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Monday, December 1, 2014

You Don't Have To Buy Patent Leather Shoes For Black Tie But You Do Need To Know How To High Shine Them

The French word 'glaçage' is often translated into English as 'frosting'. It is more of a glaze effect when referred to in French cuisine and is often used, from my limited knowledge, on desserts in the main. Some videos show glaçage in French cuisine as what we might refer to as icing and others show a more interesting technique of merely spilling hot chocolate liquid over a cake and letting the excess drain away leaving a lovely glazed finish.

Either way, one could refer to all these techniques, be it glaçage, frosting, icing, bullshine, high shine or polish all under the loose umbrella of 'the top coat' be it shoes or cuisine.

Essentially high shining in the world of shoes requires buffing in small concentric circles a wax or polish into the shoe which, coupled with small amounts of liquid (be it water, spit or as Madame Olga Berluti used to suggest, 'champagne under moonlight' ) results in a layered glaze appearance in the shoe which in some circumstances can reach the reflective mirror like finish of patent leather.

The reason I mention all this is because patent leather is the standard by which most men will choose their evening shoes but not everyone can afford to have patent leather formal shoes lying around for the odd occasion when we finally get invited to a black tie event. The alternate and somewhat thrifty option is to purchase a black pair of shoes which we can high shine for a black tie event when we need them. Furthermore, there are plenty of options out there for oxfords and slip-ons in black leather than there are in patent leather.

In order to experiment I found a pair of second-hand but unworn Foster & Son shoes with brogue detail in what some would call slippers or slip-ons and others would call loafers. I still have no idea exactly what the difference is but in essence they are a shoe without laces.

Some say that in order to achieve a high-shine you must labour away for many hours. It is true that you need some elbow grease and you will sweat, but in my estimation you can get near enough to a bullshine within an hour or what might be two to three layers of wax.

In order to achieve a high shine you can first familiarise yourself with our old blog post here . Next, you will need to have the following.

1. A pair of black leather shoes
2. A water dispenser or a good amount of saliva
3. Hot breath
4. Fine cotton rags - I use the left over cuts of Carlo Riva from my customer's shirt orders but you can use any old cotton shirting you can find from an old shirt. Just make sure it doesn't product much lint.
5. A brush - preferably from a brand like Saphir or one which makes leather saddles or shoes.
6. Saphir Renovateur
7. Saphir Creme 1925 in black
8. Saphir Medaille D'Or in black

These products can be readily sourced although I do recommend Double Monk in Melbourne which has a ready supply of the full range and usually ships within 24 hours. For the water dispenser I recommend Exquisite Trimmings in London. I estimate that the total cost will be $60.00 AUD but that your shoe cleaning kit will last for 10 years without needing to be replaced and can be used on all your shoes.

The first step is to assess the shoes. What is the condition of the leather? Where are the shoes stretched? Where is the leather firm around the shoe (eg: the toe box) and where is it loose (eg: the vamp). If the shoe has parts of the leather which are aged or look dry, the first step is to brush the shoes and spot mark them followed by the application of Saphir Renovateur.

In order to make things easier on myself I tend to use the same rag for all processes - I just use a different part for each process. Wrap the rag between your index and middle finger and firmly twine around them leaving the excess fabric in a gripped ball in your palm. This ensures that the fabric remains firm from which you are creating friction on the shoe with the rubbing movement.

Apply the renovateur in small amounts. Almost everything in shoes should be done in small amounts rather than generous dollops (especially on a brogue where the cream can clog the brogue detail). Rub the Saphir cream into the shoe until you get an even dull look on the shoe. Allow to rest. Some people recommend 24 hours for full refurbishment of shoes - but if the shoes are in relatively good condition, just leave it for an hour and then come back to the shoes.

Now remove the Saphir by a process of brushing and it way and or using said rag dipped in a tiny amount of water to buff the Renovateur back.

This process will naturally begin to reveal a sheen to the leather. Now it is time for the pomade or what is known as Saphir Creme 1925 in black. Now this product is very good. It appears almost like a viscous black fudge or a dark chocolate mousse. It is loaded up with pigment in it and it will add back some colour to the leather. Apply once again with the rag, using a different part of course. Most people use a brush here and go on liberally but I am not inclined to tell you the same. I find that using a fine cotton rag and going in with small concentric circles tends to provide a tighter finish on the shoe and dries the pomade faster.

Once the pomade is dry give it a chance to rest for a bit. Enough time for it to dry on the surface of the shoe. Then once again go at the shoes with a brush but more gently and then once again use your cotton rag to buff the shoes using small daubs of water or a small amount of spit on the shoe.

By now you should have got it to mostly high shine but it is the wax or what Saphir calls their Medaille D'Or which begins the layered process that looks like 'frosting' or icing and what the French like to call 'glaçage' .

The Medaille D'Or should go on in layers and one should not think to get any results on one later alone. Ideally you should work on one shoe then drop it and work on the other. Keeping a tab on how many layers you have done on each one. You will find that the toe box and heel will get the mirrored effect first, but this is a function of the fact that the leather is most tightly pulled on both these areas which allows this to take place.

Essentially you should apply the wax again in small concentric circles and again and with a tiny about of water or spit each time. The one small difference during this process, however, is hot breath. It might seem strange but nothing quite matches the effect of breathing heavily and up close onto the shoe and then rubbing that hot breath back. Perhaps it is the enzymes in out saliva or the temperature or perhaps the mist our breath creates, but buffing this hot breath off the shoe invariably produces a much more glazed effect than using plain water.

After serveral layers of rubbing this Saphir wax on and off the shoe you will, without doubt, especially if you are sweating, have achieved something. By this stage it is up to you as to how far you are willing to go to get a mirrored finish but no doubt they are now just as effective as patent leather shoes for your black tie event.

This is a very very good way get two uses out of one pair of shoes and of course I have a black tie event coming up and accordingly I look forward to wearing the first pair of black tie shoes I have purchased in almost 8 years.

The only other recommendation I have for you is this - whilst you are purchasing your shoe care products, consider getting a clothes brush at the same time. It will get the lint off your tuxedo and the specks off your silk or velvet bow tie so that when you step out in those brand new shoes you can sheen head to toe.

Use your existing black Oxfords or Slip-On shoes as black tie shoes by high shining them using Saphir products, a brush, a rag and a water dispenser (or saliva). And at the same time, get a clothes brush to make sure your suit and bow ties never get lint on them. 

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