A New Emerging Brand
Welcome to my Review of the Cru Nonpareil Hand-welted single monk straps.
This is a pilot testing of their new, upcoming hand-welted range and Misiu Academy is the first to get a hands on look.
As always, we are going to take a close look at the features, quality and value for money alongside expert thoughts.
New Beginnings For A Friend
Cru Nonpareil is a passion side-project of Kenwin Small from Trinidad & Tobago.
Over the years, me and Kenwin have become good friends and speak weekly about things.
He has a clear passion for shoes, which he tries to transmit to the rest of the Trinis (and the world) and it’s very commendable.
Other than speaking about shoes, my favorite thing to do is spam him with memes, strangely dressed people and teasing him about Arsenal.
He is a great guy and his knowledge about the technical aspects increases all the time.
His brand name is Cru Nonpareil which is a bit of a tongue twister for English speakers.
Currently, he produces shoes in collaboration with Bespoke Factory in Spain which are Goodyear Welted.
If you follow the blog, you know I have beef with Bespoke Factory due to their name and aggressive marketing jargon.
Also, the fact that everyone and their grandmother can open a shop and use the stock photos while pretending it’s original bothers me.
Kenwin on the other hand actually cares and takes his own photos and tries to offer a unique experience.
As for the shoes themselves, they have always been fairly priced and decent quality.
To take things to another level, he now commissioned some samples with a workshop in China to produce a Hand-welted range for an affordable price.
He sent me this sample to do a review and give him some well-needed feedback.
Let’s take a close look at today’s pair before we go into the in-depth review:
- Brand: Cru Nonpareil (Website)
- Style: Single Monk Strap
- Leather: Calfskin (Patina)
- Construction: Hand-welted
- Outsole: Leather
- Made In: China
- Price: $515 USD
Currently things are subject to change, so please excuse me if something is not correct if you browse.
At first glance, the price is competitive (but not unheard of) so it all comes down to how good the shoes actually are.
Unboxing & Delivery
For the first time in a shoe review, I will not show you the unboxing experience.
The reason is that there wasn’t any.
A beaten generic oversized box with some standard shoe bags and the shoes in them.
However, it is very important to remember that this was a sample and the final product will have a proper box.
Looking at Cru Nonpareil’s reviews and pictures online, the unboxing experience looks solid.
The shoes shipped to Sweden directly from China in a matter of 2-3 business days.
DHL Express never ceases to amaze me with their delivery times.
A recurring theme of shoes coming out of Asia is a potent chemical smell when you open the box.
An exception was Acme Shoemaker (Review) however both Yearn Shoemaker (Review) and Bridlen (Review) smelled of chemicals.
Bridlen in particular smelled like 7 week old roadkill unfortunately.
The chemical could be either from the adhesive used inside the shoe or it could be from spray painting the leather color.
In this case, the Cru Nonpareil shoe smelled too much and I suspect it was due to the finishing method.
Specifically, some form of coating on the outer layer.
While the smell disappears after a few hours in fresh air, it is still a bad first impression.
I gave Kenwin my feedback which I hope he passes to them if he continues working with this new factory.
As for the aesthetics, I can already tell you that this is not a shoe that I like very much.
I am a huge fan of single monk straps but there is something peculiar about this design.
This double row of stitching creating a balmoral pattern at the base of the buckle throws me off a bit.
It can be divisive but I am sure there will be some people that love it.
As an actual shoe, I found some topics I will discuss with you but overall looks very solid for the price.
Since these shoes actually belong to Kenwin, he will be the one giving feedback about the leather.
All I can tell you right now is that it looks good and is rather soft.
It’s also high quality leather from Ilcea and finished by hand in the workshop.
I must admit I was quite skeptical about the finishing due to the smell and wondered if they spray paint the color.
However, as you can see from the images it seems like they use a mix of sponge and brush.
This was an important verification since we approaching a price point where we shouldn’t cut so many corners.
The leather itself has a museum-like look, which was what Kenwin was intentionally going for.
It looks good and seems to absorb dye very well as you can see from the photos.
Due to the coating, I am curious to see how easily the leather would be saturated when polishing.
A good first impression and in line with the price point expectations.
I would love to cut the shoe open to see what’s really inside.
We don’t have this luxury so I will have to observe what’s visible.
