While you may be able to remember the last time you slipped into a pair of leather lace-ups, no doubt it was a couple of months ago. For most of us, this is an unprecedented situation, where our formal leather shoes lie gathering dust in our racks. Be that as it may, now might be the right time to pull them out and groom them well.
Legendary shoe designer Christian Louboutin once told me in jest, “Men treat their shoes like lovers. They pamper them and spend a lot of time maintaining them, while women don’t usually spend so much time maintaining or looking after their shoes.” Keeping his words in mind, here’s a quick guide to sprucing up your formal footwear. (Remember, right now, the focus is on maintaining them, retaining their shape, and keeping the leather from cracking)
How to care for your leather shoes
Now that you have the luxury of time, you might want to carry out a major clean-up of your shoe closet. Take out all your shoes, let your closet air out, dust it well, and clean up your shoe boxes/containers and bags. Some of my shoe collector friends tell me that they sprinkle a little baking soda into their shoes or inside their shoe closet, to absorb any excess moisture or odour.
The good ole’ shoetree
Most of us fast-paced gents underestimate (or ignore) the power of a shoetree (a shoe-shaped device made of wood or metal). Many shoe collectors I spoke to recently confessed to not owning shoetrees. Not only do they carry out the obvious function of keeping your precious leather kicks in good shape, but the wood in the shoetree absorbs the humidity and odour, and keeps the shoes in better condition. Shoe specialists tell us that cedarwood shoetrees are the best to have in your shoe closet. Admittedly, these do require a bit more effort to store, use, and maintain, but it’s certainly worth all the effort if you are to keep your pricey shoes for longer.
Dust them off
Give your shoes a good clean with a soft cloth or brush to take off all the excess dust and grime that might be wedged in tiny areas. Then use a damp cloth to wipe down. If you have a hairdryer, you could even use that, without the heat feature, to blow off the extra dust. You can use your fingers to press down the creases and smoothen out the leather, if required. Try to do this once every fortnight to ensure cracks do not occur in the leather.
Mumbai-based Nirali Ruparel, founder of Achilles’ Heel, a high-end shoe boutique, gives an interesting analogy – she compares leather shoes to the skin of your face that requires regular moisturising. “For this purpose, it is recommended to use a cream polish of good quality on your leather shoes every fortnight to keep them supple and to prevent them from cracking. Apply this with a soft shoe brush or an old T-shirt. Cream polishes are easily available in the market.” If you are looking out for a good quality cream polish, check out Saphir, a French label specialising in shoe care products. They might burn a small hole in your pocket but are well worth it.
This is purely to keep up appearances. Shine polish is best used when you are actually wearing your shoes someplace. For now, since your kicks are most likely not in use, it would be better to focus on moisturising with a cream polish over a shoe shine product. Save the shoe shine for later. If you are going to eventually shine your shoes, apply some cream polish or shoe conditioner, and let it absorb for an hour before adding the polish.
Just like your skin, consider your favourite leather shoes like living beings, which need to breathe. To this end, avoid storing them in any airtight containers. Keep them in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. The best would be to store them in cloth shoe bags.
How to care for suede
Those suede boots and loafers maybe, to you, the most good-looking pieces in your shoe closet. And with that, they require the most maintenance as well.
Ruparel gives us some easy tips on caring for suede. “You could use a steam iron, move it around the shoe at a distance of 10 cms to rejuvenate the colour. Brush the pair with a suede brush (yes, there is such a thing, look it up or ask your shoe guy) to make it look even and then use a small shoe or toothbrush to clean the sides and the sole.”
In order to maintain the look and feel of your suede shoes, which require the most maintenance, keep them away from direct sunlight to prevent fading. Store them in a cool dry place, away from excess humidity and dust. Suede shoes need to breathe so avoid storing them in any kind of airtight container. If you have old t-shirts, pillowcases or duster clothes lying around the house, you could use them to wrap your suede shoes for storage.
Suede brushes and cleaners are easily available on most major websites. Saphir has a good quality suede product as well as Cole Haan’s suede cleaner bar, which gently scrubs away any stubborn stains.
All images: Courtesy Getty