SAFE MODE Expensive shoes can pay dividends of both style and respect. From top: Hubertus Orlato Flats, $995, Christian Louboutin, 212-396-1884; Alessandro Contrast Shoes, $1,940, Berluti, 212-439-6400; Weldon Shoes, $1,435, John Lobb, 212-888-9797; Pierre Hardy Shoes, $845, matchesfashion.com; Oxfords, $1,100, santonishoes.com; Salvatore Ferragamo Tramezza Shoes, $1,600, tramezza.ferragamo.com; Tiara 3046-12 Safe, $8,500, acmesafenewyork.com
F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Alejandra Sarmiento
Oct. 20, 2016 3:35 p.m. ET
IT’S BEEN AWHILE, but I still recall certain agonizing aspects of my first big job interview. Barely in my 20s, I was living in Sydney, Australia, and going for an editor position at a publishing company that specialized in luxury fashion magazines. I was a working-class kid with big ideas and an expanding bank account, thanks to the proceeds from a boy band I’d fronted (long story), and I’d made it to the last round. It was time to meet the owner, an intimidatingly suave Italian who was, by all accounts, a walking sandwich board for Milan élan. My outfit from that day remains a blur, but I vividly remember that as I was strategizing my look, it dawned on me that the reasonably handsome pair of oxfords I planned to wear—my only real special-occasion shoes—just weren’t going to cut it. The Paul Simon song “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” was big then, and perhaps the lyric about the poor boy who splashes on after-shave “to compensate for his ordinary shoes” had insinuated itself into my consciousness. To be clear, it’s not like I grew up with a “shoe fund” like the cash-strapped family on “The Waltons.” My parents were hardworking first-generation immigrants who made sure we never went without anything—and to my thinking I was always an aristocrat of the mind. But I also knew that not too many kids like me ended up with great jobs in the media. Before you could say “class complex,” I high-tailed it to the most august shoe store in town to drop a small fortune on a pair of brown lace-up cordovan derbies from Crockett & Jones. I hastily wore the austere, leather-soled beauties straight out of the shop, and so began my decades-long love affair with—how else to put it?—a better class of shoe.
‘Before you could say ‘class complex,’ I high-tailed it to the most august shoe của hàng in town.’
When it comes to masculine connoisseurship, some guys obsess over cars and cigars, others are into mechanical watches, but fine shoes are my compulsion. Don’t get me wrong: I love sneakers as much as the next guy, and I’ve been known to splurge on ridiculously trendy footwear (I call these “high-earning hairdresser shoes”). But for the most part I’m partial to Church’s, John Lobb, Berluti, Ferragamo and Alden—establishment brands whose sober styles are the staples of international business. For someone who works in fashion, I detest mua sắm and assiduously avoid clothing stores, preferring to buy trực tuyến and have my shirts and suits made by New York tailor Paul Marlow. But I could spend hours at Jeffery-West and Leffot, shops on Christopher Street in Manhattan, poring over footwear from redoubtable names like Edward Green, Gaziano & Girling and Saint Crispin’s. I am fascinated by the shoes’ smell and sheen, by their provenance and supreme detailing.
On occasion I have also had custom shoes made in New York and London, including a recent pair of precision-fitted, double-sole wingtips from J.M. Weston on Madison Avenue. The process called on me to choose from more than 100 models and over 180 different leathers and colors, weighing in on linings, perforations, stitching, soles and even the type of shoelaces. Three months later I had the shoes and strutted around town in them like I’d won a pedestrian version of “Pimp My Ride.” I’m nowhere near as committed as some shoe lovers I’ve encountered. Vladimir Dzeletovic, an Indianapolis-based vintage jeweler and watch dealer, keeps his formidable collection—“I stopped counting after 200 pairs,” he admitted—in a custom-designed, temperature-controlled room. And Giuseppe Santoni, the CEO of Italian shoe brand Santoni, has over 400 pairs of mostly blue shoes in various shades and materials. I don’t pretend that these “classics”—a term pregnant with class distinction—represent a solid investment. Sure, they can last a lifetime if well maintained, but that’s not why I’m attracted to them. I just think that I look better, more commanding, in leather dress shoes. They confer instant authority and elevate any outfit, regardless how casual or disheveled. In fact, most of the time I prefer to team expensive shoes with a pair of Uniqlo jeans, a T-shirt and a blazer. I like the way I carry myself in quality footwear—the extra glide in my stride that they offer—and it doesn’t hurt that a double-leather sole gives me a bit of extra height. And given fashion’s current obsession with street wear, stepping out in these venerable brands is almost punk: like Jeremy Irons showing up at a Justin Bieber afterparty, to show the kids how it’s done. I’m not the only one who subscribes to the French adage that shoes make the man. “It says volumes about your dedication to a look,” said famed basketball player Dwyane Wade. Mr. Wade, who wears a size 15, owns over 800 pairs of shoes, and though over half are sneakers (including many designed for him by Chinese sports behemoth Li-Ning), he also has hundreds of custom dress shoes from labels including Berluti, Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent and Miami-based designer Fabrice Tardieu, which he keeps in a room in his Miami home specially devoted to footwear. It remains to be seen whether he will re-create the setup in his new Chicago home now that he has transferred to the Chicago Bulls, but his love of fine shoes seems unlikely to abate. “I find there is a certain màn chơi of style respect I receive when I am dressed well from head to toe,” he said. Compliments aside, spending a little extra on shoes may also give you a competitive edge in business. According to Mark Bowden, a shoe fanatic and nonverbal communications expert who counsels everyone from fledgling entrepreneurs to politicians and Fortune 500 CEOs on how to stand out and generate trust, few things will undermine your efforts more than a cheap- looking pair of shoes. “I have seen this with a number of CEO’s that I have advised to nâng cấp their footwear,” he said. By contrast, he added, “When you see and hear the sturdy, measured steps of quality leather soles coming down a marble or wooden floor, it lets you know you may have met your match or better. The way you show up ultimately is going to decide whether people trust you or not.” It’s a sartorial strategy that has worked for me over the years, even when unequipped with marble floors. At my job interview back in the day, the gruff but well-turned-out publisher shook my hand, complimented me on my shoes (apparently he had a similar pair) and, after a cursory conversation about soccer of all things, he offered me the job. I’m still as common as mud in a landslide, but you should see my shoe collection.
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