The first thing I checked was the balance of the shoe which was actually quite good.
That’s when you put the shoe on a flat surface and use your hand or thumb to see if the shoe wiggles when you push the instep.
I know that these shoes are hand-lasted and hand-welted with a 10 SPI machine outsole stitching.
Very fair and they even quote using leather toe puffs and stiffeners.
It’s a solid shoe alright and they use the traditional method of hand-welting based on the pictures.
A thing I dislike is the sloppy way they attached the backseam, but it might be a biproduct of the design.
I checked the inside, the exterior for bumps and uneven areas and run my fingers across the entire shoe.
Overall a solid experience.
Stitching & Details
The stitching is an area where this shoe lacks compared to other brands.
Some of it was uneven and the balmoral type is hard to work in this kind of shoe.
My problem is that the double row stitching has too much space in-between, whereas I would prefer a folded or single row if possible.
The biggest issue occurs in the backseam just as I aforementioned in the previous section.
With a double row stitching the backseam has to go all the way to the top with a wavy, non-flush look.
Of course this is nitpicking since nobody will be looking with a microscope the back of your shoes.
It was that area where the stitching was a bit more sloppy but I’ve seen worse.
On the other hand, the sole stitching was pretty good, consistent and polished.
The interior was a bit tricky as the sockliner had big jagged edges.
It was also a full sockliner going all the way to the front, which is rarer for hand-welted shoes.
I should also mention the unique medallion which was Kenwin’s idea.
Personally I am not a fan, but it’s what he wanted plus it’s customizable.
Not the best work for the money, however you are trading some things off for the lasting and welting by hand.
Outsole & bOTTOM
The bottom part is always interesting to look at as each maker has their own signature.
This one is a closed channel leather sole with a gold toe plate for added protection.
Speaking about the toe plate, it’s pretty good, flush and looks nice.
The heel block has a rather strange shape that I am not a fan of.
While the execution and polishing is pretty good, I dislike the waist part of it.
It has this protruding, diagonal shape and triggered my ocd.
I would prefer a straight cut and not mess with the proportions.
This could be something the maker does as his signature or to differentiate, but I am not a fan.
Of course, it will have absolutely no impact on the performance or the aesthetics while you wear them.
Cru Nonpareil Hand-welted Last
The last these monks are on is the TTO1, which they describe as an almond toe.
I would say it leans more towards a soft medium round toe which reminds me the F Last from Vass.
Since these are MTO options, I am sure you will have the freedom to choose between lasts.
This one is not bad actually, but I personally love almond and soft square shapes.
For this model and design however it looks more appropriate than a chiseled aggressive shape.
CRU Nonpareil Fit Advice
You see, the strength of Cru Nonpareil is it’s focus on sizes, widths and custom experiences.
Kenwin in particular can provide service for those with very wide, very large feet.
I think he can go all the way up to US 18 and multiple widths.
At the same time, this means I cannot give you sizing advice since there is an individual experience for everyone.
Kenwin will assist you personally, help with measurements and try to produce the best fit possible.
How To Buy Cru Nonpareil?
Kenwin only has an online store that focuses on MTO and rarely some capsule RTW drops.
To Commission your pair or ask for further information, please email him here.
Should YOu Buy?
This is a very complicated question to answer.
For a person with my taste, experience and collection it would make no sense to go for something like this.
At $515 it becomes quite hard to put your faith in a rather emerging brand when there are so many good, established options out there.
On the other hand if you have weird feet and want to try something more handmade, this might actually be for you.
You get an MTO experience with solid service, good materials and solid construction.
Going all the way to US 18 and up to EEE widths, it’s a blessing for those of you with such feet.
Allen Edmonds is an option, but you should rather douse yourself in petrol and light a match than get those.
My advice to Kenwin is to keep giving feedback to all his workshops and make the experience the best he can.
The chemical smell out of the box was the biggest negative for me and something that is easily fixed.
Regardless, it should not deter you from trying it out as it is a solid shoe.
This brings us to the end of my Review of Cru Nonpareil and their newly launched hand-welted MTO range.
It was a solid execution with room for improvement and polishing.
I am sure current clients will be very interested and Kenwin’s passion and involvement is evident.
As for me, I am sure I will have something great to share with you in the following weeks!
Thank you for reading,