Steve Skippen of Shoeshine UK

I hate cleaning shoes. Some men I know derive therapeutic benefit from it, though I scarcely know why.

That said, I do like my shoes to be well kept and last. So I’ve read the innumerable articles littered around the internet on the art of shoe shining, methods of achieving a high shine and reviews of various potions.

Having read so many of these forensic expositions even now I’m buggered if I could tell you which the right way is. In fact every shoemaker and purveyor of footwear I’ve encountered or interviewed seems to have a differing method.

So while I may not be able to advise on the right way to clean your shoes I can enlighten as to the most pleasurable and for my money the most satisfying in its results.

The artist in question is a man named Steve Skippen of Shoe Shine UK. You’ll find him working out of the Hilton on Park Lane, London – which is as good a place as any to spend a comfortable hour.

Steve’s art of shoe shining is in his fingers, literally caressing the leather back to life with the tips of his fingers.  This is not a practice you’d want to try at home.

A full shoe shine takes between an hour and 45 minutes. He starts by brushing your shoes to get rid of dirt and dust. This is followed by a cleaning and moisturising preparation. A recipe comprising several ingredients and mixed by Steve himself – which he understandably wouldn’t share. This application is applied by cloth. This is the last such conventional piece of kit used.

Now comes the interesting bit. Using his thumb and fingers he rubs the tips on the surface of the coloured wax polish – from a French firm he regards as the best, but again wouldn’t share. Steve then rubs the polish into the leather with the tips of his fingers and thumbs. It takes literally hundreds of darting flicks of the fingers across the leather, back and forth onto the leather and then back into the polish.

While this is happening you sit shoes on and in a conventional shoe shiners leather chair. The sensation itself of having someone run their fingers over your shoes while unusual is extremely becalming, far more so than a normal shoe shine.

Using this method he applies several coats of polish, including lacquers around the outside ridges of the soles.

To explain this method seems quite odd, if not mad – or at least a foolish gimmick – but far from it. Using this method he applies multiple light layers of polish which are slowly built up. The heat, moisture and oils within the skin of his fingers helps the wax penetrate the leather better, with thin layers building up one on top of the other much more efficiently.

The experience is rounded off by a vigorous buffing with Steve applying some serious elbow grease via folded pairs of ladies stockings – which Steve swears provide a higher shine than any cloth or brush.

Finally, Steve lacquers the welts and edges of the soles and you’re done. The finest and certainly the most unusual shoe shine I’ve yet found.

Should you find yourself in London I whole heartily recommend a visit. Your money and your time cannot be better spent.

Getting Mo Style

Alright. The ‘Mo’ jokes are getting a little grandaddy, but you can’t say they’re not appropriate. For most people, there’s something not quite right about moustaches. They have a touch of the winking, punning uncle about them. Girls don’t like them, they have more than a hint of a much faded past and it has been rather a long time since they were fashionable. However, there is something fascinating about them and Movember is a perfect illustration of how appealing it has become for men to experiment with that peculiar strip of facial hair between their upper lip and nose.

However, growing a moustache is about a great deal more than simply growing it. If you’re going for Movember, you should consider styling and shaping your tache to produce a memorable aesthetic that, but for the excuse of this outrageously popular charitable adventure, you might never have seen on your own face. And who knows, you might actually like the look so much you decide to keep it.

The film star

Here’s your chance to look like one of those black and white photographs of Hollywood stars from the late 1920s and 1930s. Think early-Gable, William Powell and Doug Fairbanks. For these titans of the vintage silver screen, the moustache was not a great bush or an extravagant handlebar but a subtle sliver, carefully trimmed. Its effect was that of two small paintbrushes, with the tips well sharpened, either side of the filtrum. Ideal for those who favour the inter-war look with short and slick haircuts.

The junior Kitchener

Lord Kitchener’s monster tache is practically impossible to achieve in a month of growth. However, its intriguing shape has made it one of the iconic images of Edwardian tache extravagance. To achieve the junior, which is about half the length of the full Kitchener, considerable growth is needed but particular attention should be paid to shaping the ends into the sharp tips by twisting them with wax. This is an excellent look for those who favour neo-Victorian grandeur in their dress.

