Historical Journey of the Belgian Loafer - Heritage & Style

Posted by Crown Northampton on

Written by Anthony W. Madsen Sylvester
Despite its relatively newfound status, the Belgian loafer has a surprisingly storied heritage. The lowlands country has always been renowned for its industrious monks. While some monasteries turned a lucrative sideline in beermaking or beekeeping, others were engaged in the equally noble art of shoemaking.   
It was this three hundred year tradition for handmade cobbling that first caught the attention of New York based retailer Henri Bendel. The simple slipper-like shoe the monks made had a wonderfully soft touch and handsome appearance, not unlike a rarefied take on a Native American moccasin or the Norwegian loafer. No stranger to refined goods, Monsieur Bendel was the heir to a business his uncle had started in the early 20th Century importing French dresses for New York’s well-heeled ladies, in fact being the first champion of Coco Chanel’s designs back in 1913. In 1956, Henri Jnr having sold the family’s department store, set up shop selling his version of the Belgian loafer in New York’s Midtown catering to an upper class clientele. The loafers he sold were hand-stitched by ladies at home before being factory finished and shipped to him from Izegem, Belgium’s equivalent to Northampton. 
Crown Northampton brockton Belgian slippersAd from The New Yorker, 1960

The style proved resilient against changing trends - its simplicity providing its longevity. The soft upper is stitched to a teardrop vamp, Henri’s signature “Mr Casual” model then finished with a tiny bow. The style caught on with other makers throughout the late 50s and 1960s, its unfussed appearance and clean lines making it an icon of Mid-Century design.  

Gentleman wearing Brockton Belgian slippers Lawrence Harvey & Mia Farrow arrive in style

By the 1980s, the Belgian was still a totem of WASP-ish eccentricity, up there with 'Go-To-Hell" pants and the acidicly saturated prints of Lily Pulitzer’s patterns. One style maven drawn to their singular charm was the tailor and author of the essential "Dressing The Man" Alan Flusser. 

"Around the period I discovered Belgians," Flusser explains, "Gucci’s horse-buckle loafer was quietly upstaging the classic business Oxford to complete the Wall Street uniform of Turnbull and Asser dress shirt, Hermes necktie, Albert Thurston striped suspenders, and my own Savile Row-inspired inspired suits. Gucci loafers and Belgian shoes both shared a brave new aesthetic, essentially joining that last vestige of English court dress — Brooks Brothers’ elegant silk-bowed, black calf opera pump — as chic tokens of decadence that marked their wearers as style travellers to watch."

Glenn O'Brien, author of 'How To Be A Man' wearing Belgian LoafersGlenn O'Brien, author of 'How To Be A Man'

Brendon Babenzien outside the NOAH storeBrendon Babenzien outside the NOAH store

It was the #fuckyeahmeswear generation of the early 2010s that bought the Belgian back overground, from cult classic to Tumblr staple. Stateside everyone from Throwing Fits’ Lawrence Schlossman to ex-Supreme, current Noah honcho Brendon Babenzien pair them with everything from beaten up old levi’s, to tuxedos to sweatpants. “Belgians are fun, they’re easy. It’s a New York thing for me - you don’t see everyone wearing them” Babenzien told GQ in 2016. Despite his protestations however, their unique ‘Sprezzatura’ has definitely translated transatlantically; the perfect Pitti-friendly companion to the tapered two inch cuff of a Neapolitan tailored trouser. Travel and style writer David Coggins and WM Brown’s Matt Hranek are devotees - donning them sockless all year round. 

David Coggins on the Royal Scotsman wearing Belgian slippers David Coggins on the Royal Scotsman 

Matt Hranek & Yolanda Edwards' inimitable take on black tieMatt Hranek & Yolanda Edwards' inimitable take on black tie

Crown Northampton Brockton Slipper in brown kudu suede

Crown Northampton Brockton Slipper in brown kudu suede

Crown Northampton’s Brockton slipper design is inspired by sketches from the company's archives and historical last shapes from their past. An unmistakable almond toe shape and handmade upper with apron finish, sat atop a mixed leather/rubber sole unit, The Brockton's elegant lines are the perfect combination of aristocratic taste and a century of English shoemaking prowess.

Keep an eye out for our Crown Northampton x AWMS limited run special project, made in collaboration with Anthony W. Madsen Sylvester - Launching at the end of this week, Friday 1st October.  More information to follow soon.

View the full Brockton range here


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