Saint Crispin’s use the most most underwhelming shoe-boxes you’ll see from of any of the high end shoe makers. Plain brown cardboard, stapled together and ready for the recycling.
Understanding why their shoe-boxes are so forgettable partly explains why they’re the best value for money, hand lasted shoes available anywhere. But I’ll come back to that later.
Made in Brasov, Romania (with the added benefit in keeping costs down), Saint Crispin’s first iteration was in 1985. They were held in high regard in Europe as a boutique maker, since their inception. In 2003 Phillip Car bought in to and took over the managerial function of the business (from his cousin, a shoemaker) and the modern face of Saint Crispin’s began to take place. In 2010 Phillip bought his cousin’s remaining 50% share of the business and he now owns Saint Crispin’s outright.
Saint Crispin’s now employ 28 staff (Phillip included) and work out of a small space of only 400 square metres.
Phillip came from an IT background, but loved shoes and wanted to make this his focus for the future. He brought more structure to the business, refined processes and allowed it to grow. It’s still “small” compared to most other makers in this category, (starting from 1,350Euro per pair) making only around 1,500 pairs per year.
Most other makers use their ready-to-wear (RTW) lines as their main income producer, with made-to-order (MTO) and bespoke services acting as supplementary services. Where Saint Crispin’s model differs is that they only make one pair of shoes at a time, with RTW forming a very small part of the business and this is only done in small runs for the handful of stockists they work with. In part, because it allows potential customers to try a pair of Saint Crispin’s and then gives them the option to move into their MTO shoes afterwards.
What this means is that the business is built around facilitating individual commissions, made one pair at a time, hand-lasted (not machine/good-year welted, as with the English makers), for a single customer. This gives customers complete flexibility around what they have made, from design, through to fit (more on that below). As an example; if you want a pair of Adelaide’s made, but you want the toe-cap extended, a customised medallion, the pattern of the heel cut differently or any other features, you can have it done at either no extra cost or a small cost, depending on the level of customisation required.
Phillip, like Salva Ambrosi, travels prolifically, so it’s not hard to track him down at a trunk show at one of Saint Crispin’s stockists, scattered around the world.
As with suits, none of the above details matter if the fit isn’t right. Saint Crispin’s standard sizes and widths will take care of almost everyone and fit well, but for anyone who wants another level of customisation (as I did), there are additional options.
Custom last: Circa 200Euro. This option is for customers who fit a standard Saint Crispin’s size, but would benefit from additional room being added in specific places. i.e. you feel pressure at the widest part of your foot and need room on the inside edge – fit pieces can be added to a standard last, so when the shoe is being made, the space is created where you need it.
Personal last: Circa 300-350Euro, with the additional option of trial shoes for another 200Euro. This is the path I’ve followed, minus the trial shoes, as my changes were small enough that we were confident the fit would be good. The personal last is similar but different to the custom last and it’s more involved. In this instance, you would need something taken away from a standard last. This can’t be done with a standard last, as it would destroy it for future shoes which would be lasted over it, so a new last is made specifically for that customer, taking a new standard size (i.e. 7EE) last, then reducing it in specific places to fit your measurements. It’s a one off cost and that last is then used for all the customers’ future commissions. Phillip is also happy to re-last the shoes, if need be, if further adjustments need to be made once you’ve worn the shoes in and know what changes should be made.
And that’s why Saint Crispin’s are the best value shoe-maker in this category (including bespoke). With a custom or personal last, you’ll get as close to bespoke as any of us need, meaning that once the first pair is made, every subsequent pair is virtually a bespoke fit, for about a third of the price of most bespoke shoemakers on a similar level of quality. Just to make that clear; you could have three pairs of Saint Crispin’s made for the price of one pair of bespoke shoes from other makers. The shoes are of equal quality and will fit (once re-lasted, if need be) as well as a bespoke shoe, or very close to it.
My Saint Crispin’s:
I currently have two pairs of Saint Crispin’s, a pair a of dark brown Adelaide’s (images above) and pair of grain-calf boots.
Adelaide’s: These were my first pair and, obviously, the first time Saint Crispin’s had made a personal last for me. We erred on the side of caution, leaving some extra room through the forefoot. I’d been dealing with a pinched nerve from stubbornly trying to wear in a pair of Lobb’s which were too tight for me. Leaving extra room wasn’t an issue as we knew we could always re-last the shoes later on. We chose exactly how the design would look, where the brogueing would be, as well as nailing my initials into one sole and my “fish” into the other. I’ve since put a felt pad under the tongue, to stop the throat from closing too closely.
I’ve also died them since the original photo’s were taken (using Saphir from Justin Fitzpatrick), as the brown I chose was too light. If you want a quick thrill on a weekend, try dying a 1,300 Euro pair of new shoes with no clue what you’re doing.
Boots: We adjusted the last for the boots, having learned from the fit of the Adelaide’s. We narrowed the forefoot and also rasped some wood from the heel, so it would grip my heel more firmly. The boots are meant for wet weather days, mud and winter (which they’ve since handled easily. I’ve deliberately left them unpolished, due to the weather they’re exposed to), so we used a storm welt to keep water out, a Dianite sole for grip in wet and icy weather and made the height of the boot slightly taller, because I like that aesthetic.
Both pairs are among my favourites and I’ll have the Adelaide’s re-lasted once we’ve perfected my last (I’ll take a little more out of the forefoot for the next pair).
The only thing I’d like to see changed is to have the sole edge (on the Adelaide’s) shaved more closely to the upper, as it extends out slightly and could be nipped in more cleanly (see below). It’s more noticeable to me than anyone else, because I look straight down at them and see the edges. Again, because the shoes can be re-lasted and because of the individual nature of Saint Crispin’s business model, I can specifically request the sole to be shaved closely and it won’t be an issue.
Back to the boxes: So that’s why Saint Crispin’s come in plain brown, stapled cardboard boxes; all of the effort goes into the shoes, no marketing as such, just very well made, hand-welted shoes. The boxes do have a story, though; all other makers buy their boxes and receive them finished and fully assembled, but Saint Crispin’s (in part due to restricted storage space) receive flat cardboard, cut it up and make the boxes themselves. No fuss, it’s the shoes you’re paying for, after all. It’s also claimed they’re the only shoe-boxes a grown man can stand on. I’ll take Phillip’s word for it.