Wholecuts: Beauty In Simplicity

Wholecuts: Beauty In Simplicity

‘The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity’

Douglas Horton

Walking into a shoe shop, or perusing online, can be fairly daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Our Covent Garden store has over 140 models on display – a myriad of monkstraps, boots, brogues, loafers and lace-ups. 

And yet, nestled amongst the polished toecaps and grain leathers, one particular shoe always stands out. Does it glow in the dark? Is it adorned with lights? No – but maybe I’ll have a chat with our design department.

This style stands out not because of its design, but rather the lack thereof. I’m talking about wholecuts, though I’d already ruined that surprise with the title of this blog, so let’s stop wasting time with superfluous words and talk about what is simply the most elegant shoe that we make.

Design as a whole

A wholecut is pretty much what it says it is: it’s crafted from a single piece of leather, with one lonely seam on the heel where the ends meet.

In comparison, a brogue (such as our Arthur model) is comprised of eight separate pieces.

Herein lies the reason why wholecuts are so difficult to make. A hide of leather is a natural thing with growth marks, scratches and blemishes. The skill of the clickers in our factory (the people who cut the pieces of leather) is their ability to work around these imperfections and minimise waste when cutting the pattern; when a shoe has multiple smaller parts, it’s a relatively easy job compared to the comparatively massive piece of unblemished leather that they need to cut for a wholecut.

Because of the lack of adornments, the focus is primarily on the shape and the leather used, lending itself really well to chiseled last shapes and interesting colours.

There is nowhere to hide on a wholecut – the leather has to be flawless. It is representative of the pinnacle of shoemaking and something that can only be done properly by hand, with lots of patience and even more practice. 

In other words, wholecuts are simple but incredibly complicated.

Crowndale Wholecut Oxford in Black Calf Leather

One piece of history

When I’ve tried to find the date of invention or steadfast history of any style of shoe, I’ve been met with vague and contradictory theories. Wholecuts are no different: one particular article I found surmised that they probably came about due to bored shoemakers creating them in their spare time, but I couldn’t imagine having time on my hands and making life even more difficult.

Another reckons that they came to prominence during shoemaking competitions in the early 20th century; this would make more sense, as wholecuts are deemed the most technically challenging and would be sure to impress judging panels.

The general consensus was that the first wholecuts made for general sale came from a French company called Berluti, whose experimental patinas and groundbreaking designs continue to this day. Since then, all luxury shoemakers have made their own versions of wholecuts and their timeless appeal has been around for centuries.

Dressing Up

I’ll start by talking about the black wholecut. This, in my opinion, is the ultimate formal dress shoe.

A black wholecut can be as formal as you want it to be. We’ve talked before about decoration on shoes lowering their formality so, by having no embellishments whatsoever, the wholecut is the sleekest and most stylish option for any formal dress code including black tie, morning wear, and even the mystical world of white tie.

I’d always recommend applying a nice high-shine on the toes for such events, as it dresses the shoes up even further and shows so much more care to detail than simply wearing patent leather. All Cheaney shops offer this as a free service if you don’t fancy doing it yourself.

Outside of these realms, the wholecut is ultimately a black oxford, making it a perfect choice for formal tailoring and workwear. 

Hide in plain sight

The uniquely uninterrupted leather on this style is like a blank canvas, offering shoemakers the opportunity to be expressive in terms of leather choices and colour, such as those with tonal differences like museum calf which is prized for its depth of interest and focus on handwork.

Hand burnishing is also given centre stage on a wholecut, where our master craftspeople take each pair and apply darker waxes to create the works of art that you see on our shelves and website.

A note on fitting

The more pieces of leather a shoe is made up of, the more structured the fit. Conversely, a wholecut has no such restrictions as one piece of leather can take the shape of the foot exactly how it needs to, resulting in arguably the most comfortable of all dress shoes.

However, it is of great importance that you have a touch of breathing space when trying your wholecuts on for the first time. Not only will this lead to a more comfortable fit in the long run, but will also preserve the shape; seeing as this style draws its beauty from its silhouette, it would be a shame to ruin that by fitting too small and distorting the leather.

You also must use shoe trees. You should have these for all of your shoes, but especially wholecuts. That’s an order.

In conclusion

I’d argue no shoe collection is complete without a pair of wholecuts. They are indicative of a desire for elegance; succinct and understated. Or, in other words:

‘Simplicity is the key to brilliance’

Bruce Lee

Don’t argue with Bruce Lee.