The Ultimate Luxury Shoe Care Guide For Men

Image Credit: Arterton London

The super-luxe shoe care company Paul Brunngard has a product by the curious name of Spitshine. In post-pandemic times this may not the most appealing of names perhaps, but it harks back to the military habit of using a mix of spittle and polish to bring up the highest shine on a pair of boots. The water in the spit acted as a lubricant on the polish, allowing it to be worked into the underlying wax, some elbow grass then providing a long-lasting, mirror-like coating.

In army circles the process is called ‘bulling’. Spitshine gives a similar result without the need to gob on your Oxfords.

A Craft Of Yesteryear For Today

Of course, when it came to active duty, having high-shine boots was hardly an advantage in combat. Indeed, the expectations that one could literally see one’s reflection in a soldier’s boots was more a discipline than a necessity – the simple act of creating this gloss finish taught persistence, regularity, pride.

Likewise it’s probably an older generations’ perspective to look at the state of shoe care today and find it lacking: shoes are perhaps too much the easily-replaced commodity item, the trainer too dominant, dress codes in the work place too casual (for some) that bothering to clean one’s shoes – a practice traditionally handed down from father to son – seems to belong to yesteryear.

But there’s a good reason why this shouldn’t be the case – and it’s not just about maintaining a certain standard of presentability, for all of the old adage that you can judge a man by his shoes. Rather it’s an economic argument, and, given impending recession, all the more pertinent for that.

To start with, it’s worth investing in your footwear. Perhaps more than any other item in your wardrobe, shoes are those that are worth feeling financial pain up front for: better-made shoes – Goodyear or hand-welted, for example – will last longer, not least because they can undergo repeated re-soling. Cheap shoes cannot.

Help Your Shoes To Last

Secondly, diligent and regular application of shoe care products the likes of those from Paul Brunngard will make your shoes last longer. Whereas there’s not much that be done to give, say, a shirt greater longevity, or your coat, looking after your shoes – for all that it may seem a tedious chore, for all that it can actually be a rather meditative one – pays back handsomely.

This is a philosophy Paul Brunngard has maintained since its founding in Sweden 50 years ago this year – in, for example, the use of the finest raw materials around – the likes of rose wax in its polishes, solid walnut, or beechwood for its shoe trees. Or in the design of its products, such that, cleverly, its tins have integrated magnets, or that it has come up with what it calls a sole edge iron, a sculptural piece of walnut that, rubbed repeatedly along a sole’s edge, restores its original smooth glossy finish. That’s new idea is set to become an essential for the proper shoe wearer.

Indeed, while it’s likely a surprise to most to hear that there’s such a thing as a shoe-shining champion, it’s less so perhaps that one-time Swedish shoe-shining champ Anders Sundstrom oversees the creation of Paul Brunngard’s product line.

50 Years Of Shoe Care From Paul Brunngard

So what are the basic steps for the kind of serious shoe care that Paul Brunngard espouses? To start with the most obvious one, you can’t polish over dirt, as tempting as it may be when you’re in a hurry. Dust and other detritus need to be removed from your shoes using a cloth or brush, and your shoes allowed to dry naturally (indeed, if they get a good soaking, do not stick them on a radiator to dry; being in a warm room will suffice to not excessively dry out the leather).

Once dry, apply your polish using a dedicated and slightly damp shoe-cleaning cloth – not the dish cloth, not a tea towel – or a brush with natural, rather than synthetic bristles. Paul Brungaard’s are made of horse tail hair. Use either neutral polish or the right shade – a polish is also a dye, and the wrong shade will look very wrong for good.

Work the polish into the leather in small circles – as noted, this isn’t just about making the leather look better, it’s about reviving the leather, so really work it in. You will need to choose between shoe wax – which covers scuffs better than cream, and provides a protective layer against dirt and damp – or cream, which is more rejuvenating for your leather.

