Artista is a new top range from the Spanish brand TLB Mallorca, a range that I’ve been involved in developing, through my work for their retailer Skolyx. It’s an ambition at bringing some features taken from bespoke shoes into the midrange price segment of Goodyear welted shoes, offering a lot for the €425 they cost. Here’s a report about this project, now about to launch.

 

To start off, I’d thought I’d summarise what TLB Mallorca Artista is. The aim has been to push the bar for Goodyear welted shoes in the midrange price segment, where we have looked and learned from both some of the absolute high-end RTW shoe brands and had help from bespoke shoemakers in England and Japan. The result is shoes with for example very tight waists, real leather heel stiffeners, close-cut heels and only first grade-leather from the well-known tanneries Annonay and Charles F. Stead. Two all-new lasts have been made specifically for the Artista range: the soft chiseled Picasso last, and the Goya last with a classic round toe. The praised fit of the regular TLB lasts are kept, while shapes are more enhanced and elegant, in line with the more refined making on the Artista range.

Artista will be shown to the world for the first time at the London Super Trunk Show this Saturday (read all about the event here, if you are in London, don’t miss!). We at Skolyx, TLB themselves and other retailers will then open up for pre-orders next week, which will run through April with expected delivery in May (early orders receive first). Skolyx will also take these on tour together with our upcoming loafer range from our own label, to Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö in Sweden during April, and Moscow in Russia on April 20 for the Moscow Trunk Show.

The starting line-up (most of it, misses a dark brown balmoral and a black punched cap toe balmoral, both on soft chiseled Picasso last). More pics of each model below.

Full list of features which all are either very rare or unique for this price range:

  • Extremely slim bevelled waists, which accentuates the shape of the shoe. Made with stitching all the way back to the heel, so the waist is not only cemented or Blake stitched as is commonly seen when making narrower waists.
  • Bevelling of the waist continues in under the heel, which normally almost only can be found on bespoke shoes. This creates a stronger waist, and looks more natural.
  • Real leather heel stiffeners (not leather board), conforms to the feet in the best way, and is a living material that can be re-shaped if needed.
  • Close-cut heels, follows the natural lines of the shoes.
  • Very smooth sanded sole and heel edges, also the waist edge is smooth, which is very rare to see. This not only looks lovely, it makes it much easier to polish them and keep the edges in good condition.
  • Tight sole stitch of 8 spi (stitches per inch), together with a well-balanced fudge wheel setting.

Original aim was to make this at a price below €400. This was not quite possible, not least since we added several things that we originally hadn’t intended. But with TLB Mallorca Artista costing €425 including VAT (€340/$385 excl. VAT), I feel safe to say that this is among the best bang-for-the-buck shoes you can find in the world. Mission completed, sort of. Well, to come to this, it has been a long journey with lots of challenges to conquer. Here’s the full story.

Very slim waists.

TLB Mallorca is a young brand, introduced last year. The name comes from its founder Toni Llobera Barceló. His father runs a leather accessory factory, making belts, bags and other things, but he ended up in the shoe industry. He used to work as a Factory Manager at Yanko, but a couple of years ago he left to build up his own brand, with its own factory in Inca. This is the classic shoe city of Mallorca which still today houses a lot of shoe brands, like the mentioned Yanko and Carmina, and the offices of Camper and Meermin. Creating TLB Toni partnered with a women’s shoes factory, and built-up a whole new department to produce Goodyear welted men’s shoes. They bought new machines, brought in some experienced workers who worked with this before for many years, and together (Toni can do 80 per cent of the steps in the factory himself) trained the existing personnel, to achieve the results they were after.

 

Artista shoes going round the factory.

TLB was launched at the London Super Trunk Show last year (wrote about it in this article), introducing already from the start a quite wide range of models and lasts. Affordable Goodyear welted shoes at a price of €365, which have been well-received by customers, both the quality and the excellent fit of the lasts. But Toni Llobera felt that he also wanted to do something a bit more special. He loved what for example Gaziano & Girling and Yohei Fukuda had done with their top premium RTW shoes, especially the former who make factory-made RTW (Yohei is more similar to bespoke making, and therefore of course cost even more as well) bringing in features from bespoke shoes to factory-made shoes.

Then when it last summer was decided that I were to start working for the TLB retailer Skolyx, Toni knew that I had a lot of knowledge and know how many of the best shoes are made, and also have good contacts in the industry. He introduced his plans to me and Emil Jansson, the Skolyx founder, and we started talking about what would be possible, and I got some advice from among others a bespoke shoemaker in England and one in Japan on some things, who I also had contact with along the development on various matters turning up.

Hand clicking.

What we started with was how to achieve a very tight waist, while still doing machine-made sole stitching all along back to the heel. There are a lot of things that need to be done for it to turn out well, and to be possible to be made in an efficient way. Also making heels very close-cut was one of the first things looked at. The personnel in the TLB factory have great skills and in many cases decades of experience, but several of the elements we were to introduce in Artista were new to them, so they had to try new stuff during the development. I’ve been impressed with the devotion here, how they’ve been tackling every challenge with focus on how to solve it, instead of just nagging on the difficulties. And many of the improvements on the shoes have come from the employees themselves.
When me and Emil Jansson went down to Mallorca in September, some first Artista samples were made.

