Style: Breathing New Life Into Old Pairs

As with all things, shoes get old and we sometimes lose interest in the way it looks since, well, it’s old already. But there are ways on how to remedy this and give old leather shoes a new feel. There are normally two ways to go about this, first is to basically recondition the pair and the second is apply patina to the shoes in order to revitalize the color, add a new dimension, or totally recolor the pair in order to change the overall look.

Reconditioning shoes can occur on two levels, one being just treating the leather uppers to a conditioner bath after some leather repair then polishing once the leather uppers are moisturized; the second method basically requires the rebuilding or recrafting of the shoe. Recrafting basically means that the pair will be taken apart and rebuilt using as much as the original parts as possible on the original last and is usually done when changing the outsoles. Unless the leather has been neglected, it should only require minor conditioning and color repair before becoming an antiqued pair which fits more comfortably than a new shoe.

This entry will focus on reconditioning the shoe while changing the colors and “antiquing” it with the use of the hand patina method. I will be using one of my personal pairs from back in 2013 when Black Wing was still starting out. This is a regular pair which is from when we were still refining our pattern making and working on our c013 last prototype.

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The prototype Original BWS Imperial Derby Wingtip 2013

First I started off with cleaning the shoes. Degreasers such as Wipe Out and other brands (which are available at any mall hardware store) are good at taking off grime and excess oils which is essential for preparing the shoes for reconditioning.After thorough cleaning, inspect the shoes for any deep scuffs and other marks which can affect the process.

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As we can see here, there is a deep scuff on the side of the shoe which if left untreated, can cause the eventual tear that will ruin the shoe especially since it is along the break where the shoe creases as you walk with it. I used a leather putty to seal the scuff and a fine grade emery paper to smoothen out the surface after letting the putty set and dry.

Next, I prepared all the materials which will be used for applying the new colors. I use cotton and acetone to prep the leather for painting by removing the factory finish. A palette for mixing the dyes and different brushes were used to apply the lacquer based leather dyes. It is very important to use an industrial face mask in order to filter out the fumes while working on the pair especially if you are in an enclosed environment. Also, I wore latex gloves in order to keep my fingers from getting colored as well since the dyes used wont come off with just soap and water.

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Once the leather is prepped, all luster from the leather should be gone and we will be left with a matte leather. The dyes, in theory, should permeate deeper into the leather the more of the factory finish is taken out. In practice, you’d want to keep the original color since it will create a unique hue once the initial layers of dyes are applied.

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Below we can see that there are already around 3 layers of red dye which was already applied to the pair. Each layer deepens the color, enriching and creating graduated tones which are unique and gives it that antiqued look.

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Here is the final output after the painting was finished. I used black dye on the edges to create a contrast which would highlight the reds even more. Also, it will look great once we get the polishes going and eventually give it a mirrored finish on the tip, greatly highlighting the contrast and depth of the colors.

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The pair is then reconditioned with shoe cream and conditioners to revitalize the leather since it was put under a lot of stress from being cleaned/degreased and stripped of oils, painted with leather dyes and left to dry out. Usually, I leave the conditioner and creams on overnight so that the leather will really soak it in and become moisturized. After, I used my “dirty brush” to take off excess oils by buffing the shoes and prepping it for waxing.

So here it is, after polishing the shoes and doing some basic spit polishing (I know it’s not there yet, I’m still working out how to get the mirror shine with the available waxes here) where the colors have come out and the leather is soft again even after the whole process. It is vital to keep the leather moisturized in order to ensure that the pair will last for many more years to come.

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This method applies to most leathers except patent and brush-off leathers since their leather finish does not allow for the proper stripping of the factory finish. Black Wing will be offering hand patina services once I am comfortable with the method and after I have learned how to properly produce a mirror finish using spit polishing. Below is another pair that I worked on after this trial with my personal pair. I’m loving how the colors are highlighted and how the leather has more personality after the process was applied.

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