I was invited by Jin, the founder of Huntsman Leather, to review their newly-launched Goodyear Welted shoes. Their shoes looked promising, so I agreed. Here's my review of their soon-to-be released Kennedy II, a black cap-toe oxford.
Full disclosure: the views are my own and I was not paid for this review. The shoes were sent back to Huntsman after this review.
I. The Company
Huntsman is a Melbourne-based label that was launched earlier this year. They offer Goodyear Welted shoes that are made in Spain. Their collection comprises a ready-to-wear and made-to-order line, which are primarily sold through their website. They also hold trunk shows (currently focused on Australia) to provide their clients the opportunity to view, try and purchase shoes from their collection as well as create their own custom pair.
Huntsman's main focus is the Asia-Pacific market, in particular Australia and its neighbouring countries: New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and China. They have also created a following base in Canada, United States and the United Kingdom. Additionally, they ship worldwide in case you are not based in one of these countries.
Their main aim is to make high-quality Goodyear Welted shoes that are relatively more affordable and accessible. They have intentionally priced their shoes low, while still delivering quality, in order to position themselves well against the mass-produced and lower-quality shoe market. Rather than competing with well-known brands in the industry such as Crockett & Jones, Edward Green, Carmina and the others, Huntsman aims to make high quality shoes available to a wider market.
Part of the proceeds from the sale of each pair goes towards supporting Spur Afrika, a not-for-profit focusing on providing education, health and life skills for children and youth living in the poverty-stricken Kibera slums in Kenya.
Jin, the founder of Huntsman, is an Australia-based entrepreneur and investment manager at an infrastructure fund by trade. So it is clear that he is doing all of this out of passion and that profit isn't his main goal in establishing Huntsman.
This is just a quick snapshot of the company. For further details of the brand in general, please check their website at www.huntsmanleather.com and Instagram page @huntsmanleather.
II. The Shoes
I didn't know which model Jin was going to send me for this review. I was very pleased when I learned that it was their black cap-toe oxfords—something we have yet to write a review on. This is the Kennedy II model, which features a more chiseled toe compared to the original round-toed Kennedy model.
Huntsman sources their uppers from European tanneries (Spanish, Italian, and German), with a majority from a family-owned Italian tannery, which also provides leather to, among others, Berluti of LVMH. The upper feels quite supple and breaking it in should not be an issue. The upper is neatly stitched with double-row stitching with a stitch density of about 10 SPI.
Huntsman exclusively uses vegetable-tanned uppers, including on this pair. This is quite an interesting choice considering that vegetable-tanned uppers are usually used by shoemakers for more of a rugged look due to the natural patina that develops through wear or shoemakers that focus on hand-painted patina, like Berluti. Most dress shoemakers use chrome-tanned uppers, such as those from Weinheimer, d’Annonay, or Ilcea.
I am a huge fan of vegetable-tanned leather in general (such as on wallets, watch straps, and belts) because of the way they age with wear. However, as this pair is black, the ageing of the leather will not be quite visible as, say, on a tan or brown pair.
The pattern is very well proportioned. The cap-toe is very proportional to the whole shoe (not too far back or forward) and is supported by stiffeners throughout the whole length of the cap-toe. I would thus not expect it to crease beyond the cap-toe seam. Interestingly, the stiffener on the heel goes quite far forward on the shoes. This gives more support at the back and helps prevent creases near the shoe opening. The heal uses a centre seam with a curved dog tail. The centre seam is stitched from the inside and is very flat on the heel.
B. Last and Fit
The Kennedy II comes in the "Seville" last, which has a soft chiseled toe. And it is here where the shoe really shines and differentiates itself from other black cap-toe oxfords in the market at this price point.
There is no denying that black cap-toe oxfords, while classic, can be quite boring. And there isn't a lot that a plain shoe can do to differentiate itself. Playing with the last is one of the ways to do it.
The toe has the perfect amount of definition to be interesting enough. You don't want your black cap-toe oxfords (mostly worn for business) to call attention onto itself. Yet it's nice to give a pleasing sight once someone does take notice. Too chiseled and it's too loud; too rounded and it's not worth a second glance. Huntsman found the perfect balance on this last.
That is not to say that I dislike more pronounced chiseled toes or rounded toes. My Winson Adelaide wingtips, for instance, has quite a chiseled toe. But that shoe was designed to be a bit showy (it has crocodile facings, after all). My Fortuna penny loafers and Sagara derby boots (reviews coming) have quite rounded toes, which makes sense because they are quite casual and rugged, respectively. The point is to know the level of formality and usage on a pair of shoes and choose the last as appropriate.
Huntsman does offer more rounded, chunkier lasts. But unless you are particularly into rounded lasts or simply don't like chiseled lasts, the Seville is the last to pick in my opinion.
The shoes are size 43 and fit me really well with thin dress socks. The shoes can still fit me well with regular socks as the lace opening is almost completely shut on me when I wear them with my thin dress socks. Based on this, their statement that their shoes fit true to size holds.
Huntsman offers two widths (D and E). My feet are quite regular in width, though at times an E width fits me better. In this case, the regular D width fits me fine.
C. Construction and Soles
The shoes are 360° Goodyear Welted with an open channel. Even though it is 360°, the heel is not too chunky. From the side profile you can see how the heel stack does not extend beyond the curve of the heel.
The sole is very well proportioned, and the stitching is very neat. On this pair, the soles are painted burgundy. Perhaps a bit too bright for my liking (although it is not as bright in person, the camera makes it look brighter) considering the formality of the upper.
But of course Huntsman also does their soles in other colours. From my review of the catalogue, they usually paint their soles dark brown, which in my opinion would go better with this pair.
The transition of the welt where it is sewn together at the inside of the heel is one of the cleanest I've seen. You really need to get close to the shoe in order to see it. The sole is stitched to the welt with a stitch density of around 7 SPI.
Huntsman offers personalisation on the outer part of the heel. They can do up to eight characters. So you can stamp your initials, name (if it's short) or a significant date (like a wedding date). I would personally prefer to have the personalisation on the waist of the outsole or inner part of the heel perhaps, or none at all. Having said this, the personalisation won't jump out on you unless you pay particular attention to it.
D. How it Fits in One’s Wardrobe
Save for wholecuts and opera pumps, these shoes are the most formal shoes you can get. Thus, they're not too versatile. But anything formal would work, like a tuxedo or charcoal or navy suit. They would still look good with mid-grey trousers paired with a plain blazer and white shirt. You could still get away with light grey or beige, but then the contrast may be too stark. And it would be a case of missed opportunity as brown would be much more harmonious and offer more interest. I would not wear these with denim, no matter how dark.
Having said this, I would still advise anyone to get a pair of black cap-toe oxfords for their first or second proper dress shoe. This is because events that call for leather shoes tend to be formal anyway. A mid-brown split-toe derby might more interesting, but you’ll be limiting yourself to more casual occasions, for which I would assume you already have casual shoes, such as sneakers.
III. Price and Closing
The shoes retail at AUD399 (around USD280). If you consider the material and construction alone this is already a good price for what you get. In a sense then Huntsman has, in my opinion, reached its goal in providing a high quality alternative to mass-produced shoes, which often come at that price point.
But Huntsman goes further by providing a high level of finishing, attractive design and, for me at least, that X factor that differentiates it from other shoes, namely the refined soft chiseled toe. Even though Huntsman does not aim to compete against more higher-end shoemakers, the quality they provide really gives them a good run for their money. As a very young company, I do think that they have established the right foundations to grow bigger and bigger.
Written by: Nikki Krisadtyo