Isetan Men’s shoe department is almost legendary among shoe interested men. It’s for a good reason. Here you find the single largest collection of classic men’s shoes in the world, over a thousand different models from manufacturers all around the world. Shoegazing have browsed the department.
I have visited for example,Paul Stuart and Barney’s main stores in New York, the major British shoe brands flag ship stores in London, and so on, but nothing really comes close to Isetan Men’s shoe department, neither when it comes to the “wow factor”, range or service. In Japan, there are other very impressive shoe deparhments at department stores and dedicated shoe shops like World Footwear Gallery and Trading Post, but even among them Isetan Men’s stand out.
It’s located one floor down from street level in the large luxury department store’s men’s house, and it’s an impressive sight when you walk into the shoe department. There’s a wall with fancy sneakers and casual shoes and at the check-out there’s a wall with shoe care products, but otherwise it’s classic shoes all the way. They are placed out more or less by price order, where the cheapest shoes for maybe €150 starts and then it gets more expensive the further in you go, to finally have a separate room with the finest RTW shoes in the world also mixed with some sample shoes from bespoke shoemakers that Isetan cooperates with.
It works without exaggeration maybe 50 persons here if we count together the floor and behind the checkout. Japanese stores are generally very staff-packed and Isetan are among the best in class. You should almost never have to wait for help, and the staff is very courteous and helpful. I talked to several and there were generally good level of knowledge, and in case they didn’t know something, they went quickly and asked a more senior colleague who could answer the question, they never tried to answer anything if they didn’t know.
The fact that the world’s largest selection of classic men’s shoes are right here is for several reasons. Firstly the great interest of the shoe type that exploded in the country over the past decade, secondly the country’s aggressive shopping culture. But also the fact that it’s a large department store, it has the financial muscle to buy large volumes of shoes and to have buyers out there around the world. And when they have reached the status of a department store today, they can pick and choose what they want and also require to get manufacturers to make customized models tailored for their market. Cause virtually all the classic manufacturers wants to be at Isetan.
The first shelves consists of cheaper, usually blake stitched, more fashion-focused footwear. Not what Shoegazing focus on, so we’ll leave it at that and starts at the first wall along the long side, where the domestic entry-level brands to classic Goodyear welted shoes are housed. Consider them Japan’s equivalent of the Loake 1880, Herring Classic or Meermin, and a bit further up. For in all price ranges of footwear today there are a great variety of Japanese brands, also in the budget segment. All this is not made in Japan though, China, Vietnam and Taiwan are some countries where many of the shoes here are made. A bit strange as it is, however, that it says Made in Japan on several of the shoes where they really only have been finished here, just strange considering that they otherwise are very careful to give the correct information in Japan. Here Goodyear welted shoes are regularly called to 8/10, or 80%, handmade, while hand welted shoes with machine made sole stitch is 9/10 or 90% handmade, and when even also the sole stitch is made by hand it’s 10/10 or 100% handmade.
Regarding Made in Japan labeling and the slightly lower price levels you need to have much knowledge to know for sure what is what. The fact that much has been done in cheaper Asian countries means that you get quite a lot of bang for the buck though. In the price range between about €220-530 (about 30000-50000 yen) are several Japanese brands, in some cases those who makes shoes solely in this range, but often also the cheapest line of a manufacturer that also have shoes for higher prices. Some examples of brands that have shoes in this price level are Regal, Shetland Fox, Union Imperial, Otsuka, and others. There are examples of hand welted models for about €320, and for such a good deal they aren’t Made in Japan even if that is what the stamp says, they are produced in other Asian countries while the finish is done in Japan.
Another manufacturer that is quite big only in Japan even if the brand isn’t from here, are Indonesian Jalan Sriwijaya. They start at around €200 and seem like really good value.
Worth noting is that it’s quite rare to find shoes above size UK8-8,5, since Japanese have small feet. For me who wear size UK10,5 it was just a few random models that were available.
If one goes into the next part of the shoe department you find the midrange shoes, and it’s really only here that the international manufacturer of Goodyear welted shoes begin to appear, like Carmina, Crockett & Jones, Church’s, Magnanni, Alden, and so on. Since the import taxes on leather shoes is high in Japan European and American shoes are priced significantly higher than at home. Nevertheless, they are relatively popular, as Western brands in this segment just like many others are well regarded in Japan. But I have to say that for me i seems odd that the Japanese often choose for example Carmina, which is certainly good shoes but with celastic heel stiffeners and other elements that the Europeans would definitely not be satisfied with on a shoe for over €530 (69,000 yen), when, for example, you can get Japanese produced Central Shoes, Otsuka Shoten or Miagi Kogyos finest Goodyear welted lines at a lower price. These shoes I felt and also many Japanese with more experience are almost up to the level of European premium brands like Edward Green or Gaziano & Girling. Because even when it comes to RTW products, the level of the Japanese produced shoes are really high, with high demands in the production, and they are very affordable here.
Isetan also work hard to do more than just sell shoes. It has regular events in the store, regular trunk shows with both RTW brands and bespoke manufacturers such as Yohei Fukuda, but also other types of events. As such, it was one of the days I visited the store patina painting live with Magnanni and Edward Green had a trunk where also the owner Hillary Freeman had several small seminars in one of the department stores restaurants where she talked about EG and the brand’s history.
In a separate department they have collected the premium segment of the RTW shoes. It goes from Vass up to Silvano Lattanzi, and between them they have almost most of what you can imagine. Enzo Bonafé, JM Weston, John Lobb Paris, Edward Green, Anthony Cleverley, Clematis Ginza, Stefano Bemer, Corthay, Napolitano Rachelle… well, you get the point. And given the elevated prices of imported goods, it’s really juicy in many cases. As Anthony Cleverley that runs at over €2000 (260 000 yen). In here there are also a number of sample shoes from Yohei Fukuda. In short, it’s packed full with shoe candy.
To walk along the shelves at Isetan Men’s lower floor is a superb experience. If you visit Tokyo, be sure not to miss a visit here.
Later this spring, there will be a report from the World Footwear Gallery and a buyer’s guide to Yohei Fukuda, and then I’ll finish my articles from last year’s Japan trip with a comprehensive retail guide to Tokyo, where some of the ones I have already written articles on will be included a little shorter, but also many new stores will be highlighted.