Story by Aaron Kandell
Photo by Matt Mallams
When it comes to footwear, Thomas Park might be the world’s
biggest tweaker. “A tweaker is someone who really obsesses about something,”
says Park. “I always loved shoes ever since I was little, and not just wearing
them; I wanted to learn about the construction, the components, the history behind
each brand.” In 2004 Park put his money where his feet were. He quit his job, sold
his car and opened a shoebox-size store in downtown Honolulu. Within a year
he’d launched a second space in Waikiki followed by another in Beverly Hills.
What had begun as a boyhood dream, “to sit in a shop all day long,” he says,
“and talk to guys about shoes,” became Leather Soul, a trio of boutiques ranked
among the top men’s couture stores in America by such esteemed stylemeisters as
Esquire and GQ.
Still, in a culture that prides itself on rubbah slippahs,
Leather Soul’s haute, handmade shoes don’t exactly fit the factory mold. “We
offer an all-star lineup for the shoe aficionado,” says Park. Of the thirteen brands
he carries, nine have more than a century of family-run artisanal mastery behind
them. Most are exclusive, all expensive: Prices range from $500 to $4,000.
Why so dear? First, the leathers: everything from alligator
to capybara. Then, the styles: cap-toe, wingtip, Norwegian lace-up. But most
important is the craftsmanship. Nearly every shoe is handmade in traditional bespoke
fashion (“bespoke” being a British term from the days when custom shoes were
said to “be spoken for”—that is, made for a specific person).
It’s not just shoes; Park aspires to provide “a total men’s
shop” with handpicked, even personally designed vintage watches, hand-stitched
shirts, pants, ties and personal care products. “We’re trying to expose local
guys to a world of fashion they might not have access to,” says Park. Stepping inside
his downtown store, with its leather recliners, shoeshine spa and scotch bar tucked
behind a false mirror, is like time-travelling to the Mad Men era.
But four grand for a pair of shoes? “It’s analogous to the
car you drive,” says Park, “the difference you get between a Ford and a BMW.
Yes, they’re an investment, but if you treat them right, they can last a