How To Raise A Shine On Shell Cordovan

July 20, 2015

How to Raise a Shine on Shell Cordovan

Want to know a dirty secret? Shell cordovan – that durable and robust leather known for its luster – doesn’t stay shiny for long. It can look pretty dull after a year’s worth of wear, and afterwards, it’s hard to get that factory-fresh gleam again. 

Readers of online menswear forums might be familiar with The Mac Method. Invented by Macarthur, a man known for his love of argyle socks and Alden shoes, it involves using a bit of polish every fifteen wears and brushing until your arms fall off. It’s hard to argue with his results, but I haven’t had much luck with the technique. 

A Shine & Co recently held a special event at Leffot, where they treated customers to their special shoeshine services. Among those shined were the shell cordovan loafers you see above – which look like night and day after A Shine & Co. was done with them. I spoke to KeaLani Lada, one of the company’s co-owners, about how they treat shell cordovan leather:

  • Don’t Use Cream: Since shell cordovan is dense and non-porous, A Shine & Co. recommends forgoing cream conditioners. “We find it just sits on top of the material, rather than getting absorbed,” says KeaLani. “As a result, you get this dull – sometimes even sticky – finish. It makes for bad surface when you’re trying to build a shine.” 
  • Build Layers of Wax: Half of A Shine & Co’s secret is about what they don’t put on: cream conditioners. The other half is about what they do: wax polishes. “You want to slowly build multiple layers,” says KeaLani. “Apply a small amount of wax with a damp rag, and then buff to a shine. On the next layer, use about half the amount of wax as you did last time so you don’t get too much build-up.” A Shine & Co’s wax polish of choice? Saphir
  • Cut the Fat: Wear shell enough and you’ll start to notice white streaks forming around the creases. That’s the leather’s fat getting expressed through the surface. To clean it up, lightly dampen a rag with a small 50/50 mixture of distilled white vinegar and water. Doing so not only helps get rid of those white streaks, it also prevents the fat from spreading across your shoes – and dulling that glow. 
  • Strip it Down: Sometimes you just need to start anew. To get rid of old layers of polish and dried up conditioner, wipe your shoes down with naphtha lighter fluid. The idea admittedly sounds scary, but KeaLani assures us it’s gentle. “Just don’t use too much and don’t rub too hard. Common sense will go a long way.” 

To get your shoes professionally shined, you can visit A Shine & Co at any of their seven locations. They have four in San Francisco and three in NYC. They also offer repairs and restoration services for all types of leather goods – from shoes to belts to bags. For those services, customers outside of San Francisco and NYC can just mail-in their stuff. 

(photo via Leffot)