From a Distance
Before even looking into more detail, luxury shoes and bags have a certain presence to it. Shoes have a certain elegance and sleekness to them, bags tend to have good structure even after years of service. Leathers and fabrics will have a depth to their colour.
The Riviera Bag (left) was Made in England during the 1960s, 50 years down the line it’s structurally solid, zips and clasps all still work. Here pictured with Paris 105 by Yves Saint Laurent. The unbranded Snakeskin piece (right hand image) is likely to have been made in Germany in the 60s or 70s, and likewise still in exceptionally good condition.
When you first look at it, you’ll notice if the edge where the upper and lining meet should be thin, neat and evenly made. Luxury shoes should have a one piece lining, that is made oversized and trimmed back neatly, it means you’ll have one uniform thickness all the way around the shoe, without any off lumps or bumps. Looking more carefully you’ll also notice that the back quarter of the liner is sueded, and made of the same piece of material as the rest of the liner with no stitching.
On the Charlotte Olympia (left) the edge of the shoe is of consistent thickness and neatly finished, it means theres less chance for the shoe to squeeze or pinch. The Aldo shoes (right) although well made of quality soft leather has a distinct thickness, and isn’t as smooth.
Feel and Details
Looking more carefully see if the shoe is made from a single piece of leather, it makes for a much cleaner line however it does require a lot more skill to manufacture and is more labour intensive. A machine made shoe will have the tell tale seam along the inside of each shoe, either glued or stitched and sometimes will have ripples in the leather near the sole. By now you should be holding the shoe, and this gives you a change to have a feel of the material, leather or suede should be soft, and consistent. If it’s a polished or patent finish then the colour should be deep and lustrous, the finish should be perfectly smooth.
Aldo (pictured centre), have done very well to minimise the thickness of the join, it’s carefully glued together rather then stitched, however the best craftsmen make their shoes from one piece of leather for the upper, as seen in both Charlotte Olympia (left), Rupert Sanderson (right), and YSL (previous image).
Bags tend to give things away when you look at the fittings and linings. A well used but properly made bag will have zips that slide smoothly, and clasps that click sharply. In fact with use these fittings should get better and a bag should carry it’s age gracefully, although its worth noting that older bags tend to use poppers instead of magnetic clasps.
Most modern bags (right) like this Dune bag use magnetic catches to close, it’s quicker and more convenient. Most bags from before the 1990s will more likely have stud type closures (left). You’ll also note the shiny satin finish which is quite common now.
Taking a look inside, a well loved bag might have a lining that is stained or marked from what’s been inside, but it shouldn’t be frayed or have any holes in them. Today bags have a satin lining, which will feel lighter but high end pieces should have a feel of quality to them. Meanwhile in the past bags would be typically lined in a light canvas or cotton toile would be common.
These linings are a little old (top left and right), and have seen use, but they’re so immensely thick that not much can put a hole in them. United Nude (bottom) uses a more refined lining, but it’s still quite thick and feels more durable than the Dune item.
It takes a little practice to hone your eye, I’ll use what I’ve seen in luxury retailers to give me an idea of the contemporary craftsmanship to help me search out those gems elsewhere. Shoemaking hasn’t changed much and it’s easier to start hunting for vintage, however it’s may take you more time to find your way around vintage bags.