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.