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.

Don Ville Shoes

113 N. La Brea, Los Angeles

323-932-9874

All photos courtesy of Gordon de los Santos

Q and Answer: Protecting Shoe Soles
A reader writes: I have quite an annoying problem that cause  my shoe  heals to wear unevenly, favoring the outside heel, at quite a rapid  pace.  It has something to do with how i walk I suspect. I have destroyed many a   shoe this way long before their time, is their anyway to to correct  this?
We talked with Raoul about this very subject for our second episode, but we just didn’t have enough time to include it in the final cut.  Here are the basics.
New shoes can be fitted with heel protectors, sometimes called “taps.”  These are kidney-bean shaped pieces of hard plastic which are nailed to the outside back of the heel, where heel wear is worst.  They’re cheap (usually about five bucks, including installation), and they can be removed and replaced as the wear away.  Sometimes similar protectors are installed on the forefoot - this is useful if you have a gait which wears one side or the other of the toebox dramatically more, but it’s much less common than heel protectors.
You can also have a sole protector attached.  This is a thin layer of hard rubber which is cemented to the sole of the shoe.  Sometimes it’s known by the brand name Topy, but Topy isn’t the only brand that makes sole protectors.  This will give you a bit of extra purchase on smooth surfaces, and is also easily replaceable when it wears down, saving your leather soles.  It does reduce the breathability of the sole slightly (one of the advantages of leather), and it’s generally a bit less attractive than a leather sole, though it should be all but invisible from the side view.  This is a bit more expensive, in the ten to twenty dollar range.
The most important thing to remember is that your sole and heel are both replaceable.  Take your shoes to the repairman before the bottom layer of the heel or sole is worn through completely, and he can replace that layer easily, particularly on good shoes.  A full sole replacement will be in the neighborhood fifty dollars, and a heel much less.

Q and Answer: Protecting Shoe Soles

A reader writes: I have quite an annoying problem that cause my shoe heals to wear unevenly, favoring the outside heel, at quite a rapid pace. It has something to do with how i walk I suspect. I have destroyed many a shoe this way long before their time, is their anyway to to correct this?

We talked with Raoul about this very subject for our second episode, but we just didn’t have enough time to include it in the final cut.  Here are the basics.

New shoes can be fitted with heel protectors, sometimes called “taps.”  These are kidney-bean shaped pieces of hard plastic which are nailed to the outside back of the heel, where heel wear is worst.  They’re cheap (usually about five bucks, including installation), and they can be removed and replaced as the wear away.  Sometimes similar protectors are installed on the forefoot - this is useful if you have a gait which wears one side or the other of the toebox dramatically more, but it’s much less common than heel protectors.

You can also have a sole protector attached.  This is a thin layer of hard rubber which is cemented to the sole of the shoe.  Sometimes it’s known by the brand name Topy, but Topy isn’t the only brand that makes sole protectors.  This will give you a bit of extra purchase on smooth surfaces, and is also easily replaceable when it wears down, saving your leather soles.  It does reduce the breathability of the sole slightly (one of the advantages of leather), and it’s generally a bit less attractive than a leather sole, though it should be all but invisible from the side view.  This is a bit more expensive, in the ten to twenty dollar range.

The most important thing to remember is that your sole and heel are both replaceable.  Take your shoes to the repairman before the bottom layer of the heel or sole is worn through completely, and he can replace that layer easily, particularly on good shoes.  A full sole replacement will be in the neighborhood fifty dollars, and a heel much less.

Q and Answer: Suede and Water
Avi writes:  I recently picked up a pair of Clarks Dessert Boots, of the Oakwood  Suede variety. Continuing your recent shoe care theme, how do I go  about keeping suede shoes clean and unmarked? Can I waterproof shoes of  this type? I’ve noticed a few minor watermarks already—am I stuck with  these discolorations?
Suede is extremely difficult to keep clean and unmarked, particularly if it’s a lighter color.  Even water can leave a spot and ruin the nap of the leather. 
There are a couple of paths you can follow.
When your shoes are new, you can spray them with a silicone-based water sealant.  These are available in the shoe section of your local drugstore, or from your shoe repair shop.  A few coats (let them dry thoroughly in between) won’t turn them into galoshes, but it will help if you get caught out there. 
You can also buy a suede kit.  Most are two tools and a stain remover.  The tools are essentially a gum eraser, for rubbing the soil off, and a brush, for bringing up the nap.  If you get a spot, this can really help.
The third course of action is probably the best, though.  Just accept that they’ll get dinged up.  It’s pretty much the nature of the beast.

Q and Answer: Suede and Water

Avi writes:  I recently picked up a pair of Clarks Dessert Boots, of the Oakwood Suede variety. Continuing your recent shoe care theme, how do I go about keeping suede shoes clean and unmarked? Can I waterproof shoes of this type? I’ve noticed a few minor watermarks already—am I stuck with these discolorations?

Suede is extremely difficult to keep clean and unmarked, particularly if it’s a lighter color.  Even water can leave a spot and ruin the nap of the leather. 

There are a couple of paths you can follow.

When your shoes are new, you can spray them with a silicone-based water sealant.  These are available in the shoe section of your local drugstore, or from your shoe repair shop.  A few coats (let them dry thoroughly in between) won’t turn them into galoshes, but it will help if you get caught out there. 

