George Vlagos is meticulously running the pads of his fingers over tanned hides in cherry, black, tan, and navy. Eyes closed, arms outstretched, the buttery soft surface is music to his hands. It's Chromexcel®, or CXL as it’s written in the five story Horween® building. A combination tanned leather that undergoes 89 separate processes stretching over a month, the formula has been around for over a century and arguably produces some of the world’s best leather today. Vlagos takes the navy.
Some fifteen years ago, in a Chicago cobbler shop, a pubescent George Vlagos sat under the skilled hands of his father during Christmas, spring, and summer breaks. It was an attempt to show his son that working with your hands was difficult. Vlagos’s father, a Greek immigrant, wished an education for his son. It backfired. Though he would go on to earn his masters, Vlagos gravitated back to the family craft after realizing how difficult finding quality shoes proved.
“I wanted a shoe made in America, full grain leather, and at a reasonable price.”
Designed and sourced in Chicago, Oak Street Bootmakers’s Chromexcel® navy beefroll penny loafer (along with the entire collection, for the record) is hand-sewn in Maine, where according to Vlagos is the only region in the country where you can track down craftsmen still capable of the craft. The loafers boast a stacked leather heel, welted construction (simply send them back to Oak Street for resoling), hand-stitched moccasin uppers, and carry just enough weight to intimate their craftsmanship.
“Oak Street is about taking classic ideas, putting our twist on them, but really doing it right,” Vlagos conveys with conviction. This means working with only Horween® leather, hand selecting hides, and attentively crafting each pair for each customer. Not only does Vlagos design and oversee production, but he is on the other end of your emails, phone calls, and boxes up each pair of shoes himself. “It’s really important to offer incredible customer service, answer each customer’s questions, and fit them in the perfect shoe.” And for $328, perfection is a lot easier than it sounds.