All about leather

1. Cream or polish?

The difference between a cream and a polish:

Baltayan cream nourishes, maintains, re-colours and adds a shine to the leather. If you cannot find the right colour for your shoes, use the colourless cream to nourish and shine the leather.

Before applying the cream, clean the shoes if they require it.

Take a small dot of cream on a small round Baltayan brush –made of genuine horsehair so as not to mark the leather – and apply the cream using circular movements. Ensure it has well penetrated the leather then allow it to dry. Do the other shoe whilst the first one is drying.

Then, using the Baltayan polisher, shine the leather when the cream is completely dry. We advise you to use a brush rather than a cloth because the brush gets into all the spaces between the stitching, the holes in perforated toe caps, etc.

Put a little touch of red in the black or brown cream to give depth.

Next replace the shoetrees and put the shoes back into their bags, letting them rest at least until the next day.

Polish is used only to give your shoes a shine you can see your face in. Baltayan uses professional polish for this delicate operation.


The first shine should be carried out by professionals and then it is really easy to recreate this yourself.


2. The different sorts of leather :

A great variety of leathers are used at the tanneries and taweries.

These range from the thickest to the thinnest, from the stiffest to the most supple.

Dipped lambskin: Lambskin is a top of the range material that is extremely soft to the touch. The tanner selects the best skins to be dipped into aniline baths, giving them a sensual, silky appearance. As a result, both sides of the leather are the same colour which is not altered by any other finishes. These very delicate skins are used by the large fashion houses to make luxury clothes and gloves.

Box calf: as the name suggests, box calf, a supple elastic leather, comes from a calf. Tanned using chromium salt, it is known for its fine grain and flexibility. Used for making top-of-the-range shoes; box calf is a speciality in which French tanners excel.

Glazed kid: A kid, a young goat less than 45 days old, has a grain of incomparable finesse. It gets it mirror-smooth appearance from a specific finish. Although it must be handled carefully, it is suitable for making top-of-the-range leather goods, shoes and clothes.

Marine leather: tanned fish skin used for small leather goods or shoes (carp, shark, ray, etc.)

Suede: This in actual fact is the name for a very finely re-cut goat skin. These skins undergo a fish oil tanning process before being sanded. Suede might also be a reversed skin that has been worked and used on the flesh side.

Galuchat: Ray skin taking the name of Jean Claude Galuchat - a master leather coverer in Paris in the 18th century who was the first to perfect the working of ray skin for furnishings.

Nappa: A name of Germanic origins most often used for very sturdy ovine and bovine leathers for luxury garments.

Box side: This skin, which comes from adult bovine (bullocks, cows) is chrome tanned. Although used for the same products as box calf, it has larger pores and a more uneven grain. Of variable quality, it is used for small leather goods, shoes and furnishings.

3. Vegetable and mineral leather :

The difference between vegetable and mineral leather comes from the way it is tanned.

Vegetable tanning with natural wood species:

The hides are soaked for at least 10 months. The sap in the wood, the tannin, makes the hide practically rot-proof. The hides are plunged into a bath of fresh water containing sap from wood shavings (oak, birch, chestnut, etc.). After tanning, the work on the hides is called currying or dressing. This refers to all the operations which are required to make the leather ready for use.

In this way, a whole range of browns and blacks is obtained.

Baltayan belts, including the backing, are made from vegetable leather.


Mineral (chemical) tanning:

The hides are soaked for a short period of a fortnight in a bath of mineral salt (aluminium, iron, chrome or zirconium).

The grain is often not very easy to see, as it is largely hidden by the colour.

This gives a smooth appearance.

All colours and artificial grains are possible after this type of tanning.

Vegetable tanning is a natural process. It brings out the grain of the leather to the full and, with time, lends a patina to the skin which can become highly mottled and display many shades of colour.


Mineral tanning gives a regular colouring which will not change. The finished product is less noble and has less personality than vegetable tanned leather.

4. Origins of the straight toe-cap and the perforated golf toe-cap :

The Oxford and the Derby shoe originally had no decoration. Then shoemakers began to add decoration to the sober and conventional shoes that men were wearing. Shoes with perforated motives were invented by Irish peasants who pierced the end and the sides of their sturdy galoshes so that they would dry more quickly after getting soaked in the marshy, damp ground. The term “brogue” which was applied to them means “perforations”. The brogue is to some extent the ancestor of our Derby and Oxford shoes with decorated toecaps.


