Spend an afternoon on the Upper East Side and you'll likely spot more pairs of Belgian Shoes than tennis ball walker glides (but just barely). We have long adored Belgians, the peculiar loafers made outside of Bruges in Belgium and designed by Mr. Henri Bendel (yes, the same Mr. Henri Bendel who first brought Chanel stateside). Predictably, a younger set has been adopting the casual loafer over the last decade. Despite recent repeated spikes in the press, this staple of UES New York fashion still flies largely under the radar—as if the prep set are uppishly snapping, “Stop trying to make Belgians happen.”
The cult loafers are not without their quirks. The soft-soled casuals are known to wear out within a couple months, requiring a trip back to the lone shop at East 55th and Park Avenue for a resoling. That’s $65 (a drop in the trust fund). While designed to last longer, the replacement is aesthetically inferior. Belgian essentially just glues a corrugated rubber sole to the bottom of the existing outsole.
Reminiscent of a tassel loafer (probably our favorite shoe in all of the land), yet cleaner, softer, and more refined, it was only a matter of time before Bendel’s design was improved upon. But unlike Gucci's horsebit loafer, the slipper-soft Belgian has not seen a similar number of adaptations. Fortunately, the guys at Paul Evans share an affinity for the loafer's casual luxury. They sincerely turned out their own tribute made in Naples, Italy using Blake construction, a sturdy leather sole, and the meticulous “turned” method (oh right, we should explain. The shoes are sewn inside-out and then turned right-side out when completed, ensuring each stitch is flawless and largely invisible). The beloved Belgian silhouette is sincerely replicated in the suede upper while slightly elongating the toe and trimming the vamp with a leather ribbon Lark’s Foot knot. Ribbons are cool—trust us.
At $349, Paul Evans’ Belgian easily feels twice that much. They shrewdly bypass middleman markups by leveraging eCommerce. The result is a top drawer Belgian made in Italy without the Upper East Side pilgrimage.