As I sit here and write this on a breezy late February morning, the windows are open for the first time in months and the sun is tentatively peeping through the clouds. At the risk of tempting fate, I feel incredibly hopeful today, not only because this has for all of us been one of the most challenging winters in living memory, but also because the advent of early spring marks the start of moving beyond the pandemic and of life edging back towards normality – slowly but surely.
This feeling of optimism feeds into Crockett & Jones’s Spring/Summer ’21 collection, which has been designed to quite literally put a spring in your step. The news topping the bill this season is hugely exciting. Crockett & Jones, as you’ll doubtless already know, is an exceptional innovator within the Goodyear Welted space and new for SS21 the company has perfected its most comfortable sole to date – the ‘SUPERFLEX’.
This is a remarkably flexible single-leather sole that’s been in development for well over two-and-a-half years. Jonathan Jones has worked closely with C&J’s specialist leather sole tannery to create a durable sole that is a touch thinner than is conventional and treated with a unique combination of waxes, fats and oils that lend the leather unparalleled springiness and malleability.
There’s more on this to come in the following weeks, but a number of new models in the SS21 collection benefit from Superflex soles. The first three are the hero pieces of Summer – dubbed the Unstructured Collection. As the name suggests, they are the softest, lightest shoes C&J has ever designed. Three different loafer styles are available, including a classic penny, strap-and-tassel, and a plain fronted style with a raised apron, and yes, all of them are set on new SUPERFLEX soles.
Think of them as a Goodyear welted, long-lasting alternative to a suede slipper or Belgian loafer. They’re every bit as soft, and yet still have some structure in the heel and toe-box, which ensures they can support your feet properly for extended periods of time. These, in my humble view, are the pinnacle of what an English summer shoe can be; more practical than suede slippers and every bit as elegant. There’s more on these to come, but for now, let me simply say that I’ve been genuinely impressed.
Alongside these, two other pairs of loafers are making their debut this season – as C&J’s first ever online exclusives, no less. I’m a sucker for co-respondents, and the Richmond 2 loafer in Snuff and Camel, with a classic penny strap and raised apron is a glorious summer shoe – it positively begs to worn beneath a pair of drapey cream linen trousers and a sky blue camp collar shirt. The same can be said of its sister shoe, the Richmond 2 in Navy and Ocean suede, which is a great ‘holiday season’ design – wear sock-less with a smart pair of tailored shorts and a linen shirt on your summer staycation.
As you’d expect given our prolonged ‘dress down’ reality, the aforementioned shoes are all distinctly casual, but for those with a busy wedding season on the horizon, or a return to the office, C&J have also released two Hand Grade penny loafers on the signature 140 Hand Grade last, with elegant almond toes and an all-round superb fit. In hand polished Black or Chestnut Antique Calf, these make for distinguished dress loafers with a royal blue mohair or classic sand coloured linen suit.
Last but not least, we come to our final trio of SS21 lace-ups. First comes the Waterford plain-fronted Derby, also set on SUPERFLEX soles and available in either Dark Oak or Khaki Suede. Both are equally relaxed and easy to wear with everything from washed or white jeans, to classic chinos. They are lasted on the 379, which offers English rounded toes with an excellent fit through the shoe’s joint, cone, waist and back-part. The same can be said of SS21’s only boot, the unlined Chukka Sulgrave in Khaki Suede; a new, sleek take on this timeless summer style set on dark brown rubber city soles – perfect for spring and autumn.
Writing these biannual collection stories is my favourite part of working as Crockett & Jones’s guest editor. It always heartens me to see a ‘classic’ English shoemaker gently pushing the direction of its product, particularly at a moment in time when a lot of heritage brands have made the mistake of entrenching, rather than evolving over this last pandemic year.
SS21’s casual feel is bang on the money, and the Superflex sole is really quite exciting. Give it another month or so, and we’ll be stepping out of doors into a milder, lighter, brighter season. Make no mistake, these will be just the shoes for an optimistic, post-lockdown spring and summer.