At first glance, it could be easy to mistake the emerging trend for elongated, streamlined shoes for a simplification of design. But this refined look belies the complexity of construction. By way of example, “wholecut” shoes, which use a single piece of leather – forgoing seams and with little or no embellishment – have a simple elegance, but the journey to achieve this requires huge skill and craftsmanship.
This season, John Lobb’s Paris atelier launches the Artisan Bespoke wholecut collection. “One of our bespoke clients challenged us to create a shoe that fits like a glove,” says artistic director Paula Gerbase. “It resulted in shoes that are a true celebration of our atelier’s skill.” The development process took over two years and involved stretching the calfskin over the last and fastening with 22 tension points, to avoid the use of seams. Construction for each pair of crocodile, velvet suede or velvet calfskin shoes (from £7,600) takes over 80 hours. A model with six ribbon eyelets and piped edges is particularly elegant, as is a slip-on with a gently rounding toe and slightly elevated heel, and a monkstrap style with its strap emerging from a central opening. “The lack of embellishment highlights the seamless construction,” says Gerbase.
Also from Paris are Aubercy’s wholecut styles that CEO Xavier Aubercy believes are part of a wider movement: “We French are imposing a style that’s longer than the English forms and less pointed than the Italian ones,” he says. This new French streamlined style is expressed in both traditionally refined designs such as the Black Front five eyelet style (from €1,550) or “something a little more creative”, says Aubercy, referencing Crazy Lace (€1,550) and Ellipse (€1,550), designs with zigzag lace eyelets. Either way, the seamless presentation pares things right back.
Less is also more at Berluti, where the new Eclair range uses a debut last to create a sharp, slender (dare I say sexy?) shape. Styles may not be wholecut, but they employ hidden welt stitching to reduce surface detail and have extra-flexible Goodyear soles. The house’s classic Alessandro three-eyelet Oxford lace-up (£1,530) that dips down toward the toe is especially chic, while the take on a Chelsea boot, the Caractère (£1,630), is very cool in suede and leather (leather best shows the Venezia finish, a patina created by Olga Berluti).
“Minimal detail shows off the quality [of construction and material] better,” says Tony Gaziano of Gaziano & Girling, which has featured streamlined styles for a number of seasons, including some with hidden seams. “Design then becomes focused on shape.” Over 60 per cent of the brand’s bespoke orders embrace this refined aesthetic. The Deco last has an elegant spearhead taper, and can be seen on the Cooper lace-up (£1,840) and Dempsey slip-on (£1,690). “With city shoes, discrete detailing and long silhouettes put the emphasis on surface finish,” adds Gaziano, having recently expanded the range of colours, textures and patinas. A perfect example is the low-rise Fairbanks Chelsea boot (£1,710) in rioja with tiny punched-toe detailing.
Elsewhere, patina maestro Santoni has taken the six-hole wholecut Carter ankle boot (€1,100) and hand-coloured it to a very dark (almost black) bottle green – a stunning hue offset by the sublimely understated seam and embellishment-free silhouette. This colour/detail balance is echoed in the textured wholecut blue calfskin Colin lace-up (€870), which is balanced with a rugged rubber sole. Corthay, meanwhile, takes colour inspiration from India’s Pondicherry for its ultra-pared-back Bella boot (£1,480) – the graduated tone evoking old wood, fading from dark brown to golden yellow. At Edward Green, new ready-to-wear wholecuts such as the Newbury (£990), a new style built on the 915 almond-toed last, come in alluring hues including the smoky burgundy colour nightshade. And at Moreschi, narrowed, elongated wholecut Oxfords (£580) adorned with a single row of saddle stitches leaves the meticulous hand-dyed leather to sing.
A final facet of this pared-back style is a breed of shoes with faux details. Witness Edward Green’s new faux-laced, side-gusseted Selwyn slip-ons (£990) in dark oak, nightshade and black calf, and the Ewhurst (£990) – another side-gusseted slip-on. George Cleverley’s new style, the Churchill 2 (£1,100), also features imitation lacing and an elasticated side. It was originally created for Sylvester Stallone, who ordered it in 10 colours, and this ready-to-wear version has now become part of the collection.