Kick on with a pair of statement shoes

Statement shoes, it's fair to say, are not a staple of every man's wardrobe.

He might splash a dash of colour and a bit of flair in his choice of sneakers or casual shoes; but when it comes to leather he's more likely to stick to the holy trinity of black, brown and tan.

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Aesthetics are one of the major considerations when forking out for a new pair of leather shoes; even in staple colours, a beautifully made pair makes a strong impression.

But in Australia there is an unspoken rule of thumb that one should only be so adventurous, lest it be mistaken for attention seeking or that most heinous of crimes: being “a bit of a wanker”.

Scott Lewis, owner of Melbourne shoe store Beggar Man Thief, sums up the general feeling thus: “I want people to look - but not too much.”

Broadening boundaries

It's a narrow line that men in conservatively attired professions attempt to tread, but Lewis believes the boundaries are broadening as recognition grows for the value of high-quality shoes.

“To me, it's a natural evolution from guys first of all coming into good shoes, then into quality shoes. Now they're experimenting with colour and as long as the quality is underpinning everything, I think you've got lots of room to move,” Lewis says.

But, he notes, men's experimentation with colour is progressing slowly.


“It's only been in the last year that we've seen burgundy and merlot colours start to out-sell tans and browns. And that's because I think those colours, as well as olive green and slate blue, now fall within a category that is characterful within a conservative framework.”

Go West

Conservatism is a relative value, though, balanced by those who steer a firm course toward flamboyancy. Luckily so for Melbourne cobbler-turned-retailer Manfred Schopf, who otherwise may not have discovered English shoemaker Jeffrey West.

At his North Melbourne shoe repair store, Schopf was always struck when a pair of Jeffrey West shoes crossed his counter, usually amongst a sea of black Oxfords.

“I absolutely fell in love with them straight away,” Schopf says. He was so taken with the shoes that he decided to open up a boutique, Manfred's Shoe Lounge, next door to his cobbling store to sell them.

Schopf says customers entering his shop are frequently mesmerised by the colourful range, often replete with gothic-inspired diamond broguing, fire engine red soles and lining. Few who behold this array are surprised to learn that Jeffrey West lists its inspirations as Regency dandies, fin de siecle decadence, 20th century subculture, pop culture and a swath of swashbucklers, wits and hellraisers.

But the English shoemaker is not getting carried away with channeling history's most eccentric characters. In an interview with British lifestyle and business magazine Square Mile earlier this year, co-founder Guy West said that while Jeffrey West's out-there streak sets it apart from long-established English shoemakers, traditional styles and colours are still part of their range.

“I think it's always been about that balance,” West says. “We try and push the conservative ideal as much as we can, but we do find there's a certain look that people think they should conform with. I don't think it's as strong as people think. I think that you can subvert it a bit – and that's where we come in.”

Subversive elements

The subversionary tactic has clearly paid off. The company's shoes have been so embraced by London's money men that the city's financial district has emerged as Jeffrey West's main market.

Equally, though, many men are comfortable where they stand and have no great desire to venture too far from accepted norms, especially when it comes to colour.

For those loyal to traditional shades, Sydney stylist Kelly Smythe says mixing tones and textures can still produce a classy, bespoke look.

“Mixing up your textures such as leather and suede is a great and subtle way for men to ease themselves into doing something different,” Smythe says.

Colours such as burgundy, tan, chocolate brown and bronze have many tones that blend well into one another to create an interesting appearance.

Not so straight-laced

Another quick and inexpensive way to achieve a flash of individuality is with coloured shoelaces.

“You might put on a purple lace one day and red the next. It's subtle and you can do that with just about any shoe,” Smythe says.

If you do throw caution to the wind in choosing your next pair of statement shoes, it's best to keep the rest of your ensemble simple, she cautions.

Beggar Man Thief's Lewis agrees: “The freedom to do almost anything in a shoe gets broader as long as there's some sort of restraint elsewhere in the game.”


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