For over a year now, I have been enamored with Kent Wang (KW). The brand began in 2007 when Styleforum member Kent began selling his homemade pocket handkerchiefs on the forum. His philosophy of simplicity and honesty sit well with me. I hope to eventually write a profile of the entire brand.
My interest in KW has led me to buy a number of the products. Recently I visited the small pop-up shop in New York City. In order to take advantage of my visit, I examined many of the wares and tried on the shoes. Later when I began shopping for a new pair of brown oxfords my summer job, this decision proved to be fortunate--I chanced upon a discounted styleforum B&S listing for a new pair of Kent Wang benchgrade captoe balmorals in my size.
While popular KW products, such as his polos and sneakers, have received much fanfare and feedback online, some of his other terrific products have not. Hence, I am writing this review to shed light on his dress shoes.
Kent Wang offers several shoe styles: sneakers, balmorals, loafers, boots, and more. Some are available in both a benchgrade line and a handgrade line. This shoe, the benchgrade captoe balmoral in dark brown, is priced at $350.
Here is the website’s description:
Captoe balmoral design, the most conservative and versatile shoe style. Appropriate for a job interview, wedding, and any other occasion.
Classic, yet sleek, round toe last. Traditional English design and styling. Full-grain Italian calfskin. Goodyear-welted construction. Channeled soles. Beveled waist. We guarantee the quality rivals shoes twice its price.
Given the ‘official’ description and my photos, I think I do not need to say much about how these captoes look. They are handsome. The last is elegant. The styling is aggressive yet traditional. In my opinion, the shoes strike a terrific balance between flare and tradition.
I also want to clarify that the photos were taken before these shoes received wear or care. The pictures reflect the color and appearance of the leather without any sort of conditioner, cream, or wax.
When I visited the pop-up shop, I asked Aaron (KW’s polite and knowledgeable director of MTM) what brand he would compare the quality of these shoes too. He responded, Crockett and Jones.
Now I don’t actually own any C&J shoes. However, I do own a pair of Carmina monkstraps, and KW’s balmorals are strong competition. The leather is supple. It feels moderately thick and durable. Clearly the producer is sourcing high-quality, full-grain calf leather.
The stitching on these is very, very neat. I would venture to say that the welt stitching is equivalent, if not superior to, my Carminas. The sole is well-attached to the upper. It has some good weight and thickness to it. The heel has 24 brass nails and a rubber rear portion: both these features extend the life of the bottoms. In addition, the channeled soles cover the stitching and increase the water resistance of the shoe. Even the laces are noticeably high quality: they are dense and hold shape well.
As I try on more shoes from more brands, I am skeptical that there is a such thing as ‘true to size.’ In terms of length, my feet are between a US 8.5 and a 9. In terms of width, they are between a D (regular) and an E (slightly wide). For reference, I wear an 8.5E in the Allen Edmonds 65 last. I bought the KW balmorals in a 9D, and they fit very well both in length and width. I have some gap in my lacing, but it’s quite minor and pretty much unavoidable for my feet. Overall, I would say this last is excellently shaped for me personally.
Out of the box the balmorals were quite comfortable. The leather was not particularly stiff and I predicted that they would mold nicely to my feet. Over the course of the last month, these shoes have featured in my work rotation about twice a week. The leather broke in quickly and quite nicely, as I had hoped.
Unless you are a true shoe snob, at this price point you should not be able to make any criticisms of KW’s balmorals in regards to their quality.
My primary complaint is really less about this shoe than it is about the brand’s offerings. KW is a small set-up run by two people. On one hand, this size means the team can offer high-quality goods and great prices. On the other hand, this size limits the brand from offering huge selections of items. The benchgrade shoes that KW offers only come in one last. They are all only available on one width. A huge shoemaker such as Allen Edmonds can offer 9 widths! Fortunately this last fits me well and I do not lose out because of the limited offerings.
Moreover, some folks are less inclined to buy KW shoes because they are made in Asia. These benchgrade balmorals are actually made in Vietnam. The quality is terrific and it is producing the shoes in Asia that allows for reasonable prices. Although the origin of a shoe can be a dimension of understanding a shoe’s quality, people are sometimes blinded by country of manufacture.
Writing for his blog, Justin Fitzpatrick says:
Made in Spain or Made in Romania or even Vietnam (believe it or not) can mean the same thing. Making shoes is no longer comes from the pride of one’s country to be the best, but rather the pride of certain individuals (no matter what race their are) and ensuring that their factories are making the best shoes they can.
In my opinion, these shoes do indeed rival some that cost twice as much. The leather and construction are very, very good. The styling is elegant. Prices are kept low by producing the shoes in Vietnam and selling them directly to the customer. Over the next few years, I anticipate that these will hold up very well and be a regular pair in my rotation.
PROS: Terrific quality to price ratio, excellent construction, beautiful styling.
CONS: Limited lasts and sizes.