Searching for my perfect black boot – Permanent Style

By Lucas Nicholson.

The idea of black boots has been obsessing me for much of the past year. It must be a fairly common menswear preoccupation, given the inspiration: Marlon Brando in his black leather and bad-boy persona, most obviously. Which as a middle-class white boy who grew up on the beaches of Bournemouth, and then moved to south-west London, I obviously identify with.

But was that the kind of boot I wanted? I certainly didn’t want a smart one – I can see the appeal of a balmoral, but not when it would be the optimal choice for me. I’d always prefer a loafer or lace up.

But an engineer boot like Brando’s didn’t seem right either. That thick leather, sole and strap wasn’t my speed. Yes I have a motorbike licence, but I haven’t ridden one since I passed my test at 21 – except that one time in Ibiza when I hired a Vespa and I don’t think that counts. 

How about something sexy and sleek, like a Beatle boot? I’ve tried to do this look before with a couple of pairs of RM Williams, but it never quite worked. I was aiming for the Husbands Parisian look, but ended up divorced from reality! 

I’ve also had some ‘interesting’ experiments via eBay. There were slightly cringy side-zip boots with an oddly sharp, square toe that I wore once and then left under the bed. And some ostrich roper boots from the now defunct Larry Mahan.

Thankfully, success seems to have finally come with a boot that combines parts of all these styles, but in a rather subtle manner – from the French brand La Botte Gardiane

I’m sure some readers will be familiar with the maker but equally sure many won’t, given the low profile they generally maintain. 

La Botte Gardiane was established in 1958 in La Calmette, in the Gard region of south-west France. It began by producing work boots for the Camargue herders (basically French cowboys) as well as sandals and belts, mainly for men. It was then purchased by the current owners in 1995 and they built the modern brand. 

There are four stores in France: two in Paris and two in the south, directly at the workshop and in Saintes Maries de la Mer. There are some stockists globally, from Korea to the USA, but the main offering is online.

La Botte Gardiane makes everything on site and to order, but it takes only two weeks to make standard styles, and you can select various aspects. This includes – impressively – adding or removing arch support and changing small things on the last, such as widening the forefoot or slimming the heel. You can also set the height, which is very useful in a boot for those of different heights.

There’s an additional fee of around £45 to select these options, but if you have trouble fitting boots it will certainly be worth it.

My choice was the Terence boot (above, £316). It had all the obvious style points I wanted: above the ankle, round toe, slightly stacked heel, plus a side zip that meant it had shape through the ankle and held my foot in place (a major gripe with roper boots).

More importantly, it seemed to hit that sweet spot between my different style references. It was a casual boot but but a little refined, a little more – dare I say it – sexy. Apparently the style is a contemporary version of their classic 1950s boot, the most obvious update being the side zip, intended to give that greater hold on the foot.

Being incredibly excited when the boots arrived, I unzipped them, slid straight in and left the house with reckless abandon. The soft leather and ergonomic last performed admirably – I can’t think of another pair of boots, bar soft suede chukkas, that have provided such immediate comfort.

Over 12,000 steps later, my feet were slightly weary but not bruised or blistered in the way they would be with most new shoes. The half rubber sole and oily leather also makes them immediately weatherproof.

I was impressed with the quality and style elsewhere too. The calf leather has a nice waxy-ness that gives it a more matte look than a dressy black boot, and it makes it a better partner to jeans and more workwear/rugged looks. 

I took my normal size, 10.5 (45). I didn’t go for any alterations on the shape, as while I do have slightly wide toes, the last sounded roomy enough to accommodate them. Having worn the boots now, I would probably take some further arch support on future orders, but it was interesting to try the standard fit for the purposes of this article.

The boots are Blake constructed and La Botte Gardiane offer a resoling service and a full reconditioning service. Changing the heel and rubber piece of the sole costs €45, while a full resole with new heels and insole costs €156, and takes about a month. 

The company seems to be excellent value. It’s slightly below the quality PS normally covers and I understand that some of the boots might not be to everyone’s taste. But the styles and the manner of making come from its genuine heritage. Some other styles also look interesting, including casual sandals and some “slippers” that look like they could be quite chic with a smarter look. They also make a range of leather bags that I’ve only seen briefly but seem to have a nice, minimal style. 

Since getting the boots (even though it’s slightly out of season) I’ve really put them through their paces, from pub nights to long walks. I initially wore them with black Levi’s and a black Wrangler shirt and the look wasn’t over the top – where a lot of my previous boots would have been. I’ve also worn them more simply with a wool trouser, shetland sweater and cashmere coat. 

I can post pictures of those outfits, as well as how the boots themselves have aged, later in the year. At this rate I might even have another pair by then.

Menswear stockists: No Man Walks Alone (US), Parlour (Korea). Circular image above taken from No Man.

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