Swellboy on… camel leather

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

Image: Brijesh Patel

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

The pair I had ordered were bluesuede, 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 wearthem stalking in the Highlands – but as I don’t stalk and seldom find myself inthe Highlands, they were just right. The real revelation came when I asked aboutthe 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 outfor a stroll in the desert and come across a tannery that was working withcamel skin. He became quite lyrical on the subject, talking about the “ships ofthe desert” and the “Bedouin’s best friend”. I suspect that he might have beenout in the sun for too long.

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


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

I handled a few samples and wasamazed at the elasticity; I suppose it is to do with the animal’s ability todrink gallons of water in one go. The comfort offered by such skin more thancompensates 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 ishow I while away the long winter evenings in Shepherd’s Bush).

It was only on the Eurostar back toLondon that I realised my mistake: I should have ordered camelskin footwearthat covered my ankle as well as my foot, thus providing me with the ultimatedesert boot.