The folks at Marketplace stopped by my friend Raul Ojeda’s bespoke shoemaking operation in Los Angeles, Don Ville Shoes. In fact, Kai Ryssdal stopped in personally… and decided on some brown double monk straps.
We Got It For Free: Andrew Lock Shoes Review
(With Help From Raul Ojeda of Don Ville)
I posted a few weeks ago about Andrew Lock Shoes, a new internet-based shoe brand that’s selling Spanish-made Goodyear-welted shoes for about $250 a pop. The promise was great, but I asked them to send a pair for review, and took them over to my favorite shoe expert, shoemaker Raul Ojeda of Don Ville Shoes in Los Angeles. You might remember Raul from our Shoes episode in season one. Raul’s been making and repairing shoes for most of his adult life, so I thought he’d have some perspective on how Andrew Lock shoes stack up.
Tearing Them Down & Building Them Up
Raul gave the shoes quite the looking over, and a little bit of a tearing-apart. At one point he violently tore out an insole, before casually gluing it back in. His verdict? Andrew Lock has a winner on their hands. These are shoes as well-made as competitors that cost as much as a couple hundred dollars more.
Raul focused on the construction of the brown derbies Andrew Lock sent for us to check out. He said that it was as good as any other factory-made shoe. In addition to the Goodyear welt, which makes the sole more easily replaceable, he mentioned the full leather construction - no cardboard or fiberboard on the insole. He pronounced the finishing excellent, complimenting the finish on the sole in particular. He also described the full-grain leather as tough and attractive - “If you maintain this shoe, it’ll last you a long time.”
The only fault Raul found was the foam heel padding, which cushions heel portion of the insole. He said it was very common to use low-quality foam here, and what he found he wasn’t nuts about. A more expensive shoe might use a more durable foam, or be lasted to cup the heel so that cushioning is unnecessary. Still, he said, this was a pretty small complaint.
How Do They Compare?
I thought I’d throw a few classic American comparables at Raul. I asked him, “are these shoes as good as Allen-Edmonds?”
His answer was yes, absolutely.
There might be a bit of difference in the hides used, Raul said, but if there is, it’s small.
Generally, he said, by spending a lot more you could get a shoe with a slightly better hide, but overall, the styling differences will end up being more significant than the materials or construction. In other words, there are incremental differences the more you spend, but these meet the standard of “shoes done right.”
And speaking of styling: I like the look of the pair I handled. A bit more shape in the last, a bit of Italianate influence on a relatively traditional style… but not so crazy that I’d hesitate to call it “classic.” I’d call them sharp.
The Bottom Line
At $250 shipped, Andrew Lock shoes are competitive with brands that charge twice as much. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement. Along with Meermin, which Derek has reviewed here, it sets a new price low for quality dress shoes, well under the $350 or so you’ll pay for Allen-Edmonds, the previous value champ. And like Meermin, it does so with a more distinctive, attractive product that won’t make you look like an insurance agent from Des Moines. Thumbs up.
Part II of Jesse’s interview with Raul Ojeda is now up at StyleForum. In it, Jesse talks with Raul about how custom shoes are created and how much he charges for the service. It’s a great read for those who like to know the nitty gritty of how bespoke shoes are made.
In case you missed it, you can catch up on the interview by reading part one here.
I’ve become great friends with Raul since I met him while working on that episode, and I’m so impressed with what he and his colleagues are up to at their new venture Don Ville. Raul and company are making fully bespoke shoes on-premises for less than half of what other bespoke makers charge, and the shoes are gorgeous.
I don’t personally know a lot of millionaires, who have a $100,000 laying around in the budget to buy shoes over the next 10 years, because that’s what shoes cost! You know, Europeans, John Lobbs are about $6,000. Our shoes, the most expensive are maybe $2,000, maybe $2,400 when we have to start a last from the very beginning. I really don’t see how you should be paying 3, 4, $5,000 for each pair of shoes. I think you probably wouldn’t even want to wear them.
We want to offer shoes for the many of us that love and enjoy wearing shoes. That’s the inspiration for this shop. We want to have people come over, get their measurements, and have the shoe that they really want to wear that fits very well.
(Photo by Gordon de los Santos)
Full disclosure, by the way: I mention this in the piece, but when I heard Raul was opening the shop, I talked him into trading some writing on his website for a pair of shoes.
A Visit to Don Ville
Plenty of readers probably remember our friend Raul Ojeda from our episode about shoes. When we shot the piece, Raul was manager of Willie’s Shoe Service in Hollywood, having accepted the mantel from Willie, who decided to spend his 90s mostly in his native Puebla, in Southern Mexico.
We didn’t tell all of Raul’s story in the video. He fell in love with shoes as a young man, and got into the shoe-shine business out of school. He built up his shine stand into a chain of shine stands which serviced, among other clients, the LAPD, but he wanted to go further. He heard about Willie, the only custom shoe maker in LA, and started showing up at his door, asking to apprentice. Willie had turned down innumerable apprentices in the past, but Raul’s sincerity (and that fact that both had roots in Puebla) convinced him. Willie, by then in his late 80s, wasn’t able to do the quality of work that he wanted to do, and the shop had become mostly a repair and alteration outlet.
