One of my strongest attractions to classic menswear has always been its simplicity. Basic styles of tailoring, along with the plethora of goods orbiting them, are relatively easy for most men to appreciate. The same could not easily be said of streetwear and haute couture. To illustrate the point, one need look no further than the (now) popular car shoe.
Originating in the mid-20th century, the car shoe (often referred to as the ‘Italian moccasin’ or ‘driver’) is an iconic style of footwear. Historically synonymous with industrialists and the idle jet-set, drivers have since become popular all over the world. The advent of international luxury brands has given the style a huge global following and now men from Tehran to Tokyo wear them religiously. Indeed, while traditionalists cite the oxford or semi-brogue as their favourite take on classic simple footwear, there are reasonable justifications to lump drivers into the same category. They are stylish without being stuffy, exude an air of sportiness and provide (in theory) comfort that is unrivalled by any other shoe. Unfortunately, when drivers are bad – as is often the case with luxury goods – they reflect all the worst qualities of buying into glitzy fashions. Derek Guy wrote earlier this year about ordering from the original Italian driving shoe manufacturer Miserocchi. His criticisms regarding their contemporary mediocrity served only to deepen my aversion to driving shoes. One which I’ve previously had on the basis of personal taste.
Despite my trepidation, I am pleased to report that the pair I recently received from Aussie-Florentine maker L’bardi has left me more optimistic. Admittedly not bucking the innate problems of its simplistic design, the drivers produced by this young brand embrace excellence in numerous other areas. Andy’s team at L’bardi – an 8 person workforce in Florentine suburbia, if you can imagine such a thing – have created a shoe that mitigates its flaws for a commendable overall experience. If you’ll allow me a culinary metaphor, what we’ve got here is best described as a generous serving of comfort food.
The driving shoe’s construction is among the simplest of all leather footwear. No more than three pieces of leather are used to build it and even fewer embellishments are added. The last is softly shaped with rounded (almost amorphous) edges, an impression that is punctuated only by the rubber nubs running from the heel counter down along the sole. The finishing, notwithstanding the top most portion of the toebox, is neat and evenhanded with special attention given to the stitching across the vamp. Upon similar scrutiny, the leathers used appear to be of a uniformly good quality. The combination of durable pebble grain hide and minimal moving parts make for a shoe that is lightweight like a slipper. The discomfort I’ve come to expect from breaking in a new pair of leather shoes lasted less than 48 hours. This encouraged consistent usage every two days for a fortnight resulting in drivers that are now reasonably comfortable.
I emphasise degrees of comfort in light of the undeniable – the driver simply isn’t a tough shoe. Without question, the L’bardi driver is well executed but is by its very nature fragile. Wear & tear is a phenomenon that affects all sorts of car shoes in an exaggerated way (see the image below for reference) fueled by numerous design details such as lack of separation between the uppers and sole. Most enthusiasts acknowledge those problems because they are an inextricable part of what makes the style great. To their mind, it wouldn’t be possible to craft lived-in buttery foot pillows, comfortable like slippers, without sacrificing the resilience associated with more traditional shoes.
Provided you are among those cognoscenti who enjoy the carefree dishevelled look of driving shoes, and who can forgive their somewhat fragile construction, there is good reason to recommend L’bardi. The Florentine brand has earned its association with traditional Italian craftsmanship by employing an established local workforce and reasonable price points. It’s all relative, but for $259 AUD per pair (the price of the drivers reviewed in this article) L’bardi have positioned themselves in an area of the market that comparable brands (think Tod’s) aren’t even making sockwear in.
A perennial favourite of gentlemen everywhere made of reassuringly supple materials? At a more or less sane price? What could be simpler?
Factory & assembly photos courtesy of the team at L’bardi.
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