This type of shoe first became widespread amongst English foresters and gamekeepers, and then it was adopted by aristocrats who liked to accompany them when hunting. Once it had become part of the nobility’s wardrobe, the brogue underwent significant modifications. It was made with finer and more supple leather and took on a more elegant look. The initial function of the holes disappeared: their role was now a purely decorative one. The motive which decorates the toecap became more and more refined and gave birth to the “brogue” and the “half-brogue”. The toecap is of the golf style for the first and straight for the second.


True brogues, once considered as sports shoes, were already frequently to be seen on English golf courses at the end of the nineteenth century. But international success was to come only in the nineteen-thirties, when the Prince of Wales, considered as the most elegant man in Europe, surprised society by playing his favourite sport wearing brogues. He derived so much pleasure from wearing them that he was even to be seen wearing a more elegant model during official ceremonies. But even with the Prince of Wales as a reference, brogues and half brogues were prohibited after 6.00pm.

5. The origin of the French word cordonnier (shoemaker) :

In the Middle Ages, Cordoba was the centre for luxury leather work. This leather was originally called Cordouan. The people who worked with it were called Cordouaniers, which very quickly became “cordonniers”. The “sueurs”, from the Latin “suere”, meaning to sew, were the workers who made shoes.


The cordonniers quickly developed to include the sueurs. The shoemaker’s prime quality was to be able to recognise the quality of the leather, the only material he used. " St Crépin and St Crépinien, pray for me”, the cordonnier would say, century after century, to his patron saints: that’s how hard life was for a modest earner like him.


His workshop was a modest stall, and his workbench a simple plank placed across his knees. Until the beginning of the 19th century, he made shoes. This required many operations, carried out on two main parts: the leg and the sole. The leg, shaped out of leather, was made up of parts that were lasted on the appropriate pattern, stitched together and provided with buttonholes. The sole, which also included the heel, was made from strong leather fixed to the edge of the leg. Once these parts were finished, the shoemaker began to last them and then to finish them, always with an eye to the accuracy needed to produce a good piece of work. The leather was cut out using cutters, knives and pincers. The shoemaker’s hammers were rounded. Punches and bradawls were used to pierce the leather to prepare for the seam which was sewn using an awl. The thread used was made more hard-wearing by being covered with pitch. A bar made of wood or of bone, files and rasps enabled him to finish his work.


Until the 1914 war, shoe wearing was quite an event, or even a move up the social ladder. Clogs were the shoes of the poor. The more heavy-duty leather the shoe contained, the more it was valued because of its solidity. The first pair of varnished ankle boots was worn on one’s wedding day. This pair was kept throughout the person’s life, for christenings and funerals. The shoemaker would resole it and apply irons to it to make it last. Polishing shoes was a whole ritual. Very often the shoemaker’s stall was a place to meet and exchange news for the whole village. Little by little, the shoemaker became a salesman of mass-produced shoes; or else he turned to resoling and repairing.


This trade has never disappeared.

6. The sandal 

Shoes are an indispensable and inseparable feature of clothing. It all began with the sandal, which has undergone many changes and followed many trends over the years.


All ancient civilisations seem to have had a model: a rigid sole with straps (3,500 years before Christ).


The versions then began to diversify with time, with customs and with the social standing of individuals.

- The Egyptians made prints of their feet in damp sand, moulded braided papyrus, cut to the right length, into them and fixed rawhide skins to these soles, to create a sandal.

- Roman empresses wore sandals with soles cast in gold and with straps incrusted with precious stones.

- The Japanese wore braided sandals called "zoris".

- The Persians and Indians sculpted wooden soles with toe separators.

- The Africans made mules out of coloured leather.

- In the Middle Ages, the poor and humble wore simple wooden sandals which priests and Franciscan monks also wore them as a sign of their scorn for material goods.

- The Slavs wore felt sandals.

- Spanish sandals were made of rope.


Out of fashion for almost 1,000 years, sandals reappeared in the 1920s. With added heels, they soon acquired charm. Thanks to Ferragamo’s invention of the metal arch support, shoes with heels no longer needed stiff toecaps to retain the foot. At the end of the decade, high-heeled sandals appeared, with extra fine straps.

In the Sixties, sandals came back down to earth with the arrival of the orthopaedic and sensible Birkenstock, but the Seventies saw high-heeled disco models made of snakeskin and polished leather burst onto the scene.

The sandal was then synonymous with vulgarity and it was not until the Eighties that the high-heeled sandal found favour once more as a sophisticated but sensual shoe.


Today the sandal reflects the imagination of designers. They are as eccentric as they are feminine: women love the miracle that sandals work, giving them that extra charm.

