Dress shoes are the opposite of streetwear: they’re not about trends, logos or an arresting visual. They’re about quality through and through. It’s why brands like Church’s and John Lobb, the British bootmakers, have lasted more than a century. When you buy their product, you’re buying it for life.
In America, we don’t have brands with quite the same pedigree, but with Allen Edmonds, we do have something close in ethos. Ninety-six years old and recently freed from private equity ownership with a $225 million sale to Caleres in 2016, the company is undergoing a massive rebranding, introducing contemporary looks and performance, but keeping quality at its core.
To underline just how much it believes in American craftsmanship, the brand recently launched collaborations with a handful of other domestic brands, like the shirtmaker Gitman Bros., leather goods house Korchmar and Weiss watches, among others. “We’re speaking to someone for whom the appeal is having a few excellent things,” says Malcolm Robinson, the brand’s president.
Moorland Suede Field Jacket by Cockpit USA for Allen Edmonds $1,195
Walker Slim Straight Leg Jean by Civilianaire for Allen Edmonds $235
Robinson is betting on three things: first, that we’re getting over sneakers, and second, that men are moving toward investment pieces instead of fast fashion and streetwear staples that need to be replaced every season.
The third bet, which is a little harder to calculate, is a return to Made in America. Allen Edmonds manufactures in Port Washington, Wisconsin, where they’ve injected major investment into their processes. Its benchmade shoes are more breathable (No. Polyester. Ever), with higher-performance welts (Poron insoles, leather sock lines, custom cork fills). “These are not shoes that are spitting out of a machine,” says Robinson.
Round Frame Readers by Alan J for Allen Edmonds $120
Fairfield Flap Backpack by Korchmar for Allen Edmonds $550
Watch by Weiss for Allen Edmonds Coming Soon
New products and shapes are coming as well, with the New Americans Collection, featuring a streamlined cap-toe Oxford, wingtip and loafer. “They’re not long Italian shoes. They’re a little longer and leaner than what we were used to carrying. We know we had to move the needle to be accepted,” says Robinson. Going inside the shoes, we see the brand’s new “speed welt” implemented, with an EVA midsole, as opposed to rubber, and 3mm outsole, for heightened comfort and performance.
They’ve even introduced their first active boot — 65 percent of the company’s fall business is boots — a black number called the Ranger which uses German technology to keep it 100 percent waterproof.
Tweed Jacket by Southwick for Allen Edmonds Coming Sonn
Shirt by Gitman Bros. for Allen Edmonds Coming Soon
Allen Edmonds is not the only company looking at American dress shoes as a growth area. “Men, stylish men, they don’t want to be wearing sneakers every day. They don’t want to be wearing athleisure,” says Gary Champion, president of Clark’s, which also makes The Bostonian, their American dress shoe. From Bostonian’s archive, Champion pulled some traditional but unique looking lasts and began constructing a new line of shoes around them. The result was their Made in USA series, with a cap-toe boot, oxford and wingtip made on their once-classic-now-relevant Number 16 last. There’s some interesting burnishing on the leathers, but the result is a slightly stylish twist on something very classic
Robinson has also presided over an updating of the Allen Edmonds’ store design, packaging (matte black boxes that close with magnets), and even its logo. They’re embarking on an initiative to educate youngsters on American craft, including internships with makers. After years of being held by private equity firms, which tend to focus on output, and how much money can be made in three- to four-year stretches, Allen Edmonds looking long term.
“Why can’t we be as modern as Apple and as old school as Allen Edmonds at the same time?” Robinson says. “Why can’t we think of solutions beyond what’s being done, but do them with craft and quality materials?”
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