My Live Channel on Ustream

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What Make A Shell Cordovan Shoe So Special?

FOR METICULOUS MEN, there are few accessories as coveted—and expensive—as shoes made from shell cordovan leather, a material prized for its durability, shine and resistance to creasing.
Lately, however, those looking to buy a pair have required not only deep pockets, but also an enormous amount of patience. Even if you are willing to part with $2,000 for a pair of navy oxfords by English shoemaker Edward Green, you will have to wait six months or longer to possess a pair.
A global shortage of cordovan over the past couple of years has caused a backlog of orders. Worse yet, the crimped supply came as demand for the pricey shoes spiked thanks to renewed interest in haute-crafted men's shoes.
Shell cordovan leather comes from the muscle beneath the hide in a small area around the rump of a horse. The shell is a layer of very dense fibers that, after a lengthy tanning process, yields leather that is particularly shiny and durable. When cordovan shoes scuff, a simple rub will erase the scratch. But since its ancient discovery by the Moors in the Spanish city of Cordoba (the town from which its name is derived), the material has been far scarcer than cow leather. A single horse provides only enough cordovan for a single pair of shoes.
Adding to its cost is a long processing time. At Horween Leather in Chicago, a major supplier to brands like Alden and Allen Edmonds, cordovan takes six months to tan. To compare, its Chromexcel leather made from adult cows takes just 28 days to finish. Finished cordovan can cost up to 10 times more than high-quality steer leather.
The current shortage only piles onto that baseline scarcity, and its effects are being felt all over. At Leffot, a high-end men's shoe store in New York, many luxury brands only offer their cordovan shoes made-to-order. While the shop stocks several styles by American label Alden, which start at $750, a pair of black seamless oxfords by shoemaker Saint Crispin's, which will set you back $2,400, take 10 weeks to arrive.
A pair of black seamless oxfords by shoemaker Saint Crispin's, which will set you back $2,400, take 10 weeks to arrive.
The Armoury, a men's boutique in Hong Kong, was forced to cut the wide range of styles it once carried from Spanish shoemaker Carmina to focus on a few that it could actually physically have in stock. "[The rest] just took forever," said Alan See, the store's founder. And Colin Hall, the chief marketing officer at Allen Edmonds, cited delays of up to a month for a pair of black oxfords.
As for the cause of the shortage, the answer lies in the complex dynamics of the hide market. The cordovan supply is determined by the consumption of horse meat, explained Nick Horween, the company's 30-year-old vice president and the fifth generation in his family's business. A century ago, when horses were still common transportation and horse meat was widely eaten, hides were plentiful.
But today, with world-wide consumption of equine flesh declining, hides are limited. Mr. Horween estimated that the company processes just 15% of the horsehide it used to take in when his ancestors started the company in 1905.
The cordovan shortage hit hard in late 2012. Suddenly, the raw shells stopped arriving at Mr. Horween's tannery. He described the supply drop as a "cyclical interruption," though he declined to elaborate further, citing sensitive supplier relations.
In the clubby world of men's high fashion, there are rumors and theories. Some blame hide speculators who snapped up skins as the price of leather was about to rise. Others point to Chinese shoe manufacturers, saying they bought up entire horsehides—which include both the coveted small rear shell pieces and the cheaper and larger front pieces—in lieu of more expensive steer hide when prices for the latter spiked to historic highs in 2012. However, there is little proof of either.
Matthew Abbott, technical sales director at tannery Joseph Clayton & Sons Ltd., based in Chesterfield, England, said the supply of hides was also hurt by a horse-meat scandal last year in the U.K. "There was nothing wrong with the meat, just that it was misidentified," he said. "But I suppose people didn't want anything to do with horse for a while."
Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope for those seeking a pair of loafers or oxfords. Mr. Horween reported that the hide supply began to return to pre-drought levels at the end of the last year, which means cordovan supplies for shoemakers may soon be back to normal. His advice to covetous shoppers: Sit tight. More is coming soon. That doesn't quite mean that cordovan shoes will be plentiful, however. "It's still not as much as the market wants," said Mr. Horween.
Find Your Favorite Pair of Horween Leather Shoes From Allen Edmonds:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Belts The Next Frontier of Men's Accessories?

Belts: The Next Frontier of Men's Accessories?

Late Last Summer, Andrew Heffernan and his girlfriend, Anna Lundberg, were looking for a fresh angle on the burgeoning menswear market.