It was my first time down in Inca, and the feeling of the shoe factories here is a bit similar to those in for example Asakusa of Tokyo or Marche in Italy. It’s often buildings in city environment, and quite small ones. Not the same larger, more industrial buildings of the other large Spanish shoemaking region Almansa, or Northampton in England (although there the big factory buildings are often very old ones).
We stepped in to the always dark office of Toni Llobera, for some reason he always has the curtains closed, it almost felt like walking into a mafioso boss, a Toni Montana. All resemblances end there however, Toni is a super-friendly and happy guy, the environment in the factory is warm and open. The factory is much more well-organised and neat than most shoe factories I’ve visited, and there seem to be a strong team spirit among the staff, people not only go to work and do their hours, but are engaged in what is done and take part in the process of developing the factory and the products.

Some of the first TLB Artista samples, that we worked on during our first visit at the factory.

The first samples had some good parts, but lots of work were still left, which was understandable. Here they had really pushed the narrowness of the waist, and cut the heels close. With the way these RTW lasts are shaped needing a flat metal covered heel bottom, and how TLB makes the bottom of the heel with the welt and the Goodyear stitching going all the way around the shoe (not as for example British makes the shoes where you have a 270° welt and a separate heel base), the heel looked like a separate part of the shoe being too small sort of, instead of the flowing and uniform shape you want to achieve with a tight-cut heel. Furthermore the waist had a bit of an unbalanced shape, and the stitching showed from under the closed channel.

The first samples heels seen from behind, not perfectly balanced towards the uppers. You can see especially on the left one with a tapered heel, that it looks like a separate part to the shoe.

Perhaps not the best picture, but you can see how the waists don’t have a perfect shape, the inside goes too far forward, plus the front part of the sole appears quite wide.

We went through a lot of different things on the shoemaking, Toni who has a habit of always wanting to talk to the factory personnel straight away about things was constantly lifting the phone to call out to the factory (it’s on three floors, so faster to call than to run around) to get employees at various stations coming in to note various things. Often they went out with a half finished sample with them, came back a while later where they had tried the thing discussed, we checked, and they either went out to try again or we were pleased. Of course a lot of time was spent out in the factory at the various stations. During these first days in Mallorca we settled for most of the parts of how we wanted the shoes to be made, now it was a matter of solving this in the factory in a good and efficient way, and – developing the new lasts. We started with a soft chiseled last, since generally it’s easier to have round toe last developed from this one later on, than the opposite.

A sample that was made during our first stay. Too aggressive when narrowing down the waist, the bevelling is neither round nor a fiddle back, and you can see the stitching coming through the sole. We also skipped the nail decorations at the toe going forward.

I’m not going to go in to all the details on this, but during fall and winter a large amount of sample lasts and sample shoes were made. It was a challenging time. Toni who works with a lastmaker in Alicante had to travel there for every last development, and once a last sample was done back to Mallorca to make new sample shoe (improving the things on the making that was highlighted from previous sample), then the shoe were sent to us in Sweden, we gave feedback, and a new round started. When we were on the fifth or sixth version of the lasts, still working on small details, the lastmaker in Alicante was starting to get a bit annoyed. But it was worth it. In the end, we feel that we managed solving all the things we wanted, the look is very elegant yet not too pointy, and the excellent fit of the regular TLB lasts is kept. Even if shape is a bit different, the proportions of the measurements on each area of the shoe is the same. The fit is pretty “true-to-size”, as with regular TLB a vast majority would wear the same size as in for example Crockett & Jones or Carmina.

For the soft chiseled last Picasso we were inspired by among others Yohei Fukuda’s chiseled last and Gaziano & Girling’s MH71 last. Apart from Picasso, we also developed a classic round toe last called Goya. This was inspired by for example John Lobb Paris’ 7000 last and Hiro Yanagimachi’s round last. They both slope downwards relatively much over the vamp all along the toe, which is not the classic Mallorcan look, and the toe spring is slightly lower than standard.

The first version of the soft chiseled Picasso last. Much has changed since, both at the back which has been more curved and shaped on the outside, and in front it has been shaped further below the instep and the toe ha been lowered, less chiseled and smaller.

Here’s how one of the mid-run versions of the lasts looked from the side.

Here we are starting to get closer to the final version. It was a bit too flat on the front part here, and toe not perfect still.

Testing out a different sole finish. We skipped it…

Here’s the final Picasso last for the first time, the sample is from December. This was also tested for fit by a number of people, to make sure that it worked in real life, not just on paper. Now “only” a classic round toe last and details of the making was left to finalise.

This is from a visit in the factory in February, where Toni tries the first try of the round toe last, which became a bit too pointy. We might actually keep this last as an almond toe last though, it turned out quite nice.

Here’s a couple of pics of the first finished sample shoe on the Goya last with a classic round toe.

Goya in profile.

