Getting in deep with an idea as subjective as menswear proves more harm than good sometimes. I ask questions. I get answers. I only have more questions. And down the rabbit hole we go.
Am I best suited with the English or Italian cut?
How many pairs of brown leather shoes is necessary?
What is the value of doing something by hand?
The last question came back around one afternoon in Pacific Place, exhibiting an annual collection of art hosted by the local French cultural bureau. This year’s focus, the French tradition of shoemaking, displayed the country’s fine history of crafted soles in and outside of the Parisian epicenter. One Saturday afternoon hosted Hong Kong colorist Kelvin, who demonstrated Maison Corthay’s unmistakable patina, all done with focused brushstroke.
Kelvin laid out his fine and fraying brushes, bottles of dyes, and blank canvasses of calfskin, tied his apron, and began a layer, accompanied by curious onlookers and those like myself unloading with English and Cantonese questions.
Answering left and right, in between and during edge marks, Kel seemed unfazed by these inquiries, begetting a reflexive memorization of the coloring lessons he learned in Paris when he began his apprenticeship.
“The training in Paris was difficult, because every day we just kept at a pair. I thought it was quite interesting because it was a very fresh thing for me, learning from the real masters of the craft.”
Chris Tuazon: Do you know exactly how each pair will ultimately look?
Kelvin: Sometimes it’s based on the leather and how well it absorbs the dye. Therefore, every single pair is a different case.
CT: Are there any colors that are more difficult than others to achieve?
K: Actually, I’m going to perform that later; it’s a light brown base color, in which I use bits of black for shading.
As Kel made multiple passes with the brush, it appeared that the calfskin had immediately absorbed and dried the burgundy right. I wondered if such a quick settling of the dye would make difficult an even or desired absorption.
Some leathers do not absorb the ink very well; so in those cases it becomes very difficult to achieve the desired patina.
CT: Because you’re performing the patina by hand, there are no two shoes that look similar.
K: Right. Of course you must have a balance between each of the pair, but they do not have to be exactly the same.
CT: As an individual colorist, do you try to incorporate a signature that can be recognized as “Kelvin’s Corthay?”
K: Because there is a Corthay style, we generally follow it. However, we each have our own approach to create the same patina.
In just under an hour, Kelvin’s dipped brush and stained digits turned a blank shoe into a walking spotlight – the Corthay look, as I’ve come to know. The distinct bright toe and deep curves signified an apprentice’s loyalty to his color guard. At the same time, this is a snapshot of a young artist’s work in progress.
Over time, Kelvin will adjust the pressure of brush to skin, the direction of passes on the heel. Once settled in calf, he’ll try his hand with the properties of suede or ostrich shoes. One day, Kel’s Corthays will shine a bold contrast of his younger days. This rich burgundy pair, however, is Kelvin now, suspended in time by quick, methodical brush strokes.
This pair is Kelvin’s story in a fine pair of shoes
Maison Corthay Hong Kong
Visit Kelvin coloring at Harbour City, or follow him on instagram