How To Put A Patina On Your Shoes
While I am no French master when it comes to putting a patina on a pair of shoes, I am quite proud of my first attempt at actually doing so. During my apprenticeship, in Italy, my good friend Matteo (who learned how to make shoes in France), put a reverse patina on a pair of brown slip on’s. You might be thinking what is a ‘reverse patina?’ Well, a patina is when your shoe’s coloring starts to change with time. This can be done naturally, over many years of wearing, or can be done manually as I will explain here. Done manually, a patina is usually done with a nude-colored leather where the person will apply multiple layers of polish, of different shades, in order to get this aged/brushed look. This is very common in Berluti shoes. A reverse patina, as my friend Matteo had done and what I attempted here, is when the shoe already has it’s leather dyed some color and you then remove that dye and either blend it together to give a nice fade look or add another color to the mix. I decided to add another color since the shoes were relatively boring before my patina.
So I found these brown cap-toe derby’s (which I am pretty sure had never been worn) at a second-hand store in Brighton for only 40 British Pounds and I am pretty sure that they were a bespoke made pair of shoes due to some of the details left. If you look at the picture showing the heels, you will notice a small nail hole. When a shoemaker is lasting a shoe, he needs to place a nail in the heel side of the upper in order to keep the leather of the heel part in position. This is usually done in an area where stitching takes place, as not to leave a nasty hole like the one here. Apparently they did not care about subtly whenever this shoe was made, which I am sure was quite a long time ago. You can also notice on that same picture that on the left shoe, the sole part is not a flat line across the heel area. You can see that it curves upward from left to right, again indicating hand work, where a machine made shoe should leave this perfectly flat looking. Anyway, they were about a half size too big but were a narrow cut which is great considering I have narrow feet and their bland look gave me the opportunity to play around with them.
As you can see, the first thing I did was try and strip some of the leather dye off of the shoes. I did this with nail polish remover at first but got quickly tired of that option after I noticed that it did not remove the dye very easily. I then went on to the hardcore stuff and decided to use bleach. When you do this option, you want to make sure and just get a plain bleach and mix it with water or else you could easily ruin your shoes and your skin as well. I recommend wearing gloves. So I got the bleach, mixed it with water and took an old t-shirt, dabbed it in the mixture and applied evenly. Remember, with bleach, a little goes a long way!
As you can see, I have added pictures of the necessary products needed in order to produce the patina. Wearing gloves is not necessary for applying the polish/wax but I just didn’t feel like getting the cream all in my fingernails, so I left them on. The first thing to do is to apply the first coat of polish/cream/wax. As you can see, I had two types of applicants in two different colors. (always use the lighter colored one first) Take the ripped up t-shirt and make it so that you have it wrapped around your first two fingers (index and middle fingers) and then wrapped around your hand to give it a tight hold. When applying the first coat, the point is to get the polish/wax set into the leather by applying the polish/wax evenly around the shoe in a small circular motion. When you are applying the polish/wax, always focus on one small area at a time. Do not apply polish/wax to the toe box and two seconds later start touching up the heel. Do this around the shoe evenly until you have a nice base coat. Use the dauber brush to get into the welt area, where the stitching is.
Now, the next stage is actually pretty difficult to explain without seeing but I will do my best. At this point, we want to seal in that polish that we applied on the first coat and also bring out the best shine that we can. You do this by applying wax (which seals better than polish/creams) mixed with water. So what you want to do is take the lid of your wax can and put some water into it so that you can daub from it. Then you put some wax onto your fingers and just gently dip it into the water and start applying this combination evenly around the shoe just like in the first stage, in small, circular motions. The tricky part is knowing when to start using less and less wax and eventually just use a little bit of water to seal the two coats and bring out the shine. This is more easily taught in person, and even then it can be difficult. The key is to have patience, using only a little amount of water at a time, because if you put too much you will dampen the leather excessively and you will have to wait until it dries. Now I am not the most patient person so I did not create a patina that reflects like a mirror. Once I get that shine going, I usually call it a day there. But if one has time and patience, he/she can make their leather look like a whole other glossy-like material.
This is not easy stuff, so if you attempt this and are not satisfied with your outcome, don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes time and patience and lots of practice. I know that this was not the greatest outcome, I had envisioned something much different. But they sure are way better than the original pictures above, and I will definitely take that!! Best of luck!