You can also buy a suede kit.  Most are two tools and a stain remover.  The tools are essentially a gum eraser, for rubbing the soil off, and a brush, for bringing up the nap.  If you get a spot, this can really help.

The third course of action is probably the best, though.  Just accept that they’ll get dinged up.  It’s pretty much the nature of the beast.

I went thrifting in Palm Springs the other day.  Didn’t buy much, but I did pick up a couple new (old) pairs of shoe trees.

Q and Answer: Episode 2 Followups
Amar writes: Where can I get some of the shoe care items (like polish and conditioner) that you show in the video?  Also, where can I get the different types of brushes you used? I have a  cloth for buffing/polishing and I’m wary of taking a brush to the fine  leather instead.  Finally, I have one pair of shoe trees but 4 pairs of shoes on rotation.  Does this mean I should get an additional 3 pairs of shoe trees, one  for each shoe? Or is one fine to use after wearing a pair?
That’s a lot of questions, Amar.  Luckily, they’re pretty easy to answer.
Any shoe repair shop will have a wide range of colors and types of shoe polish, leather cleaner and conditioner.  If for some reason you live in a place with no shoe repair shops (underwater city?), there’s usually a pretty fully stocked shoe section in any large grocery store or pharmacy.  You can also order online from any number of shops, though shipping charges can be as much as the cost of the item being shipped.  The usual brands are Kiwi and Meltonian, and while some have fancier preferences, I don’t see much difference.  Brushes can be found in the same places - usually a grocery store will have one dauber and one larger brush, while a shoe repair store may have a few more choices.  They certainly won’t harm your leather.
Good shoes should be stored with shoe trees in them at all times.  You can buy shoe trees at most decent shoe stores or department stores, or at closet shops like The Container Store or Bed, Bath & Beyond.  At full retail, they usually run about $15 or $20 a pair.  They sometimes pop up for a discounted price at Costco, as well.  If you live near a Nordstrom Rack, they always sell discounted cedar shoe trees that are of very good quality for about $10 a pair.  I buy most of my trees at thrift stores and estate sales - usually they don’t cost more than about $4 a pair that way. 

Q and Answer: Episode 2 Followups

Amar writes: Where can I get some of the shoe care items (like polish and conditioner) that you show in the video?  Also, where can I get the different types of brushes you used? I have a cloth for buffing/polishing and I’m wary of taking a brush to the fine leather instead.  Finally, I have one pair of shoe trees but 4 pairs of shoes on rotation. Does this mean I should get an additional 3 pairs of shoe trees, one for each shoe? Or is one fine to use after wearing a pair?

That’s a lot of questions, Amar.  Luckily, they’re pretty easy to answer.

Any shoe repair shop will have a wide range of colors and types of shoe polish, leather cleaner and conditioner.  If for some reason you live in a place with no shoe repair shops (underwater city?), there’s usually a pretty fully stocked shoe section in any large grocery store or pharmacy.  You can also order online from any number of shops, though shipping charges can be as much as the cost of the item being shipped.  The usual brands are Kiwi and Meltonian, and while some have fancier preferences, I don’t see much difference.  Brushes can be found in the same places - usually a grocery store will have one dauber and one larger brush, while a shoe repair store may have a few more choices.  They certainly won’t harm your leather.

Good shoes should be stored with shoe trees in them at all times.  You can buy shoe trees at most decent shoe stores or department stores, or at closet shops like The Container Store or Bed, Bath & Beyond.  At full retail, they usually run about $15 or $20 a pair.  They sometimes pop up for a discounted price at Costco, as well.  If you live near a Nordstrom Rack, they always sell discounted cedar shoe trees that are of very good quality for about $10 a pair.  I buy most of my trees at thrift stores and estate sales - usually they don’t cost more than about $4 a pair that way. 

We’re getting a good response from the Shoe Tying Rudiment segment of Episode 2, so I thought it’d be good to link to the source, which includes a more detailed set of instructions in a video from Runner’s World.
Pay special attention to the narrator’s stuffed-up nose and the appropriate use of the BOIOIOING sound effect to illustrate the inefficiency of the granny knot:
Video: Tie Your Shoes More Effeciently
via lowindustrial

We’re getting a good response from the Shoe Tying Rudiment segment of Episode 2, so I thought it’d be good to link to the source, which includes a more detailed set of instructions in a video from Runner’s World.

Pay special attention to the narrator’s stuffed-up nose and the appropriate use of the BOIOIOING sound effect to illustrate the inefficiency of the granny knot:

Video: Tie Your Shoes More Effeciently

via lowindustrial

Episode 2: Clothing Credits

Intro

Pants - Uniqlo Vintage Chino

Shirt - RRL

Overshirt - Vintage (ca. 1950s)

At Willie’s

Shirt - Lands’ End Tailored Fit Oxford

Tie - Vintage, unlabeled

Blazer - Vintage by A. DiNella & Son of Philadelphia

Square - Robert Talbott

Shoes - Vintage Florsheim Longwings in Burgundy Shell Cordovan

Example Shoes - Joseph Cheaney & Sons

Cleaning & Polishing

Shirt - Brooks Brothers Black Fleece

Chinos - Benjamin Bixby

Shoes - Generic Surplus