As I mentioned recently, my search for a good, versatile pair of boots and my curiosity over emerging footwear brand Carlos Santos recently collided. Carlos Santos has generated some excitement over their great pricepoint and attractive styles, and I put together a made-to-order run of boots through my good friends at A Fine Pair of Shoes. They were delivered about a month ago, so after a few weeks of wearing I figured it was time for a review.
As always, the service from AFPOS was great – the package arrived to San Francisco from the UK in less than 48 hours, and was well-wrapped and included some Saphir polish and a shoe horn. If I recall correctly, the boots were around $300-325 shipped to the US (shipping is 26 pounds, but there’s no VAT). That’s a pretty aggressive price for goodyear-welted footwear in general, but what does Carlos Santos bring to the table?
First, sizing – this boot is built on CS’s 333 last, which is a classic round (but not over blobby) last – you can see images of all lasts here. I sized one down from my standard US size and ordered a 7.5UK. The fit is roomy but not overly so. I think it works well for a boot – I’m able to comfortably wear thicker socks if I want a snug fit, but I don’t have to. I can imagine some people with low volume feet possibly needing to size down an additional 1/2 but I think going down the standard 1 worked well for me. In this sense, it may be similar to other popular “roomy” lasts like Meermin Rui or Crockett & Jones 335, both of which people occasionally size down for (and for which I take my normal UK size).
(comparison to Crockett & Jones 335)
Out of the box, the boots were quite impressive. I didn’t see any loose threads, blemishes, or other signs of less-than-ideal QC, which was nice – I’ve seen plenty of this on new shoes from popular brands like Allen Edmonds, Alden, Carmina, and Crockett & Jones. My sample size for all of these is small so this isn’t worth much and should be taken with a grain of salt, but I just figured it was worth noting that these showed up looking great and without any notable imperfections.
The material used for these boots is Carlos Santos’ brown pebble grain. What initially struck me about this leather is that it looks a bit different than most of the pebble grain I’ve handled. Compared to, say, Allen Edmonds, Crockett & Jones or Carmina, the “pebbles” are larger and the valleys between them are shallower. To me the effect of this difference is a slightly less refined pebble grain, but only if you like getting up close and personal with your shoes (or just like to obsess over these things, like me). To be clear, I don’t think the leather is inferior at all, only that a larger and shallower stamping pattern is used. Also, since the pebbles are larger, creases in the leather are more likely to span across them than run along the valleys in between (one of the many things I like about pebble grain is the fact that creases are less obvious for this reason). The image below compares them to my well-worn MacNeils from Allen Edmonds. I prefer the grain on the AEs, but it’s not a strong preference. And for what it’s worth, the first time I wore these out I was at a menswear meetup and got tons of compliments – most notably from a guy who owns 12 pairs of Saint Crispins and was very excited by these.
As for color, they are a rather dark brown with some red undertones (although probably not as dramatic as the red appears in these daylight images – you can see a studio-lit image here). Indoors they appear quite dark, but in natural light the color is much deeper and redder. At the time I ordered these, I didn’t know that pebble grain could be used in Carlos Santos’ popular patina program – if I had known that when I ordered them, I may have tried one of those colors, like this. With that said, I’m perfectly happy with the shade these turned out. Here’s another image of the brown grain color (via Skoaktiebolaget).
The boots also have some burnishing on the toe, from an almost-black up to the brown color of the grain. Generally speaking I don’t really seek out burnishing in my footwear (I hate this kind of stuff), but when it’s done tastefully – like it is here – I think it can be attractive. It seems like burnishing is a pretty core part of the Carlos Santos look, so I think it you’re looking to buy a pair in a smooth leather you should probably expect it to some degree. It definitely dresses up the boot a bit, so pulling off a truly “rugged” style of footwear could be challenging with Carlos Santos.
As for other specifications – the soles are genuine Dainite, and the eyelet configuration is have four speed hooks and four blind eyelets (I had asked for 4 exposed eyelets but it didn’t happen – in fairness, none of the MTO products I’ve commissioned have ever come out 100% as specified). The shoes are Goodyear welted and are made in Portugal. All told, I think these are a great boot for toeing the line (pun intended) between dress and casual. The last is round, but far from workboot-esque; the leather is dark, but has subtle color and texture. I think these will get a lot of wear for that reason.
If I could make changes to these boots I could think of a couple of things to tweak, but all would be purely to my tastes and don’t really affect the overall quality and value. Like I mentioned, I would consider trying a more mid-brown Patina color like Guimaraes, make sure exposed eyelets are included, and perhaps experiment with a double sole with brown edge trim. None of these detract from what I have though, they’re just ideas for the future.
If you’re interested in purchasing Carlos Santos shoes or browsing available styles, there are a couple of retailers I can recommend – A Fine Pair of Shoes, Skoaktiebolaget, and Quality Shop. Each retailer has their own strengths, styles, and slightly different pricing, so browse them all and see what stands out to you. All told, though, I think Carlos Santos is offering a strong value for the price. Moreover, the fact that they work through several retailers is a significant advantage over the other brands around this price, which are generally direct to consumer (like Meermin, Beckett Simminon, Epaulet, etc). Because CS can offer this price at the retail level, they can have several distinct collections with different retailers available at any one time. That’s pretty cool for a sub-$350 shoe.
In short, keep an eye on Carlos Santos; I think they’re punching above their weight class. And if you have any ideas for future GMTO projects, let me know in the comments below – perhaps we should get another one in the works.