Going brogue (Financial Times Weekend)

For some, no other shoe will do. Fashion photographer Nick Knight wears the same thing to his studio every day: White tailored shirt, Levis 505s and a pair of black brogues by Tricker’s. Christian Louboutin, an infallible barometer of footwear fashion, wears his own-brand brogues to every evening engagement – a Gallic take on very old school, cross-Channel countryside-chic – while the likes of broadcaster and high street muse Alexa Chung have been raiding the men’s outfitters to make the brogue the lace-up equivalent of the boyfriend shirt.

The Great British brogue is back with a vengeance, and a twist. New UK companies are playing the field with a more relaxed fit for men (and in many cases women) that needs no ‘breaking in’, but with the same impeccable standard of quality that has distinguished the Mayfair old guard of Tricker’s, John Lobb and Edward Green.

Over the last few seasons the brogue has become an ever more essential wardrobe element, crossing over from the gent’s outfitter to the high street via the catwalk. In the space of two seasons, Prada report that sales of brogues at their Church’s brand, have risen 5%, to 30%. Tricker’s, who for many brogue aficionados represent the best of the best, have been discreetly producing shoes for Kurt Geiger and Junya Watanabe at Comme des Garçons. The chunky Watanabe brogue, in particular, points to the previously rural-bound country brogue making further inroads into the city and high fashion.

Every shoe department is full of new-season punched holes and wing tips, with some predictably avant-garde interpretations. ‘We’ve been working with Beams in Japan,’ says Damian Wilson, the creative director of Dr. Martens. ‘We’ve created a brogue with three colours in the same shoe. The brogue is a staple for us, and cuts across a huge demographic, from street to formal and even hip hop in Tokyo. But we’re also producing more formal brogues with leather welting and high spec leathers.’

F-Troupe sell via Opening Ceremony in New York, Journal Standard in Tokyo and a recently opened flagship F-Troupe store in London. Their Northampton-made brogues take a more casual but also directional approach, with designer Mick Hoyle promising more experimentation with bright colours and unusual outsoles.

Both Dr Martens and F-Troupe are big on sneaker-like comfort, which is something the high-end cobblers are embracing too. This spring sees a new line of two-tone models at Church’s with ultra light micro soles, asserting that the brogue can be a comfy summer shoe as much as a winter stalwart.

Last year the tailor Tony Lutwyche joined forces with shoemaker Nathan Brown of Lodger Footwear to launch Mayfair outfitters Lutwyche & Lodger. Lodger hand-cut their shoes and fashion them using a vintage, rare bedlaster at their workshops in Northampton, the world capital of fine brogues. Lodger’s shoes are uniquely comfortable. ‘We have a round-toed, very classic English construction,’ says Brown, ‘but a lot of English shoes have too much material in the toe, which looks bulky and points upwards, like a ski ramp. We’ve made it more elegant, a shoe that’s designed to be comfortable from the minute you put them on. I come from the athletic side of the shoe business, and we’re using a fraction of that technology while no one else is using it at all.’

The Lodger line is playful but classic, including a dandy orange suede Balmoral brogue with contrasting mahogany grain, aimed at the man who, Brown says, ‘might wear boring shoes during the week that he kicks the hell out of, but wants a nice pair of brown brogues to wear at the weekend with jeans.’

London-based Maud O’Keefe’s new line of Italian-made shoes, launching this spring under the O’Keefe label, include chunky Goodyear welted full brogues (a half brogue may only have a punched toe cap, rather than wing tips) with an extra worked insole. ‘This makes them ready worn-in and supremely comfortable,’ says O’Keefe.  While she baulks at the idea of too many tweaks – ‘reinvention is not an option!’ she says – some of the shoes are hand-washed to give them an artful, highly attractive patina.

Soho tailor Pokit stocks a range of Goodyear welted slip-on brogues – the Horace half brogue and the Horace – which do away with laces but hide the elastic element elegantly. ‘This is a masterpiece of shoe design without aesthetic compromise,’ says Pokit’s Bayode Oduwole. ‘Margiela, Prada and Jil Sander have all made use of the technique, creating their own versions of the Horace.’

The brogue is the only kind of shoe Pockit stocks. Oduwole sees it as a poetic piece of footwear: ‘It’s the stuff of myth and legend,’ he says. ‘It’s folkish and glamorous, allegedly developed by the Irish for “bog” walking, but also the footwear of choice for gangsters, spivs, dandies and gentleman of leisure. It has a romantic Gatsby image.’

Aside from a wartime austerity version (which appeared with wing tips but no holes, to avoid wastage) the brogue continues to be defined by the elegant lace-like perforations punched into it. To echo Debussy’s famous quote about music, silence and notes, the beauty of a brogue isn’t so much in the leather, but the holes within it.









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