In the mid to late 80s one of the Weejun’s younger siblings ran shoe stores in Paris, specifically for Paraboot and then for Bowen, whose business was built on copies the very expensive classic JM Weston models – the Chasses, Moccasin and the Golf as well as Paraboot models and classic Sebago.
I had a couple of pairs of Paraboot back then, the chasses model called Avignon (still available) and a pair of the Golf with a leather sole and heavy norwegian welt (not a current model). All these models were before Paraboot started to put a label tag on them – not something I particularly like but understandable when in circa 1989 almost every sho retailer in France, Italy & Spain had their own stitch for stitch copies on sale. Despite loving the Paraboots I had back then, I never did own a pair of Paraboot’s classic 1945 design called Michael.
Some time around 1983/4 I remember John Simons showing me a shoe he’d picked up in Italy (at the Milan mens trade fair I think) and wanted to know what I thought of it. To me it made perfect sense – I’d previously owned a copy of these shoes made by Loake for a French customer a few years before with a Dr Martens sole. I’d thought those shoes were amazing and I’d also noticed French actors wearing them in both Jean Coctueau’s Orphee (1950) and various police thrillers with the likes of Jean Gabin. Now, here was John showing me what turned out to be the original, or at least the refined version of earlier 1930s styles, crystalised into a shoe with a soft rubber sole made from Brazilian Para rubber (hence Paraboot). (By the way for those who want to try them on, John Simons sells them in his new Chiltern St store, too.)
Being hand made they were always pretty expensive and I just never got around to buying a pair of them. Years passed and many other classic shoes came and went into the Weejun’s shoe cupboard.
But then recently I’d started to think they were looking really good again. You almost never see them being worn anymore. I saw a guy in Tokyo a couple of years back with a pair and they looked great. Like everything there’s also a cycle of fashion with classic style. It’s no accident that the 1980s revival should also include a revival of the French BCBG, the Italian Paninaro and US preppy styles along with the more obvious appalling Flock Of Seagulls ‘ironic’ look.
My good friend in LA, Fred swore by his pairs of Michael and this got me thinking again about finally buying a pair of these iconic shoes.
This was compounded after a trip to John Rushton’s store with Herb Lester one day last year when John asked if I wanted to buy a pair of Heschung chasses that he’d bought for his own use from media commentator and social historian Jonathan Meades. I bought them from him but they were really a little too long. However, the rubber sole and heavy norwegian stitch welting reminded me again to search out some Michaels.
That search eventually took me to an online store I’ve not bought from before, Pritchards of Herefordshire. They had the Michaels on sale with an excellent discount. The problem I had was sizing. These are shoes that don’t look good or feel comfortable if they’re too big. The French wear their shoes with their toes right up against the ends (which may well be from the fact that many of their classic models have a very deep toebox) so I thought I’d drop down a half size to a UK 9 to get that slightly short look.
Pritchards’ online support guy, Murray, was very helpful in ensuring that the shoes were delivered on a day when I was at home and the shoes arrived on the day he said they would. They were really much nicer than I remembered and still handmade and sewn in France. Sure enough my toes touched the ends but because these are pasty-shaped shoes (not unlike the Wallabee) they’re also quite wide.
I was a little uncertain though, but Murray suggested he could send me a 43.5 to try which he did as soon as they came into stock, with no reminder needed. The larger size were a little longer but also big around the heel and not really any wider. After some careful trying on, I decided to stick to the 9s. They looked better and felt more comfortable overall.
Pritchards were so helpful that I have no reservation in recommending them, and despite the fact that I bought the first pair in their sale, they were happy to swap sizes. It’s also worth noting that unlike Oi Polloi and Stuarts who also stock them, Pritchards hold the continental half sizes which makes a big difference.
When I mentioned to Pops Weejun that I’d bought some Paraboots he told me that a friend of his that I also know is the UK agent. I hadn’t realised otherwise I would have gone direct, but it would not have been good form to return the shoes to Pritchards after their great service simply because I could have got them from the agent.
Quite a few people emailed me after I published that Paraboot poster a few weeks back saying how much they loved theirs. I’m sure like the Playboys post from the other day, some clever dick will post a comment about how expensive they are and how you can get Ben Sherman copies in TK Maxx or something (I don’t know, I’m making that up), but these shoes are the business.
If you can, buy the real thing.