You may have read previously in the Code of the Gentleman about the amazing talents of Steven Skippen of Shoe Shine UK. He is the magician of the leather, a shoe cleaning specialist who can be found conjuring new shoes from old in the foyer of the Hilton hotel on Park Lane.
He is the man we always turn to when we need some advice on shoe care and I recently popped in to see him with my oldest pair of suede shoes to see if he could put some life back into them.
They are a pair I have had and loved for possibly 15 years. They were made by Cable & co, they have been re-soled and not particularly well looked after.
So I handed my very scruffy pair of old suede brogues over to Steven to see if there was anything we could do to breathe some new life into them.
The first thing he did was to take out the laces, give them a good look over and then whip out a cigarette lighter and start burning my shoes. He explained that he was tidying up any loose threads and the best way to do this was with a flame. He reassured me that he would have to try very hard to actually set light to the shoes.
The first stage of cleaning the shoe was to set to work on the nap of the suede with a fine shoe stone. As he worked quickly and gently on the first shoe he explained that stones comes in two forms, the first is a soft stone, like a very fine sandpaper and there is also a coarser stone for any hard to shift dirt. He worked quickly to remove ingrained dirt while being very careful to avoid damaging the nap of the leather.
My shoes are, I have to admit well worn. I have tried not to wear them in the wet but in the British climate it is very difficult to guarantee that if it’s fine when you go out it will not pour with rain at some point.
As he worked Steven explained patiently that there is nothing worse to use than a shampoo. It dries badly and is not good for good suede shoes. “its a gimmick that is sold with a new pair of shoes like waterproof sprays. Neither really clean or protect the leather” he told me.
The process with the stone is slow and patient, like pulling up a dirty compressed carpet from a sticky pub floor.
I suspect I am like most people and I thought that all you needed to keep your suede shoes in order was a wire brush. I checked recently in my cobbler and it’s certainly all they have to offer.
Steven regards most UK cleaners as way behind the USA in shoe care and showed us a range of three wire brushes and a rubber brush which he used very gently as the third and fourth stage of the cleaning process.
The wire brushes has very short sharp brush which is just used incredibly lightly on the worst areas.
Steven works steadily, tirelessly and with a passion for good shoes. He simply brings shoes back to life. There is nothing leather that he can’t renovate.
It may be possible to salvage an old ‘ravaged’ pair of suede shoes but Steven stresses that they are not like regular shoes and it is critical to take care of them from the word go. Once the suede has been damaged it’s very difficult to get them back to anything like the original.
With a quick run over with the rubber brush just to ensure all the suede is brushed in the same direction the shoes look perkier, with better colour across the shoe. But the colour is uneven and there is a discoloured patch on one toe.
Next he goes to work with a bewildering range of colour sprays. Starting with a light brown colour applied in short, quick confident strokes. He blends the colour to give the shoes a consistent overall patina.
The shoes lighten as they dries so he works on them alternatively, touching up slightly lighter patches that emerge as they dry.
Final touch is a protector spray, soaks into the suede and will protect against one wetting. After the shoes have been wet he advises that it will be necessary to re-apply.
A quick run round the welt with polish applied using his thumb to avoid any chance of getting the polish on the suede and it’s nearly time to pop the laces back in. But Steven is a total perfectionist and he carefully studies my laces before reaching for the lighter again and using it to burn off the many loose threads.
Steven probably has the best exercised fingers in London and I now have a pair of shoes which look 100% better. The colour is consistent and they look worn but very well cared for.
This whole process took a patient and deliberate 35 minutes. Doing anything properly takes time and there is no doubt that Steven has worked his magic on my scruffy old pair of sued brogues.
I’m a happy man and I’m going to set off to find another challenge for the ‘Shoe Magician’.