Asia’s Shoemakers Are Killing It!
In the last few years a handful of remarkable shoemakers began to emerge from Asia. Yeossal, Fugashin, Oct. Tenth and Onderhoud to name a few. The subject of today’s Review is CNES Shoemaker from Vietnam with a growing reputation internationally.
I had the pleasure to meet the CNES team during the last Stockholm Trunk Show and we kept contact afterwards. Impressed by their initial offering, our contact culminated in today’s Review of a Black Wholecut kindly provided by CNES Shoemaker.
After a couple of weeks wearing and using the shoe, I felt ready to begin penning this article. I hope you enjoy it!
Who Is CNES Shoemaker?
For the uninitiated, CNES Shoemaker is a shoemaking company from Vietnam with physical stores in Singapore and retailers in Seoul and Melbourne. Their international branch however operates out of Singapore.
The name CNES stands for Classic, Noble, Elegant & Simple which actually makes a nicely sounding acronym. Interestingly enough however, they are not a new brand that just sprouted out of nowhere.
CNES began making classic welted shoes and accessories all the way back in 1994! You can see that by the large variety of constructions on offer! You can choose between:
- Goodyear Welted
- Blake Stitched
Tip: Read the Shoe Construction Guide if you want to learn more about the differences!
CNES also offers an extensive Made to Order (MTO) Program with leathers from reputable European Tanneries. Their Suede and Calf comes from France, Italy and Spain while they can also work with Shell Cordovan (from Argentina) and exotic leathers upon special request.
For such an extensive range and features one would expect that their prices would be pretty high. On the contrary though they are extremely competitive. Blake starts at just 172$, Goodyear at 272$ while Hand-Welted around 470$. I think it is important to mention that the default currency is Singapore Dollars! So don’t be intimidated by the higher looking price and change in the upper right corner!
Lastly, CNES offers flat shipping rates while you can return within 14 days if you are not satisfied.
Picking A Pair
A small issue I have is with the website. Overall it is very fast, responsive and easy to navigate. However, some of the filters don’t show up properly on my browser, while some variants/colors don’t have pictures on certain shoes. However, I must mention that the website is really new and launched somewhere around March 2020. I am sure they will improve it with time.
Initially I wanted to pick a suede loafer but it’s not a style I wear much. Then I thought about what kind of shoe I didn’t have in my collection. A wholecut oxford!
There are two black wholecuts available in the CNES Goodyear Welted collection. The Vestan II and the Vestan II-OR3. It took me a while to spot the difference which is the shape of the last. The former has a more chiseled almond toe, while the latter a more soft square shape.
Before we dive in the Review of the CNES Shoemaker Wholecut, let’s make a summary of the specifications:
- Brand: CNES Shoemaker
- Origin: Vietnam
- Style: Wholecut Oxford
- Model: Vestan II-OR3
- Color: Black
- Uppers: Full grain French Vocalou Calf
- Construction: Goodyear Welted
- Lining: 100% Natural Leather
- Eyelets: 5
- Size: CNES 43
- Fitting: Narrow E Width
- Sole: Closed Channel Vegetable Tanned Leather
- Price: $272.63
It is worth noting that at the time of writing CNES ran some sales, so the price was just $190.84! Onward now!
Unboxing & Delivery
CNES Shoemaker works with DHL Express just like I do. And I absolutely love it! It took an unbelievable 2 business days to ship the shoes from Singapore at my door. That is blistering quick!
The package wrapping was nice and tidy and the box is pretty decent. It has a very dark brown color with the company logo on the top.
On the side you will find some simple informative details about the model, color and size.
As soon as you open the box there is a really nice welcoming message card and one dust bag. The dust bag’s quality seems very good and the interesting part is the stitched leather embossed logo on the top. However, I can’t look over the fact that there is only one dust bag. I would never place both my shoes in one dust bag, since friction and movement would scuff or scratch the delicate leather.
I would prefer two of them, but as a shoe enthusiast I have spare bags in case I need to use them. There’s not much apart from the shoes and some tissue paper.
So the first thing I did was a super quick inspection of the shoes to get a feel of how their build quality. Overall it looked sleek, but there were a couple of areas that I noticed immediately.
For starters, the left shoe had shines of wear and visible creasing on the vamp. It was obvious that someone tried on the shoe before and since there is no cap-toe it’s easier to spot. However, as a shoe retailer myself I can totally understand it.
This is a Review pair that CNES kindly sent me, so me complaining that there was slight creasing would be unreasonable. Additionally, returns do happen in the shoe industry and you have to resell the shoes right? Lastly, they were for 30% off at the time and you would never bother for such a deal. For me it is perfectly fine, but nonetheless I have to mention it.
Build & Leather Quality
For the price I think this is a very solid shoe. I can’t shake the feeling that the shoes on the Trunk Show were a bit higher quality finishing wise. Maybe those were from a more Premium or Hand-Welted range but I can’t remember.
Let’s talk about the easy things first. It’s well built for the price and doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart easily. It has an excellent sole and 26 years of experience behind it as well.
Judging leather is very hard without using a pair for a longer period of time. I must admit I am not impressed by this particular pair I got. It is ok but touching or looking at it doesn’t have a wow factor. However it is quite supple and definitely softer than the stiffer Meermin and Loake.
