Footwear

Review: Nigel Cabourn high top army trainers

I guess I’m a bit of a sucker for punishment or I don’t learn from my mistakes, etc. As a pimply teenager I had a pair of off-white converse allstars like just about everyone else and the toe box was completely wrong for my foot shape. My pinky toe would constantly rub against the side of the shoe so I either had a blister or no skin on it left by the end of the day. Fast forward to a couple of years ago when white sneakers were all the rage and I was too cheap to fork out for a pair of common projects, so of course I go out and get me a pair of leather Jacket Purcells. The leather was shit and of course they were hell for my pinky toes!

Fast forward some more to more recent times and Nigel Cabourn’s army style sneakers kept coming up on Instagram. Something about the utilitarian aesthetics, chunky soles and old school colours appealed to me. But you know, I had enough sneakers I don’t even wear so I filed it away in the back of my mind somewhere. But they kept coming up! I saw a cool pair of “all-weather boots” on the Drake’s website and the “made in Japan” description and I couldn’t help doing some research. 

I’m assuming those sneakers are made by a Japanese company called Moonstar since they look almost identical to the Moonstar all-weather shoes. Moonstar makes their own branded shoes as well as for many other brands like Doek and Shoes like Pottery, and do collabs with the likes of Stussy and of course Nigel Cabourn. They’ve been making shoes out of their Kurume factory in western Japan since 1873. Their shoes are still handmade and use traditional techniques such as baking the rubber for the soles in kilns, a process called vulcanisation. You can read more about them here and here. So then right at the height of my Moonstar sneaker research, I walk into Blue Works and there are not one but six or so pairs of Nigel Cabourn army sneakers staring me in the face so of course I just had to get me a pair!

I couldn’t find much information online but I think they are probably from the 2016 collection since most of the press  comes from last year. They come in navy, olive, and off-white heavy canvas uppers with dark olive chunky rubber soles. There are high top and low top versions. I personally pined for the olive canvas but eventually settled on the navy high tops because I just have too many olive things and navy will be easier to wear.

There’s d-rings holding the laces at the top and the laces are nice and long so you can do the whole wrap the laces around your ankles and tie them thing which is cool. The canvas material is quite thick and heavy duty. I know some of Nigel’s other sneaker collabs use Ventile which makes them waterproof but these are just regular cotton.

The sole…oh the sole. It’s big and chunky and unapologetic. The ribbed front (I don’t even know what you call it) extends up the side and to the top of the rubber sole, which is a look I am in love with. The soles are made of vulcanised rubber which are fused to the canvas uppers which I read makes them less likely to separate as the shoe ages. The soles are lugged for improved traction. They are also supposed to have some cork in them for comfort. I have worn them on a few long working/walking days and they are very comfortable.

The fit is much much better than my old Converse sneakers. The toebox is wider and much more comfortable for my pinky toes. Some people even say to size down but I’m happy with my 8.5UK (I’m normally a 9D US). Plus the high top lacing probably helps to mitigate any heel slip.

I’ve been wearing mine with mostly army fatigues, selvedge denim, or casual chinos. The aesthetic works best with pants that have a wide leg opening and slightly pegged/high water. Workwear, military-wear, and streetwear all work equally well here.

The price is not cheap but remember these are handmade in Japan to very high standards (plus people pay way more than that for some foamy yeezys which won’t last half as long). Comparitively the only places I could find in the US or UK were selling the same shoes for about 70% more. If you’re in the market for a pair of army sneakers, they’re on sale at Blue Works at the moment.

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