I talked about the waist and heel before. These are both parts that is relatively visible, things people notice. What we wanted to do was perfecting also other details, details that might not be apparent for everyone, at least not at first, but who definitely does matter. The real leather heel stiffeners is one such thing, an important part in offering something more exclusive, and better, since it is a living material that can shape to the foot, and be re-shaped if needed. Usually only found on shoes much more expensive. The factory also focused on the edge treatment. A very smooth sole edge makes a lot of different to the appearance, and makes it much easier to shine the edges. So after machine sanding, a segment with hand sanding with regular sandpaper was added, also sanding the waist edge smooth which basically have to be done by hand to achieve a really good result. If you check out Artista in the flesh, do run your finger over the sole edge and compare it to other shoes, and you will understand what I mean.

Several stages of sanding and finishing of the edges of the shoe has been done before the final sanding machines, and here you wet the edges for improved result.

After the last sanding machines, the final sanding of the edges, also the waist, is done by hand on Artista.

Smooth sanded sole edge, tight sole stitching and nice fudging.

TLB have also tried various ways to finish the upper welt with the fudging. Here the sole stitching is relatively tight for factory made RTW, 8 spi (stitches per inch), and with fudging carefully decorating the whole edge all the way out to the edge, with no ridge etc.
For the bevelled waist, the factory experimented with a very large build-up, but it didn’t look too good and was hard to get balanced with the slim waist. What I am very happy with is that the factory have managed to do a city rubber sole version of Artista where the waist is as slim as the leather sole version, and the waist sides is also nicely rounded. Looks quite amazing for a rubber sole shoe.

A final detail, yet very important one, was actually discarded by the factory at first. We wanted to have the waist going in under the heel, but this is very complicated to do with the pre-built heels used in factory-made shoes (for basically all, also premium brands have this). Last week though, the factory managed to work out a solution to make this. It is a great addition to the features, since it makes the waist stronger. The whole purpose of the bevelled waist from the beginning, or fiddle backs, is to make the waist stronger. When you build the heel piece by piece it’s easier to adjust for the waist going in under the heel, but for factory-made shoes, waists are almost always bevelled only a bit back and then flattened out towards the heel. This removes much of the strengthening effect. So to have the “real deal” here is a great improvement.

First try on having the bevel of the waist continue in under the heel.

Fudge wheel machine.

Picasso last.

Last steps of the finishing is polishing the shoes by hand.

This is the intention with TLB Artista, if good ways to develop it further is found it will be done. And TLB have said that there will never be any reductions of quality, something unfortunately quite common, that brands for example start using lower grades of leather or changing from leather board to plastic heel stiffeners and stuff like that, while keeping the price the same. With TLB, customers should know what they get, and if changes are made it will be to improve things, and rather raise prices if that would be necessary, then reducing quality. So those of you who buy Artista shoes, please give feedback on things which can help make the shoes even better.

Here a few samples made where patterns were checked. Some were ok, but we made the cap shorter on the punched cap balmoral in the front to the right, and the faux full brogue in the middle back had the pattern re-made more thoroughly to be better balanced. If you look close you can see that the spacing of the lacing and how much it goes out downwards is a bit different on the oxfords, we experimented a bit to find which turned out best. Nothing was left to chance. Top left is the first try on the round toe last, which became a bit too pointy.

When deciding on which models to go for in the starting line-up for Artista, the obvious focus has been on more elegant models, which can show off the neat making and sleek last shapes in a good way. In many cases me, Emil and Toni have a similar taste as well, for example the special adelaide model I have from Yohei Fukuda was one that Toni loves, which we made a version of. The full list of models for launch is the following:

  • Special adelaide, Vegano dark brown and Vegano burgundy, Picasso last (soft chiseled)
  • Wholecut, Black, Picasso last, with tapered heel
  • Punched cap toe balmoral, black, Picasso last
  • Plain cap toe balmoral, Vegano dark brown, Picasso last
  • Faux full brogue oxford, Vegano brown and Vegano burgundy, Picasso last
  • Austerity brogue, Vegano light brown, Picasso last
  • Plain cap toe oxford, black, Goya last (classic round)
  • Punched cap toe, dark brown reverse calf suede (with city rubber sole) and Vegano dark brown, Goya last
  • Balmoral semi brogue, Vegano brown, Goya last
  • 3 eyelet derby, Vegano light brown, Goya last

Personally I am really pleased with how Artista turned out. I hope that the pictures in this post have given you a feel for why, and that those who get to see them in real life and possibly also buy a pair will be impressed with what you get for this price. Below pics of most of the models in the starting line-up.

Hard not to be pleased with something that looks like this.

Austerity brogue, Vegano light brown, Picasso last.

Balmoral semi brogue, Vegano brown, Goya last.

Plain cap toe oxford, black, Goya last.

Punched cap toe, dark brown reverse calf, Goya last, with city rubber sole.

Punched cap toe, Vegano dark brown, Goya last.

Wholecut, Black, Picasso last, with tapered heel.

3 eyelet derby, Vegano light brown, Goya last.

Special adelaide, Vegano dark brown, Picasso last.

Faux full brogue oxford, Vegano burgundy, Picasso last.

Faux full brogue oxford, Vegano brown, Picasso last.