Norwegian Split-toe derbies have a truly ‘marmite effect’ on shoe lovers, eliciting equal amounts of passion and vitriol based upon their distinctive profile and decidedly unique styling.
The style itself originates somewhere in Northern Europe. One version of the origin story tells of Norwegian fishermen seeking to minimize the amount of water entering their shoes by minimizing the seams at the welt level. A conflicting story tells of English navigational engineers (colloquially termed navvies) working in similarly moist conditions along railways and canals, and creating the design for these needs.
Although the earliest recorded examples of the shoes are found in England, the name Norwegian has been adopted around the world, with the noticeable exception of the hide-bound cloisters of John Lobb St. James, who still refer to the shoe as the navvy cut.
Due to the lengthy name, this article will henceforth abbreviate the style to NST, which is obviously preferred to the oft-used acronym for split-toe derby.
The design itself has several notable features first of which is its’ namesake, the split toe. Either machine or hand-sewn, this split serves to enable large side patterning with minimal stitching. This can be a very obtrusive open machine stitch, or a very subtle ‘skin stitch’ requiring huge technical sewing prowess. The budget allocated will very much determine the level of handwork involved in this process.
Secondly, the ‘apron’ on the vamp is attached to the stitched toe via either a machine or hand stitch. This again ranges from simple machine stitching to elaborate ‘pie crust’ apron, of which several beautiful examples will be investigated. The facings can be attached in either standard open derby fashion, or in a style reminiscent of a Blucher, but done in a continuous piece of leather. This feature does much to determine the character of the shoe.
Finally, the heel can be enclosed in a separate heel counter or made all in one piece with the forepart.
The NST is often found in a variety of embossed scotch/hatch grain leathers and suedes. This perfectly suits their character as a casual, functional shoe with added water resistance.
At the higher end, antiqued calves can be found on some exceptional models, which take the shoes to a level of formality that could work under a more casual suit, with a correspondingly formal last of course.
The shoe is a perfect match for sports jackets, wool trousers, chinos, and even chore coats. This is perhaps why the model has undergone a recent style renaissance; it so perfectly suits the interstitial styles of ‘elegant casual’ and ‘relaxed professional’ permeating the world now.
The best last styles for this shoe are either a more symmetrical almond last with a hint of elongation or a subtly chiseled toe, which highlights the toe seam. Details of the shoe can vary wildly, with some models sporting rubber soles and storm welts, others with refined ‘spade’ out-soles made with closed-channel oak-bark tanned leather.
As with other articles in this series, options at three levels of expense will be recommended: Attainable (under $400 USD), Advanced ($400-$800 USD), and Aspirational (over $800 USD). Thanks to the proliferation of the style in recent years, fantastic options abound at each level.
Some of the new entrants into this price range offer phenomenal upper leathers and quality finishing for the price. Expect quality grained leather and suedes and durable, if unremarkable bottom materials and finishing. What is hard to expect in this price range is any level of handwork. Astoundingly, one option is available that does provide a hand-sewn apron and toe. Heritage manufacture can also be found in this price range, with some caveats.
Option 1: Carlos Santos 9131 in Guimares Grain
This lovely model is found in the range of Portuguese manufacturer Carlos Santos. Despite having made shoes since 1942, worldwide awareness and distribution have only gained traction in the last decade. Making Goodyear-welted shoes in Portugal with adventurous lasts and designs, and gaining notoriety for their factory patina options, they have erupted onto the global footwear scene.
This model is built upon the beautifully almond-toed 401 last, which paradoxically lends a distinctly casual elegance. The sharpness of the toe provides subtle modernity, while the overall shape is more casual and roomy, perfect for such a shoe that bridges formal and casual so effortlessly.
The pebble-grain upper, combined with the ‘Guimares patina’ add a huge amount of visual texture to this model. Most incredibly are the hand-stitched apron and toe, which are done in a raised fashion, and add immeasurably to the sophistication of this NST.
With a practical and rugged Dainite rubber sole, this shoe would sing underneath a pair of grey flannels, dark green blazer, denim shirt, and golden socks.
Option 2: Sons of Henrey George in Dark Brown Utah Calf
The brainchild of Belgian Tom Brone, this new footwear brand merges classically English lasts and upper designs, the best quality leathers from France and Italy, and exceptional Spanish Goodyear-welted make into a tour de force of modern shoe craft.
The dimensionally-perfect George NST is one of the key models for the brand and shows a strong dedication to design harmony. Uppers in Tannerie Haas’ Utah leather are a massively premium upgrade, commonly found on shoes priced many factors higher. Plain, but very clean machine-stitched toe, apron, and Dainite soles are dependable and practical.