Mr. Heffernan, a surgeon and Harvard M.B.A. who'd reinvented himself as a New York-based fashion entrepreneur, had noted that menswear was growing at nearly twice the clip of womenswear. Men's accessories, in particular, looked like the business to get in on, given recent retail success stories like Happy Socks, Havaianas flip flops and neckwear line the Tie Bar. All leaders of the so-called "mono-brand" revolution, these startups had seized tremendous market share in record time by focusing on a single product.
Mr. Heffernan, 40, approached the exercise in a way that befits an M.B.A. who had spent a year working at Bain Consulting. "We looked at the numbers, which were just staggering," he said. "Socks, particularly colored socks, were up, gloves were up, scarves were up, even ties were up." Everything was up, that is, except belts. "We thought, surely this is a sleeping giant," he said.
In January, the couple launched Beltology, an online-only brand devoted to giving the least-noticed, least-talked about and least-fetishized accessory in menswear its proper place of worship. "We want to do for belts what Swatch did for the wristwatch back in [1983]," said Mr. Heffernan.
Mr. Heffernan and Ms. Lundberg, 26, have developed what they believe to be the Platonic ideal of the men's belt, based on a popular Italian style. Woven from strips of elasticized rayon, polyester or waxed cotton, leather-trimmed and with hardware made of the metal alloy Zamak, the 1- to 1¼-inch-wide belts are available in 50 iterations—some solid, some multicolored and patterned. They sell for between $45 and $65, about half the price of pieces by cult woven-belt purveyor Anderson's of Parma, Italy. A similar version in blue cotton by Paul Smith retails for $125 on the men's fashion website Mr Porter.
'We looked at the numbers. Socks were up, gloves were up, scarves were up, even ties were up.' Everything was up, except belts.
"We believe that ours is by far the best belt for two reasons," Mr. Heffernan said. "Number one, there are no belt holes, so from a sizing point of view we've basically covered the whole market with just four sizes. Number two, it stretches by up to 25%, so whether you're standing or sitting, whether you've put on a bit of weight or lost some, it adjusts to your body."
Mr. Heffernan and Ms. Lundberg's product is inarguably solid, but whether belts are the next frontier in men's accessories remains to be seen.
Brian Trunzo, co-owner of downtown New York menswear mecca Carson Street Clothiers, thinks modern tailoring might be to blame for flat belt sales. He said that many of his customers have been dispensing with belts entirely, particularly when wearing tailored pants with adjustable side tabs and back buckles. "Belts have been—to use a phrase I hate—not really on-trend," he said.
Juliana Sohn for The Wall Street Journal
When he isn't being interviewed for newspaper articles about them, Mr. Trunzo said he rarely thinks about belts and believes that few men do. "Every guy has his good trusty belt he's had for years," Mr. Trunzo said. However, he added, his store does a decent trade in belts, particularly one of his team's own design.

look like heavyweight championship boxing belts because they're so thick and rough," he said. "Our belt is only 1-inch [wide] and made of alligator, with a brass buckle. It's sleeker and a little more elegant." (It's also $425, though there's a version in bridle leather for $125.)
Andy Spade, the force behind the boutique branding agency Partners & Spade, is at a loss when asked to explain why belts have remained on the sidelines while extras like pocket squares and striped socks have become style-blog fodder. "I guess no one's really put them in front of men yet," said Mr. Spade, adding of Beltology: "It's a super smart idea, though. Ralph Lauren started with ties, right?"
Ever the early adopter, Mr. Spade, the founder of menswear label Jack Spade, is himself a belt aficionado, and estimates that his collection numbers around 200. "I'm a belt lover. You might even call me a fanatic," he said. Mr. Spade is particularly partial to Indian beaded belts and those with silver plaque buckles that say things like "Loser" or "666." "Like ties," he said, "belts are a way for men to express their personality without being too crazy."

"We don't have as many accessories to work with [as women do], so a belt can be an opportunity to really punctuate an outfit, and to help create a signature style," observed Bruce Pask, men's fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman. "I wouldn't count the belt out," he added. "[It's] held up many a gent's trousers over the course of hundreds of years and outmaneuvered braces and suspenders." Mr. Pask pointed to stronger sales of woven leather belts by
 Giorgio Armani, Bottega Veneta and Bergdorf Goodman's house label.In the ever-expanding menswear universe, the notion that belts could become the accessory du jour makes sense to other insiders, too.
GQ fashion director Jim Moore said that the men's fashion magazine is "back in full-throttle belt mode," after several seasons of jettisoning them from his pages. In last year's April issue, he ran a story featuring over 30 styles, including a striped ribbon belt, a tooled leather version, one in woven leather and another with colorful Indian beading. "The belt is your new pocket square," Mr. Moore said. "It's your new accent piece that can really make or break a look."
A few options to pick from:

Follow eriktampa on Twitter