The Poirot

Hercule Poirot was not a man concerned with fashion, and it shows in his heavily waxed and twisted tache and starched wing collars which were, by the zenith of his fame, absurdly out of date. To achieve this distinctive look, great attention must be paid to daily grooming and waxing. The idea is to grow a substantial barrel of hair crossing the filtrum and then to snip the excess hair at the ends to achieve the extremely fine tips. To achieve the glossy shine and to stiffen the elegant ends, apply wax by turning the hair through your waxed fingers. Ideal for dandy detectives and those who crave symmetry and tidiness on their upper lips.

Travel Accessories: The Travel Shaving Kit

travel-shaving-kit

It is often the case that as a man gets older; his tolerance for the inconveniences of travel wears dangerously thin. I remember seeing a middle-aged gentleman at Heathrow Airport practically begging the somewhat aloof staff behind the check-in counter to give him an upgrade because of his loyalty status, even if it meant that his wife and children – who stood by looking detached and utterly miserable – would have to travel ‘in the back.’

Though not all are as selfish as this, it can seem strange to many that they ever endured the unpleasantness of student travel; the tents, the dirt, the non-air-conditioned rooms, the cheap airlines and – worst of all – the rucksack living. As a gentleman watches his four pieces of priority luggage scuttle around a carousel and wanders out to be greeted by his luxury hotel’s ebullient chauffeur, he must wonder how he ever enjoyed the life of a flip-flop wearing gap-year stowaway and, perhaps, descend into a moment of melancholia that he was once so happy with so little.

Such sadness is often fleeting however, and the pang of it can be assuaged by knowing that he has never before been better prepared for the rudiments of globetrotting, despite the fact that what he once considered luxury is now necessity. As he has matured, the man of style has added to his domestic environment the accoutrements of his success. When he travels, he must leave these behind. Some are fortunate enough to be able to carry with them all that they need; a few are even more fortunate that they have everything they need waiting for them at their destination. However, it is fair to say that most will have the most ideal set-up at home and will have to take second-best when they travel. This is particularly true for those who prefer a luxurious, badger-brush shave with a weighty and significant razor.

I used to think the travel shaving kit was a gimmick. The classic ‘one for home, one for travel’ marketing ploy. However, while a separate kit might not be utterly essential, the convenience of the shaving ‘travel tool-bag’ – particularly one which can be transported without the contents being damaged – is very appealing. The ideal of any grooming kit is to experience the same product abroad as at home. I don’t like shaving foam; shaving with a real badger brush and hard soap is my domestic experience and I am very reluctant to switch. The travel shaving kit from Edwin Jagger not only keeps your travel razor and brush together in a stiff, protective leather case, it also enables you to carry your elegant domestic grooming regime all around the world; the pure badger brush and Mach III (or Fusion) razor are both in gleaming nickel, belying their ‘take me anywhere’ utility and, when combined with the Edwin Jagger travel shaving soap, provides the user with a sense of home-from-home luxury not seen since the days of the portable drinks cabinet.

The Five Minute Shoeshine

There are an awful lot of “how to polish your shoes” videos floating about the ether these days, and all of them seem to recommend a different routine. Some recommend conditioning before polishing, others suggest using nothing but cream, and you might even find videos that recommend using rendered down bits of mustelidae to waterproof leather soles.

Being inherently lazy I will, unless there’s a damned good reason for it, opt for the easiest possible method. In the case of polishing shoes, I make do with the following kit:

Cleaning brush x1

I use this for quickly cleaning off dried-on muck on the uppers and welt. I’ll also give leather soles a quick brushing down if they need it.

Old rag x3
These are usually old t shirts. I keep one for applying cream and conditioner, one for wet wiping and one for dry wiping.

Shoe cream x2
I usually only use two types of cream: black for black shoes and natural for all the others. I keep a number of shades of brown cream in reserve, just in case I need to touch over any scratches. Saphir is my brand of choice. Their creams contain a smidgeon of beeswax to help waterproof the uppers.

Leather conditioner x1

A bottle of leather conditioner goes a long way towards keeping shoes supple. They can be pricier than creams or polishes, but one bottle tends to last for quite a long time.

Polishing brush x1
Some people like to have separate brushes for brown and black shoes, but I stick with using just the one. I’ve not found that the brown wax residue transfers on to my black shoes, or vice versa.

