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Swellboy on… camel leather

The Bedouin’s best friend provides a supple solution to the ultimate desert boot

Swellboy on… camel leather

Image: Brijesh Patel

January 09 2013
Nick Foulkes

The other day I was in Paris picking up a pair of shoes from Pierre Corthay. Pierre has a charming shop just off the Place Vendôme, behind the Park Hyatt hotel, and yet for all its swish city-centre location, there is an agreeable air of the atelier about the place – men with grimy leather aprons and work-gnarled hands, etc. Pierre has recently persuaded Tim Jefferies to be the face (or, more accurately, the foot) of his brand, and I cannot think of a more suave set of features (or feet) to promote anything. If a shoe will help me look more like Tim Jefferies, then I am going to be first in the queue for it.

The pair I had ordered were blue suede, and while picking them up I was much taken with some fancily laced, rather dainty “ghillie” shoes. They would not last too long if I were to wear them stalking in the Highlands – but as I don’t stalk and seldom find myself in the Highlands, they were just right. The real revelation came when I asked about the choice of leather and was told that Pierre, or rather his business brain and my old friend Xavier de Royère (who introduced me to Pierre), had been out for a stroll in the desert and come across a tannery that was working with camel skin. He became quite lyrical on the subject, talking about the “ships of the desert” and the “Bedouin’s best friend”. I suspect that he might have been out in the sun for too long.

What is it with French craftsmen and strange leathers? They have a real talent for nosing them out. Camelskin shoes are almost as exotic as Henri Zaks’s Seraphin blousons of Ethiopian lambskin and Svalbard elk.

The trouble is, of course, that I feel compelled to invest in this esoterica, and as I do not have a pair of camelskin shoes I ordered some, purely so as to be well informed and able to dilate on the subject at dinner parties (I am quite the sparkling conversationalist, aren’t I?).

I handled a few samples and was amazed at the elasticity; I suppose it is to do with the animal’s ability to drink gallons of water in one go. The comfort offered by such skin more than compensates for the slightly waxy and grainy quality that I detected and that must, I feel, militate against installing a high shine on the leather (which is how I while away the long winter evenings in Shepherd’s Bush).

It was only on the Eurostar back to London that I realised my mistake: I should have ordered camelskin footwear that covered my ankle as well as my foot, thus providing me with the ultimate desert boot.

See also

Shoes, Leather