Scarcely has a shoe style been so entrenched with social semantics as the co-respondent shoe. And thanks to spring’s latest offerings, the two-tone style, also known as a semi-brogue, or a spectator in the US, is about to gain a new set of credentials.
In the 1930s, a pair of co-respondents would be left outside a hotel room as a signal that adultery was being committed within. At a time when a divorce required one partner to have been unfaithful, it was an invitation to be discovered in flagrante, and the term “co-respondent” was also used to describe the third party in the ensuing divorce case. Typically, these brogues had a dark toecap and heel on a light “vamp” (middle section), their showy nature making it easy to convince the court the wearer was an utter bounder. Judging a man by his shoes was never more legally compelling.
They were also a key component of jazz-age style in the Roaring Twenties, a period where men dressing up for the sake of it was de rigueur. Modernism, hedonism and dandyism were the orders of the day, and jazz cats swaggered brazenly in semi-brogues.
Dressing up remains a recurring theme, despite the contrasting economic climate. As Derrick Miller, creative director of New York’s Barker Black, puts it: “We always run our brown calf-and-suede spectator [£565] as a basic in the collection, and the solid green versions have been one of our bestsellers since 2008, when they were introduced as the financial crisis hit New York.”
Thankfully, these days the semantics of the co-respondent shoe now have more to do with the wearer’s style quotient. With this in mind, consider Edward Green’s calf-leather Canterbury brogues (£690). This traditional shoemaker has created a distinguished shoe that could easily be worn for business with navy-blue or grey suiting. These are not shoes for an overt dandy, but for a sophisticated, stylish man.
This tone is echoed by new London shoe designer Marc Hare, whose Mr Hare brand is already known for fusing historical influences with modern British shoe-savvy. Hare has produced a blue-and-cream version of his toecap Miller Oxford shoes (£425), as well as black-and-white patent Fitzgerald evening shoes (£389). “A co-respondent showed you knew what jazz was and that you were into dressing,” he says. “It’s still the same today.” They’re the shoes that declare the wearer is thinking and dressing in a nonconformist manner, but with an old-fashioned spirit and elegance. Some demonstrate sartorial bravery, while many reveal good taste, and knowledge of the shoe zeitgeist.
Berluti’s offering continues this theme with a pair made from rich walnut Venezia leather, with horsehair cloth vamps (£950), which would be ideal teamed with summer’s biscuity hued trousers and hopsack or slubby (intentionally imperfect yarn) jackets for a smart weekend look. Brioni’s dusty rose suede and crocodile numbers (£1,480) also work well with lighter-coloured fabrics (or washed-out denim). Then there’s a version in dark-blue denim and chestnut calf leather from Salvatore Ferragamo (£675), which would also go with denim and smart-casual jackets.
So men should not let the semi-brogue’s illicit associations spoil their appetite. I’ve worn mine to my local organic patisserie and Wigmore Hall lunchtime classical-music concerts, and I can assure you that these new versions can easily be teamed with sedate daytime ensembles.
Of course, Ralph Lauren’s costumes for the 1974 film The Great Gatsby were the definitive co-respondent look, and it’s worth noting that he still produces those classic tan-and-cream canvas versions (£850). And Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming version of the film further contributes to setting the scene. With Prada behind some of its costuming, it promises to be a sartorial feast. As Catherine Martin, the film’s production and costume designer, says: “We were very lucky that Prada agreed to help us out. I absolutely love a spectator. We created a pair for Gatsby in cream and a greyish colour, and for his pink suit he wears spectators based on a 1920s design, made from lasts that Prada already had.”
The theme has continued off screen in Hackett’s spring 2013 runway show, where cream three-piece suits, rounded penny collars and handsome Crocket & Jones co-respondents in cream and coffee (£330) were a clear nod to Jay Gatsby. Canali boasted Hollywood-inspired double-breasted striped suits, rakish silk neck scarves and trilbies accessorised with black- or grey-and-white co-respondents (from £360). There have been innovations too, such as Jimmy Choo’s Radnor co-respondent loafers in suede and leather (£425). “Its playful colours and details lend it a contemporary edge,” says the brand’s creative director Sandra Choi.
The fresh confidence designers are employing is exciting news for shoe connoisseurs. No longer an overt statement, co-respondents are now a knowing nod to the elegant dressing of a bygone, but still resonant age.