Raul worked double time - at the shine stand during the day, and with Willie, nights and weekends - for years. Willie would show Raul a techique, Raul would practice, they’d head off to lunch, they’d come back. Meanwhile, Raul was researching the world of bespoke shoes online - learning about the techniques used by the finest European makers.
Raul’s goal was to open a store that didn’t just make custom shoes, but made real bespoke shoes, that could compete with the fine European makers, but made in Los Angeles for a price that was dramatically less than the firms who cater to people so rich they don’t even look at the numbers on the list.
A few months ago, Raul was offered a spot in a prime block on La Brea in Los Angeles, and he went for it. Believe it or not, Julie Newmar (best known as Catwoman) is his landlord. Within six weeks, he had opened Don Ville, named after his mentor Willie. In front, a showroom and salon. In back, an atelier where the shoes are made by Raul and his small staff. There, he’s making everything from the most conservative black cap-toes to custom metallic-leather spectators.
Raul and I had become pals through the shooting, and he offered me a trade: if I wrote copy for his website (the copy’s not up yet, btw), he’d make me a pair of shoes. English is his second language, after all, and I certainly don’t know how to make shoes for myself. We had complimentary skills.
You can guess what I said to that.
So with some folks from GQ tagging along, I headed over to Don Ville for my first fitting.
Raul and I talked about what kind of shoe I wanted. I’ve been looking for a great black shoe for serious occasions - performances, weddings, business conferences. I decided on an austerity brogue. It’s an unusual style that I find elegant and distinctive, but also sober enough for Serious Stuff. Imagine a wingtip, then remove all of the broguing and edging and other superfluous decoration - that’s an austerity brogue.
Raul started by showing me some lasts. He’ll actually be making a last to the shape of my foot, but he wanted a sense of what shape I wanted the shoe to be. He went back to the workshop and grabbed some scrap leather, and pulled it over his example lasts to give me an idea of what the shoes’ shape would look like when made up. After considering some chisel-toed and pointier shapes, I chose a sleek round-toe model, in the interest of conservatism.
Then Raul set me up to be measured. He first had me stand on an art pad, and traced carefully the shape of my foot. Then he started taking key measurements - the height of my heel, the circumference of my ankle, that sort of thing.
I shared with him some pictures of austerity brogues I like, and he said he’d get to work on some sketches of his own in the style. (Because Don Ville has just opened, Raul is still building up their selection of standard designs.) After a few minutes more chatting with Raul and his staff, we were ready to go.
I’ll return in a couple of weeks to try on a dummy shoe, made of scrap leather on my new last, so we can adjust before the real deal is manufactured. I saw a couple examples - they look like real shoes, frankly. I’ll be send home with one, and instructed to wear it around the house to get a good sense of how it fits. Raul’s even threatening that he’ll make me the guinea pig for a new idea he’s working on, a “glass slipper” - a dummy shoe made of transparent vinyl so he can quite literally see the fit before the “real” shoe is made. Then a few weeks after that, I’ll have my shoes.
Raul’s running a pretty remarkable operation at Don Ville. I’m pretty sure it’s the only storefront dedicated to custom shoes here in the US, and certainly the only one that also makes everything on-premises. Prices are about half of what you’d pay for a traveling European maker - from $750 or so for ready-to-wear to about $2000 for bespoke (including the cost of making a custom last and design). They’re even making some gorgeous women’s shoes, both ready-to-wear and custom.
I left the shop inspired by the possibilities, and by Raul’s passion for footwear. I may not be ready for Raul’s patinated bronze oxfords, but he’s really offering something special. Whether or not you’re thinking about buying custom shoes, the shop’s worth a visit - say hi to Raul for me.
113 N. La Brea, Los Angeles
All photos courtesy of Gordon de los Santos
We had such a blast at the PTO / Don Ville launch party on Saturday night. None other than the legendary Julie Newmar graced us with her presence, along with all kinds of fascinating creative people from across SoCal (and beyond). Lots of PTO readers in attendance as well. More photos by Kaz Oyakawa in our Facebook group.
Put This On L.A. Meetup: Don Ville Launch Party!
Remember Raul Ojeda, from episode two of Put This On?
Ten years ago, Raul walked into Willie’s Shoe Service in Los Angeles, and asked Willie, the owner, to teach him how to make shoes. At first, he worked for free - and Willie only agreed to teach him because Raul’s family is from the same Mexican state Willie is from.
We’ve been palling around with Raul since our shoot last year, and about a month ago, he sprung upon us some amazing news: he’s opening his own shop!
Don Ville, named after Willie, will be the only storefront in the US of A dedicated specifically to handmade bespoke shoes. Raul will be offering a ready-to-wear line, a custom line and a bespoke line. All the shoes will be made on-site in their workshop. It’s a truly remarkable operation that Raul is planning.
To celebrate, we’re helping Raul throw a party at his grand opening on Saturday night!
Join Raul and me for free drinks and tours of the workshop where Don Ville shoes are made. A truly marvelous opportunity.
Presented by Put This On!
Here’s the details:
Saturday, July 23rd, 6-9PM
Los Angeles, CA