The polishing method

Use conditioner one week and cream – or wax, if you prefer – the next. Either way, the polishing procedure is the same:

1. Clean

polishing-1-clean

Ensure that your shoes are dry, then brush them down do remove any hardened on muck, dust and whatnot. Make sure you get those bristles into stubborn bits like the welt. If your shoes are particularly hacky, wipe them down with a wet rag, wipe the excess water off with a dry rag, and then brush them down again. Soles can be quickly scrubbed down with a brush if necessary, as well.

2. Apply

polishing-2-apply

Rather than a brush I recommend using rag-wrapped fingers to apply cream or conditioner. This enables you to actually feel which parts of the shoe are the most dried out and apply accordingly. Wrap a rag firmly around your index and middle fingers and lightly dip it into the cream, then rub it into the leather using circular motions. Use a corner of the rag to get deep into the crack between the welt and upper. The whole applying process shouldn’t take more than a few minutes per shoe.

3. Leave to dry

polishing-3-leave-to-dry

Or, to be more precise, clean and then apply cream to your other shoe: by the time you’re done the first shoe should be dry. If it isn’t, then you’ve probably splurged on more cream than is necessary.

4. Polish

polishing-4-polish

Grab your polishing brush and give it some welly. Work from the wrist, rather than the elbow, to get your shoes polished off with speed (now there’s an instruction that could be easily be misconstrued). I usually find that a brush provides enough shine, but if you really want a mirror-like finish give your shoes a final going over with a taut rag.

How often should I apply leather conditioner?
Applying conditioner and cream each week is unnecessary unless your shoes have undergone a traumatic event of some kind, such as being soaked through and dried out more than once over a five-day period. Use conditioner one week and cream – or wax, if you prefer – the next. Either way, the polishing procedure is the same.

My Two Scents: Autumn and Winter Scents

I love Sunday evenings on my little street. The sky, which often roars with Heathrow-bound air traffic, is relatively quiet, the sirens are few and far between and my neighbour fills his fire with oak logs which, in turn, fills the air with the aroma which Diptyque refer to as ‘Feu de Bois.’ One whiff and you are transported to the countryside, to a fireside idyll in the woods with crunchy leaves underfoot. After beatific smiles and exhalations of satisfaction, I wanted to bottle the smell and lather it on me. It was the definitive autumn smell.

I like smells that define the season. Cypress for the spring, oranges, grapefruit and lemon in the summer; in my opinion, fragrance is about more than selecting a year-round scent. When you wear your light linen and espadrilles to a soiree at the yacht club on a warm evening, you should add something that complements your clothing, the season and the occasion; a deep, woody number with spice notes would be a mistake. Here are some season-friendly suggestions for the remainder of 2011.

The Autumn Scent

autumn-scent

Comme des Garcons ‘2 Man’ smells like church pews, old ships and forest fires. It is mossy and woody and has conspicuously intense notes that smell like incense. In the splendid words of one admirer, David Hunter; “…it is intoxicating and a masterpiece. Strike a match and light a waxed saddle on fire, throw in a tumble weed, cedar, sandalwood, frankincense, and what the hell, add a gallon of gasoline. Then grab a Single Malt Scotch and get drunk on the smoke. By the time you pass out, you’ll find yourself inside of a Byzantine Mosque. Believe me.” The rusticity of the scent and distinct smell of incineration make this the ideal scent for the autumn season; team with a peanut-butter coloured cord jacket, paisley tie, dark denim and brown brogues.

The Winter Scent

winter-scent

Admittedly this scent isn’t an all-winter scent, but it is perfect for the festive season. In the cold of December, when the snow covers the ground, and you mush through the naked trees in your favourite overcoat with your gloved hands shoved deep in your pockets, you catch a whiff of roasted chestnuts and mulled wine from a nearby stall; that is the effect of Dolce & Gabbana’s ‘The One Gentleman’. The original scent, ‘The One’, was pleasant with base notes of tobacco and ambergris and sweet top notes of grapefruit and basil but it was more of an all-rounder; ‘The One Gentleman’ is spicier and more oriental with pepper, cardamom and patchouli. It smells like Christmas should smell; that warm glow in the darkness. Team with a burgundy velvet jacket, tartan tie, black trousers and patent shoes for the party season.