While knocking about the back streets of the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona this summer, eyes wide open, taking in the narrow alleys cut between the ancient buildings, appreciating the lack of noise and tourists compared to nearby street of hell, La Rambla, we stumbled upon a shop full of different. Not that there aren’t other curious shops hidden in the alleys, but this one beckoned us in, not unlike Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe in an old horror story of the more classic kind.
Curious about the lure that was dangled in front of us, in the style of a angler fish, beckoning us to enter into the teeth-lined cavern? The word is “shoes”. Yet not like shoes as most of us know them, but shoes mainly of an off-beat and even odd nature. Heck, I’ll go out on a limb and admit that some of them were barely shoes, except in the most surrealistic way. The shop looked a lot more cosy than the pulsating mouth of an angler fish though, so in we went.
And what a remarkable shop it proved to be. The host was obviously used to people entering, peering around, rolling their eyes and backing out, but proved surprisingly genial once engaged in discussion. Most of the shoes on display were by American brand Cydwoq (pronounced Sidewalk), proudly describing themselves as the only handmade american shoe, made in Burbank, California since 1996. There was also a selection of shoes and boots made by an Italian artisan, almost as singular as the American variants.
I’ll admit that much of what was on display was outside of my aesthetic comfort zone and this is a tricky challenge (or is it a problem? I’m not sure it truly qualifies as either, to be honest). It’s so easy to find something you like, then buy lots of the same. Or buy what everyone else buys, as it has somehow been legitimised by others. In this case though it was more a matter of getting an overview, then whittling away everything that was just too far out and seeing what might be left.
WDW was first to find a pair of great looking shoes. She went for the “Classic” variant. Heck, I was pretty keen on a pair myself, as the vintagey look was very compelling and they really are very splendid looking shoes. They felt a little narrow for me though, so I kept on considering. In the end I found my destiny in a pair of “Iota” boots. Similar vintage style, but wider of toe, and they feel plenty of good.
So far I’ve only mentioned that they are handmade, vintagey and have much different in the mix, but there is more. The second thing that strikes you is the rustic nature of the construction and leather. The leather is almost a little pre-distressed, but only in a visual way, and added to the design and construction the resulting footwear looks like something that has been enjoyed by someone for a long time. Or as I overheard one person utter “Hey, they have shoes like on Game of Thrones”, which in some way might be a quite astute observation.
The sole is very different from what I’m used to as well. There is no Goodyear welting here, no stitching of sole to upper. It’s assembled using biodegradebly glue, which makes for a slighly different look to the one where you have stitching running round the edge. I do wonder though what it will mean for the longevity of the boots. The soles are leather with a thin rubber sole attached.
The heels though. There is definitely some major league different going on there. Regular heels are flat, these are curved from side to side. Initially this feels a little bit wobbly from side to side, but the thinking is that the heels on our feet have a similar shape, so this should therefore feel natural. After a few wears I can at least say that the wobbliness abates as you get used to them.
They are a lot lighter than my usual fayre of Red Wings and Aldens though, no doubt about that. They make a pair of Iron Rangers feel like they’re cast out of iron. As legendary Lotus sports and racing car designer Colin Chapman famously quoted “Just add lightness”. And lightness is good for both agile race cars and shoes for humans, as it means your energy is being put to the intended use, not wasted on shifting inert and superfluous mass.
And this is pretty much where I am at the moment. 30 degrees and sunny summer days are not the most appropriate of times to wear boots, so I’m still waiting to put more serious wear on them. So far though, I like them a lot. They’re like that strange friend you have that is just a little different and more interesting than most of your other friends. I need more friend like this.
Oh, and the shop in the Gothic Quarter? It’s called “Nu Sabates“, which Google Translate informs me means “Nude Shoes”. I like that.
You may also wonder how I could visit Spain, known for making lots of shoes, and end up with a pair of shoes made in the US. A totally valid point, and I did in fact return home with a pair of Spanish-made shoes as well, more to follow!