7. St Crepin and St Crepinien

Third century martyrs in Soissons, the patron saints of shoemakers whose day is celebrated on October 25th.

It is thought that they were brothers and that they were numbered amongst the apostles who came from Rome in the third century with St Quentin to announce the gospel to the Gaules.

We do know that they stayed at Soissons and, following the example of St. Paul, spent the day preaching and the night working to earn a living. Out of humility they chose the trade of shoemaker.

They had been living this way for a number of years, converting a great number of idolaters, when they were denounced to the emperor Maximien-Hercule, who had them arrested and taken in front of the prefect of the praetorium, the most implacable enemy of the Christians. The two saints suffered horrible torture with great fortitude and were then beheaded. Their martyrdom occurred around the year 287.

In the 17th century, Henri-Michel Buch or Buche, commonly known as Good Henry, founded an establishment known as the community of the “Shoemaker Brethren” and chose St Crépin and St Crépinien as patron saints of this pious association.

8. Sizes

French size

Under the reign of Napoleon the use of the Point de Paris, the French shoe size, spread throughout Europe. It corresponded to two-thirds of a centimetre or 6.667mm. This unit of measurement turned out very quickly to be too crude, so half sizes were introduced in certain countries: size 40.5, for example, corresponds to 27 centimetres.

Sportswear manufacturers use one-third sizes when they indicate sizes in several measurements. A half size is therefore 3.33mm.

The relationship between these three parameters is therefore:

Point de Paris size x 6.66 = length of the foot in this size.

As an example, size 39 corresponds to:

39 x 6.66mm = 259.66mm

259.66mm being the length of a foot with size 39

English size

The English system of linear measurement was established in 1324 by order of King Edward II. It stipulated that three grains of barley laid end-to-end would correspond to one-inch (1 inch = 2.54cm) and that 12 inches make a foot (1 foot = 30.45cm). The unit of English sizes therefore corresponds to the length of a grain of barley, or 1/3 inch, i.e. 0.846 centimetres. An English half-size corresponds to 0.423 centimetres.

The scale starts at one, and corresponds to 22cm, or 33 in French size.

American size

This corresponds to the English size, to which is added 1 for women and 1 half for men. The starting point is not the same: the American scale starts 2.116 before the English scale.

Italian size corresponds to the Point de Paris plus one size.

Size in centimetres

The metric system and its scale of measurement is hardly used at all to define the length of a foot or a shoe, except in very special processes designed for certain professions. Some manufacturers have adopted their own scale based on this system.

The Mondopoint

This is a new ISO INTERNATIONAL standard which attempts to unify the scales. The English half sizes move from 4.23 to 5mm and French sizes from 6.66 to 7.50mm. This allows manufacturers to come into line with foreign sizes, gaining two sizes in men’s and women’s collections so as not to confuse consumers.

9. The last

The origins of the last go back a long way: they can be found in Greek and Roman antiquity book. Greek sandal-makers used lasts to lace straps to their sandals and Roman cobblers used them to stitch up their shoes. They chose different lasts depending on the model and the size of the shoes they were making. Each foot had its own last: lasts that can be taken apart also exist for boots.


The last is a wooden mould of the human foot around which the shoe is built up. Its function is to replace the foot during the first stages of shoemaking, i.e. to provide a base for transforming the plane surface of the leather into a three-dimensional object. Sycamore, red, or American beech and hornbeam are chosen by the last-maker for their special features: resistance to hygrometry (dampness in the air), to differences in temperature and to hammer blows. It must also allow nails to be driven in. Great care is taken with the conditions and the amount of time for which they are stored in order to obtain a dry and hardwearing wood.


The last determines the internal dimensions and the outside appearance of the shoe. It is made from measurements of the foot and always in pairs. It is important to mention that the right foot is never an exact mirror image of the left foot. The last-maker spots the slightest differences and takes them into account in his reproduction. Very few last-makers still work by hand and use traditional tools for this type of work. Without last-makers, the masterpieces of master shoemakers could never see the light of day.

10. Laces

Laces are made from different materials. If your laces come undone regularly we advise you to use cotton laces.

For a smarter look we recommend the waxed lace.


Do your laces snap?

Very often, this has nothing to do with the quality of the laces, but with wear caused by the eyelets.


How long should your shoelaces be?

  • Men’s town shoes: 75cm,
  • Woman: 60cm,
  • Child: 45cm,
  • Boot: from 120 to 180cm.


The more elegant horizontal lacing is typical of the Oxford shoe, whereas crossed lacing is often used for the Derby shoe, but this custom is frequently ignored.