Issue 17.2: April / May 2014

A Quality Shoe

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 lifetime.”