Allow your shoes to sit and ponder the nature of such a downtrodden existence for 10 minutes while they dry, and then use a separate cloth or brush to take off any excess polish and buff your shoes to a shine. Being very particular about these things, Paul Brungaard’s polishing brushes are made with goat or yak belly hair. How it was first discovered that the undercarriage of a Tartary ox was ideal for buffing up your Derbies is a long and probably untrue story.

Fun tip: if you’re very short of time, a pair of leather shoes can be smartened up by applying a quick rub on, and rub off, of a dollop of Vaseline.

Suede And Nubuck

Suede and nubuck shoes were once only worn by cads and bounders, but thankfully their place in fashion’s roll call of well-shod style has seen a renaissance. One hopes that it’s already apparent that rubbing polish into these – even with a brush derived from the animal life of a Nepalese mountainside – is a very bad, potentially terminal idea (for your shoes, at least; maybe for you if you’re graciously cleaning someone else’s shoes).

Suede and nubuck are more about taking preventative measures: protecting them in advance with water and stain repellent spray is a good start, then regularly using a plastic or rubber-tipped brush to remove surface dirt before it gets bedded it, and to restore the nap. You can even use a very – very – fine sandpaper to the same effect.

You have to be extra gentle with nubuck, which is more easily damaged than suede; if your shoes are made of an oiled nubuck, use a dedicated nubuck conditioner regularly to replace the oils that will dry out through wear.

Haircare Parallels Meet Shoe Care

Do not use the kind of conditioner you use on your head. That said, if there isn’t a parallel here between haircare and shoe care, is there one between shoe care and skincare? There is, because, after all, while it may not pay to think about it too much, your shoes are made of a skin – and looking after that skin is much the same as looking after your own: exfoliation, moisturising, occasional deeper cleansing.

Paul Brunngard’s version, Reviving Cream, aims to take matters a step further by blending rose wax, shea butter and other ingredients to moisturise and restore the leather and leave it with a fragrant finish too.

The Benefits Of Shoe Trees

But in the shoe care world, there are further steps you could take: if the shoe salesman’s attempt to sell you shoe trees along with your already expensive shoes felt like he was pushing his luck, his is actually a wise suggestion. Wooden shoe trees – actually like wooden feet to keep inside your shoes while they’re not being worn – help your shoes retain their shape, give them a fresh, outdoorsy odour, and draw out moisture.

Paul Brunngard’s even come with breathing holes and a finish in carnauba wax to better aid that process. Never heard of carnauba? That might be because this rare wax comes from a plant only native to northeastern Brazil and in its purest form is more typically used on speedboat hulls, high-end cars and surfboards.

What moisture, you might ask? Well, even if you haven’t seen rain for days, and even if you’re the freshest of the fresh, to be human is to have perspiring feet, however gently. Indeed, if you don’t use shoe trees – and even if you do, really – you shouldn’t wear your shoes more than a couple of days in a row. Much like yourself, they need to rest. This also means that your financial pain may be all the greater: ideally you need to invest in a couple of good pairs.

The Art Of The Shoeshine

There is an art to the shoeshine, as many a soldier comes to learn when an insufficient gloss has them peeling spuds or enjoying the sights of the parade ground for the day. It’s why, in some poorer countries – and as was the case in the UK until the 1970s – the sight of a shoe shine boy is still a commonplace one.

They have spent years gleaning an appreciation for the perfect combination of moisture, polish and pressure. You too can be that man in the mirror.

Public Event – 11th February 2023, London

Arterton have public event on the 11th February 2023 at their new Seasonal Showroom (20 Savile Row) called the Paul Brunngard Luxury Shoe Care day from 11am to 4pm. Amongst other things, there is completely free shoe shining and one-for-one trade-in programme will be on offer through the day. The programme is simply for one to bring in a used polish, wax, or cream of any make and trade it for an equivalent luxury Paul Brunngard product.

Shop Paul Brunngard at Arterton now >

A paid partnership with Arterton London – words and opinion are Ape’s own.

Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a London-based men's style writer contributing to the likes of The Times, Wallpaper and CNN. He is the author of several books on menswear, including the wildly popular Icons of Men’s Style. He is also the former executive editor of Arena HOMME+ magazine.