My story is one that begins as thousands of others do. Over a decade ago in 1999, I lost my job. Sometime later I was waiting for my stewardess girlfriend in the great hall of the London City Airport, when, despite being unemployed, I decided to treat himself to a shoe shine, because there is nothing better to do when you wait for someone in an airport. In between two shots of nourishing cream, the Shoe Shiner offered to hire me. It's a safe bet that most people would not even have raised the proposal, but I agreed and made my mind up that instead of being in despair, I would instead become the best in my chosen field. I am now somewhat renowned in the field of shoe shining and as a patina artist. With over a decade in the profession I have both experience and have refined and honed my skills. I have worked at many esteemed places but have now remained in The London Hilton on Park Lane as the resident shoe artisan for 13 years. Because of my unique skills in patina and colouring I have in due course been courted by Berluti on two separate locations, Jeffery West and numerous other institutions.
Steven, what is the most important stage of the patina process that perhaps is the most critical one to get right? Do you consider, for example, that it is the brush strokes of the dyes or the final spit and polish which is most critical?
I feel that every stage of patina is critical it is a piece of artwork and requires both patience and skill.
The final stage of patina before the glacage is blending of the colours and making them flow as one this is done by lightening the darker areas so that the edges are cloudy and also so that the lighter colour shows through the darker colours in certain areas chosen.
This is a part of patina that needs surgeon like precision and concentration as all your hard work before hand can be dismantled with one small mistake.
When selecting dyes to apply to the leathers, how do you know what colour palette can work on the leathers? For example, can you work blues and red together or blacks and oranges? How do you approach this aspect of colouring shoes?
Regarding colours every pair of shoes are different. When you have nude leather you can decisively say that the colours applied will turn out the same on every pair however with older shoes or darker shoes obviously they can only be lightened to a certain degree hence colours will come out differently.
I usually lighten colours with conditioner if either the leather is darker than I need or if the leather is quite worn and I feel that the dye will be absorbed more creating a darker effect.
Mixing of dyes i.e. blue and red isn't as daunting as it may seem after many years of trial and error experimenting on old shoes I created my own palette and now know exact measurements of each to apply to certain types of shoes.
Patina is the reinventing of your shoes old or new and demands surgeon like precision in every aspect including preparation.
What is the ultimate blank canvas for a patina shoe expert – do you prefer brogues or do you prefer shoes such as chelseas? In your opinion, if a consumer was wishing to purchase a patina shoe, which style of shoe would you recommend?
My favourite shoes to patina as you can see by my images I provided are brogues with a wonderful medallion the best condition are nude bespoke shoes fresh from the factory a completely blank canvas and good quality leather to compliment the patina. This provides the best results possible yet the quality of our patina can improve dramatically even the worst of leather shoes.
How long do you roughly spend doing a patina from start to finish?
The time it takes to do a patina varies widely based on the type of shoes and patina that the client requests. A typical two colour patina say red with burnished black toecap and heel usually takes between two or three hours however the adding of more colour tones can increase the time taken.
A recent job I did which was used as a sample by a major Jermyn Street shoe company was a very complicated process producing an oxblood toe cap and heels and the remainder of the shoes black with burgundy showing through the black. I was honoured to do this job and overall it took six hours to complete using four dye colours and acetone to lighten many areas to produce certain effects. I have an image of this job included from start to finish attached to this email.
This particular job is a sample of what I will be producing early 2014 for this company.
Do you know how to make shoes from scratch? Is this something you are interested in?
Shoemaking intrigues me and is Definitely an ambition of mine. I would like to introduce a style and brand of shoe that would revolutionise the UK market and with my 14 years experience within the shoe industry I feel that I have a fair idea on what people want.
Patina is a word most English people wouldn't of heard of in regards to shoes and sadly this naivety on how beautiful a shoe can be is seen daily in London were black is as far as the imagination goes. My shoes would be varied in shapes and style but all have a range of colours that would bring some much need vigour to UK streets. I am good friends with many shoemakers and next year will be visiting Giacopelli from Parma in Italy and JM Le Gazel in Paris to learn aspects of the profession. There is no immediate rush for me to do my own line of shoes as I wouldn't want to rush something so important and my immediate concerns are to first change the publics perception on shoe care and how important it is to buy good shoes and to maintain them.
When I took my Berluti’s in to be refurbished I was told that you could never go lighter than the original colour of the patina. I have since read about reverse patina’s and stripping back leather. Can you tell me, is it possible to take a pair of black boots and strip them back and then turn them into say a cherry red patina?
Reverse patina to a degree is possible yes. I wouldn't listen to much to what shoe companies tell you as most of it is fabricated to keep an aura around them. A black shoe certainly can be taken lighter with acetones and a cherry red could be added which would be darker red in effect Oxblood in colour as the result. Just recently I took a dark brown pair of boots to a nice tan colour using this same procedure.
A similar story is all shoe companies have there own products which are actually re branded from a famous French shoe product company this goes for dyes and wax polish.
What is your absolute favourite colour of patina and do you have an example of the finished shoe you could show us?
My favourite colour of patina has to be the ruby red toecap blending into various tones of black and burgundy as mentioned earlier. This style of patina looks striking in many colours ruby red and blue have to be the most potent in there visual impression.
This job is the perfect patina in my opinion and due to its difficulty is extremely rate to find. Only a select few have attempted this patina due to its complexity and I aim to continue to up the ante in shoe care and make people understand that there are such artists outside of Paris.
Is doing a patina something one could undertake at home and if yes, can you tell us some of the basic materials we could purchase to try a very basic patina? If we wish to get this professionally done by yourself, can you service international customers?
Patina is a skill that can be taught however to get to the standard seen in my images it takes many years of practise however the basics can be grasped quite quickly such as how to apply the base coat and burnishing of say the toe cap.
Typically the products needed are good quality shoe dye I use a combination of two dyes from France and the USA, conditioner (acetone) to strip the leather and a paint brush and I use ladies stockings to add effects.
Every patina artist is different to the next as in effect it is art and we all have individual styles which is reflected in our work. I use a combination of my bare hands, brushes and cloths to apply the dyes to produce different effects. Due to my experience in glacage the final result is always to the clients satisfaction.
I offer my service to many overseas clients and regularly have an influx of shoes from various parts of the world. My base is The London Hilton on Park Lane address and details supplied and soon to be Selfridges on London's Oxford Street.
To see Steven complete a pair of shoes from start to finish, please see the video below.
If you would like to contact Steven, you can do so on the following details:
Steven D.R Skippen, Shoeshine UK, www.shoeshineuk.com , firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @shoeshineuk Instagram @ShoeshineUK, Mobile: 07941045275, Office: 08454632911, London Hilton on Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, Mayfair, London, W1K 1BE, United Kingdom.