I am looking forward to seeing how well it takes a shine and how it holds up.
Welt & Stitching
The stitching of the shoe is pretty clean honestly on the uppers including the welt. There’s some fudging around the edges and since this is a wholecut, the only seam is on the back in a classic dog’s tail shape.
The same applies around the throat of the shoe and is very consistent. The way machinery and skill has evolved over the past decades certainly helps, but it does take a steady capable pair of hands to ensure everything is straight and proper.
I might as well add that there are 5 blind eyelets and the laces seem to be of decent quality. They were easy to pull and handle.
A Modified Last
One of the things I would like to see from CNES on the website is a dedicated page about their lasts. Currently there is no information or a name which means you have to refer to a model instead of a last name/code.
According to CNES the Vestan II-OR3 last “features a modified square toe with low toe-spring, allowing a closer and sleeker form factor“.
Now, I won’t lie that I am not a huge fan of the last on this wholecut. It feels a little flat and underwhelming for a lack of better word. Since this is a wholecut with a soft square toe, I would like it to be a little more aggressive and curvy around the midsection with a more pointy toe. Then again, this is my own personal opinion, you might love the last instead!
It is absolutely remarkable that you can get a Goodyear Welted shoe in 2020 with a fiddleback waist and closed channel soles for less than 300$. The CNES sole is as good as I remember it in the Stockholm Trunk Show. Painted in black around the waist with a natural, vegetable tanned leather sole.
On the bottom there are 6 nails hammered around the waist for reinforcement and 5-6 more on the heel block. They also engrave the brand logo on the front which by the way, looks like a compass.
Very solid work and you can see from the picture the beveling of the waist and the fiddleback. I feel the last looks better from the bottom.
Here’s where things could be a little better on my pair. The interior lining has the classic natural/orange color with a more creme half insole. CNES glues the insole but on the left pair the front part didn’t have any glue and is very loose.
The connection between the lining and the upper was a little sloppy on the very top part but overall looks very solid and is insignificant considering the price you pay. A little nice detail is the brand logo making yet another appearance embossed on the insole.
How Did I Size?
There is some confusion surrounding the sizing of CNES Shoes. Why? Let’s use your typical US 9 as an example. A US 9 corresponds to a UK 8, or an EU 42. CNES however have their own measuring system without decimals and half-sizes. This normalized sizing system begins from 35 all the way to 54. Specifically, the US 9 corresponds to a CNES 44.
This means that you should be extra careful selecting your size so don’t go around taking a 44 thinking it’s a US 11! I advise you to look at the Sizing Guide and contact CNES through E-mail or Instagram to ensure you pick the correct size.
In the description of the Vestan it says the last has a narrow fit. I recently started wearing UK 8 on most of my shoes for comfort and they sent me a UK 8.5 on this shoes (CNES 43). As you will see in the next section, it was the correct choice.
For reference here are some of my fits:
- Carmina Rain: UK 8
- Carlos Santos 234: UK 7.5
- Carlos Santos 401: UK 8
- Loake Capital: UK 8
Worth mentioning is the fact that CNES Shoemaker offers 3 different types of width. Those are E, EE and EEE which correspond to Narrow, Regular and Wide.
Great, But Do They Fit Well?
Initially when I inspected the shoes they looked rather slim and narrow. I wondered how my foot will fit in them. However the fit is pretty decent. I can certainly feel that it is a more narrow fitting so if you have a wide foot you should look for another model.
The heel cup hugs my heel well without slipping and the last does a decent job at accommodating my higher instep. My right foot has a 0.5 cm higher instep than my left which is a significant difference and I can certainly feel it wearing the shoe. It is not uncomfortable, but I feel my instep pushing the uppers.
A good fit for RTW and definitely the right move to size up half from your regular.
Tip: Be extra careful with the soles on flat, sleek surfaces and carpets as they can be quite slippery!
Buy Or Pass?
This is always a subjective question. For a price of 270$ you get a good shoe that can stand the test of time. You do need to take into account customs and taxes as well as shipping costs that vary depending on region. Would I pay 400$ for this pair? No I would not. Would I pay the 190$ it costs during the sale? Absolutely!
I feel their retail price is quite fair and the fact that you can get a Blake shoe during sales for 100$ is unreal value. Additionally, CNES offers a wide range of models and colors for all tastes. I entertained the idea of the croc/calf horse-bit loafers for example.
Ultimately, you will make your own decisions but I don’t think you would be disappointed. I have friends and customers that own CNES and they share the same opinion as me that they are decent shoes.
Check Out The Video Review!
Are you more of a visual type? Check out the Video Review instead!
And that was my Review of the CNES Shoemaker Wholecut Oxford. A solid, well-built shoe for a fair price and good value. Certainly worth a try if you are looking for something new especially if you can get them on sale. The people at CNES have laid the foundation for something great for sure. I suggest you keep track and follow their Styleforum Affiliate Thread where you can discuss and ask questions or stay up to date with the latest news and releases.
I would love to hear your opinions about these shoes, or even better any personal experience you have with CNES. You can let me know in the comments down below. In the meantime, enjoy your week and I will see you soon with another article! If you are new and enjoy the content, please consider Subscribing! It means a lot to me!
Thank you for reading,