Define ‘good shoe‘
tries to lure the trend-conscious to the world of classic
By Kwaak Je-yup
Towards the end of a lunch break, honest people in this country are often reduced to a circus-like activity. Huddled up in front of restaurant exits, they frantically search for their shoes on the floor or on the shelves and then battle for the few shoehorns of the house.
A “good pair of shoes” in the minds of Koreans, therefore, are most likely defined by how easily removable/wearable they are as much as how comfortable or beautiful they might be on your feet. So, it should not come as a surprise that the “lunchtime shoe collection” tends to be uninspiring.
This is especially true for men. No wonder they resort to wearing those black loafer slip-ons with loud logos and/or recognizable name-brand designs.
But an audacious 30-something shoe aficionado named Kim Bom-sop believes he — and his SS Scarpe line — can steer Korean men to wear classic leather shoes that combine beauty and longevity with
an excellent price-to-quality ratio.
“If you want solid, durable shoes, they’ve got to be somewhat uncomfortable,” said Kim in an interview Tuesday. “If you want total comfort, you should make them with cheaper leather, make them thinner... make the soles with sponge.
“It’s a lesson people can only learn over time by trying a lot of shoes on.”
And now they can. With just four models out at the moment, SS are sold at 440,000 won (approximately $387) a pair. It may be out of range for many but for shoe specialists, the quality speaks for itself.
“Already with their first collection, SS Scarpe achieved a level of quality in materials, style, and construction that many other imported or local shoes of similar or even higher price levels fail to offer,” said Reto Zimmermann, owner of gentleman’s shoe store Zimmermann & Kim in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, who decided to carry Kim’s shoes alongside longer established imports like Gaziano Girling, Saint Crispin and Vass. (The store has no ties to the shoe producer.)
SS uses premium calf hide aged six months or less, tanned and dyed in France. Its shoes are made in Indonesian factories whose artisans have already worked on European and American brand-name products for decades.
The designs follow the classic tradition of shoes for men, inspired by brands such as Crockett & Jones and Edward Green, some of the world’s most respected purveyors of quality footwear.
Kim readily admits that these foreign competitors, which can cost more than double or even triple his, have an edge in several aspects, but he asserts that ordinary people can have access to beautiful shoes that can last, like a treasured work of art that has a personal attachment.
To reflect that, he named his company after the words sense and sensibility (scarpe is Italian for shoes), with the wish to combine (subjective) beauty with (objective) quality.
The issue of practicality remains. How does he expect to overcome the daily hurdles that virtually every man in Korea has to jump?
“People don’t have to wear them every day. They can be for weddings and other functions, where they can show them off a little,” he said. “My goal is that one day a pair of my shoes will be on every man’s wish list, something they can save up for.”
He raised his leg up and modeled his own pair, which he said he has been wearing for over two years. The shoes were in pristine condition, undoubtedly cleaned and polished regularly.
He proceeded to explain the benefit of Goodyear welts.
“The outsole is leather, which means it is breathable in simple speak. It will also adapt to the shape of your feet. Over time, these shoes will feel snug, just right.”
The most salient — and confounding — feature of the four shoe styles is the color: none of them are available in black, the predominant color on those restaurant shoe shelves. They are offered in burgundy, burgundy brown, chocolate brown and brown, in subtle nuances that not all shoe laymen may be able to discern.
In this respect Kim was adamant that with black, the evidence of quality is buried in the darkness even more. Picking brown was not a matter of choice.
“High-quality shoes are also characterized by the depths of the color. The color tells the difference between a mid-range and top-quality pair.”
Kim plans to release more models by the end of the year, including in black and even boots.
With this venture, he said he hoped to contribute to feeding the culture of cherishing high-quality products that could even be passed down to a future generation. In like manner he intends to give his favorite watch to his son one day, he added.
“It’s a cultural difference. The shift will be slow, but as more high-quality shoes are on the market, people will look after their shoes like they do their clothes. If you don’t buy good shoes, obviously you wouldn’t be as attached.”
The SS Scarpe models are available in selected outlets in Seoul and Busan. For more information, visit www.ss-scarpe.com.