Shell cordovan is a loved material by many, with its special characteristics and durability. However, there’s a few downsides of cordovan that some might not know about, which can be good to be aware of if you are an aspiring cordovan shoe buyer.
Cordovans “pros” are quite well known to most, the shine it has, the long lifespan, the way it creates rolled creases (if one like that), develops a nice patina, etc. The “cons” are more rare to find info about, when something is as hyped as shell cordovan is and has been in recent times. Well, Shoegazing is here to serve you. Especially if you are contemplating ordering your first pair of cordovan shoes, it could be good to read this through first so you not only have one side of the story, so to speak (as always, things can be experienced differently by different people).
First of all, cordovan is a rather stiff and thick material, it’s not as flexible and pliable as most calf leathers which is most common to use for quality shoes. Some like that sturdiness, while some dislike it and have a hard time breaking in corodovan shoes and getting them comfortable due to this, a bit depending on how sensitive your feet are.
Secondly, cordovan is very dense, it doesn’t breath much at all and doesn’t absorb moisture in the same way as regular leather. Especially if unlined, this can be noticeable. Which makes it a bit confusing that unlined cordovan loafers is quite common, a model that also some of its buyer’s can’t wear during warmer days at all. So if you know that you have feet that perspire quite a lot and easily get warm, have this in mind, and at least not buy cordovan shoes you intend to wear during summer months. Not only can it become uncomfortable, I’ve read about people who have had insoles cracking rather quickly due to the bad breathability of the cordovan shoes and their perspiration breaking down the insole leather. The cordovan doesn’t break down due to it, but other parts of the shoe can.
Finally, it’s worth noting that cordovan differs a lot depending on from who you purchase the shoes, and of course from which tannery the cordovan comes from. To not complicate things too much, I’ll only talk about the main producer Horween here. What’s good to know is that the cordovan that is delivered from Horween with its natural surface, is very sensitive to water, and easily gets stained and bad looking. Some brands makes the shoes with this natural cordovan, some doesn’t.
Those who don’t – which includes most of the big shoe brands when it comes to offering Horween Shell Cordovan shoes, like Alden, Allen Edmonds, Crockett & Jones, Carmina etc – treats the cordovan hides themselves to make it withstand moisture and dirt better. How do they do that? Well, with a coating consisting of among other things shellac. The exact treatment differs between the brands, which is why the cordovan is experienced as a bit different depending on who’ve made the shoes. The purpose of the coating and shellac is the same for all though, and it varies if people find it problematic with this treatment or not. Also coating treated cordovan quite easily gets water stains and that type of thing, though not to the same extent as natural shell, and usually a bit easier to get back to a good looking state. But, if you don’t want to treat your shoes after every encounter with rain, cordovan might not be for you.