Back then, who but the most obsessive amateur would have heard of Antonio Meccariello near Naples, of Alexandru Maftei in Vienna, of Rozsnyai Sàndor in Budapest, or of Koji Suzuki in Kobé (see above photos in correct order). Not to speak of the very recent bespoke ateliers of Valentin Frunza in Moldavia or of Ramon Cuberta in Barcelona to quote but a few examples (see below photos in correct order).
On top of all that, e-stores are growing in popularity at a faster rate than ever, while the market is undergoing a digital revolution. The “direct-to-consumer” model (with no physical stores) allows brands like Jack Erwin in the USA to offer very decent products for less than $200.
Even though we, at PG, still strongly believe in the great value of visiting retail stores in person, the market has now grown enough for hybrid houses mixing online and physical retail to successfully emerge.
Such a hybrid approach to the business – when coupled with a proper return policy and a high quality customer experience – allow such diverse houses (in location, style and size) as Velasca, J.Fitzpatrick, Altan Bottier (see below), Meermin or Vass to shine.
As you may remember in last year’s selection, we lamented the lack of Italian names on the list (Santoni & Bontoni aside) – but 2015 brought about a formidable renaissance from the boot-shaped peninsula. Many Italian houses (while still working as suppliers of “private labels” for many of the biggest luxury brands) are starting to push their own brands on the side. One such house would be for example, the excellent Enzo Bonafè in Bologna.
Lastly, and probably the biggest phenomenon of the past couple of years : Spain has become a leading force behind the worldwide production of men’s shoes – with an ever-improving quality level, along with a few names like Carmina who offers an impeccable quality / price ratio.
But what about France ?
Despite a fairly grim state of the industry, especially compared with our dynamic neighbours, a few successes give us hope for the future :
– Corthay is growing as a worldwide brand with the very successful opening of a new store in Beijing, and the grand opening of a brand new manufacture in a remote city in the center of France.
– Aubercy (re)launched its bespoke atelier with Japanese bootmaker Yasuhiro Shiota.
– Caulaincourt‘s success is now confirmed in Paris – and the opening of their online store is a significant step forward.
– Septième Largeur is well on its way to becoming an international brand, with stores opening in Singapore & Taiwan.
PG’s 2015 Men’s Shoe Review is just around the corner, and it’s going to be a fantastic vintage—probably the most exciting list since we launched the website.
However positive the outlook though, one big question remains : in such an extremely dynamic market that is moving forward at a breakneck pace, will we soon reach a form of market saturation and will there be, in a few years, room for everyone ?
But that’s a concern for another time, at least for us keen observers. For now, let’s not be killjoys : the market has never been so dynamic. Creativity is at an all-time high, and the price-quality ratios have never been so advantageous, even for the tightest purses.
In today’s men’s shoe market, provided you’re motivated enough and ready to look around a bit, you should be able to find the shoes of your dreams at the right price.
If not, we can’t do anything for you.