The lovely last was developed in conjunction with Northampton’s Spring Line, which manufactures nearly all of the lasts for the large factories based there.
This model sports a ‘contemporary almond’ last, a slightly symmetrical and elongated model which strikes a lovely balance between visual aggressiveness and versatility. This pair would sit very nicely with navy chinos, a brown suede Valstarino jacket, and forest green socks.
Option 3: Loake 1880 Ealing in Dark Brown Suede
Slightly softer in both form and texture, this model from English brand Loake brings a more casual and relaxed nature to the style. The presence of a classic derby-style facing and the lack of a rear counter also redistribute the proportions of the shoe somewhat.
This subtle model reinforces what English manufacturers do best, solid, dependable shoes that blend into the background. Although not explicitly stated, the uppers appear to be Repello suede from English stalwarts CF Stead. This model is Goodyear welted in England (although some of the uppers may be closed in India) and uses the popular soft chisel Capital last, which offers a roomy forefoot fitting.
The addition of a single leather sole nicely finished with an open-channel sole bespeaks the comfort-driven intent of this NST. This model would suit being worn with tan cavalry twill trousers, tan socks, and a barley-corn hacking jacket, perhaps on a driving tour of Switzerland…
In this range, the spectrum of availability widens to incorporate classical Goodyear-welted style models to highly stylized hand-welted models. Upper leathers remain similar to the previous price range, but the level of handwork rises exponentially. Expect some level of handwork, finer details of make, and more sophisticated lasts, or at least bulletproof construction from a heritage maker.
Option 1: TLB Mallorca Artista 135 in Negro Country Calf
TLB Mallorca’s Artista range was developed in conjunction with bespoke footwear expert and editor of the fantastic Shoegazing blog, Jesper Ingevaldsson. As befits his input, these models bring a plethora of bespoke details such as finely beveled waists (in leather and rubber soles as shown here), full leather heel stiffeners, elegant lasts, and tightly clipped heels.
This model is obviously built in Mallorca, on the Velasquez last, which was influenced by the bespoke lasts created by Japanese artisans. It features a soft square toe and a slightly wider toe box while maintaining a tight waist and supportive arch.
A hand-stitched apron and gorgeously fine blind toe-stitch reinforce the ‘bespoke feel’ of this shoe. The patterning and last work very well together and are complemented here by an upper in Tannery du Puy’s scotch grain leather. This leather was developed in conjunction with Crockett & Jones, who asked the tannery to produce a specific grained leather that retained the full-grain surface, along with its characteristic beauty and durability.
This model presents a unique opportunity to put a modern spin on the ‘menswear uniform’. Worn with burgundy socks, grey Glen Urquhart plaid trousers, a dark blue blazer, and a blue oxford shirt, this shoe would provide a signature stylistic touch.
Alternatively, you can also check here to see how our founder, Linus Chu, pairs his brown variant.
Option2: Yeossal Thomson in Oxblood Russian Grain
While the previous pair of shoes barely enter into this category in terms of price, this model requires significantly higher investment. Don’t think for a moment, however, that this fact would make this pair overpriced. Rather, this model provides what is undoubtedly one of the best value propositions in all of men’s fine footwear.
Fully hand-welted in the renowned Xibao shoe ‘factory’ in Shanghai. The shoes produced in this location (more a workshop than a factory in scale) rival the very best European and Japanese makers, with an attention to detail that is completely unthinkable for the price. Yeossal, the Singaporean custom tailoring house that designed and distributes this model has created a true modern classic.
Built on the svelte chiseled last with sweeping quarters, the thick leather insole necessitated by hand welting will guarantee comfort for years, and an almost unlimited number of resoles. Keep in mind that this aggressive last may not be a perfect fit for those with slightly wider feet.
The skin-stitched toe is complemented by a beautiful ‘pie-crust’ apron, both stitched with a boar’s bristle. Perhaps the most unique feature of this shoe is the ‘spade sole’, a design feature seen on high-end shoes from the thirties and forties, but now virtually impossible to find outside of bespoke. The gorgeous upper leather is Horween’s hatch grain, in a highly versatile yet distinctive oxblood colour. Pair these with charcoal worsted trousers, an oatmeal sports jacket, and a denim shirt for a high-contrast and visually striking combination.
Option 3: Alden NST in Hummus Suede
Although perhaps lacking the sharpness of other models thus examined, this classic NST from American heritage brand Alden presents a compelling casual style. Chunky commando soles, the modern round toe Aberdeen last (Alden’s narrowest toe-box), and a beefy reverse welt all contribute to the visual solidity of this shoe.
The suede uppers meet the Goodyear welt in a factory located in Massachusetts, an important fact for the many advocates of US manufacturing. The versatile shade of brown suede works well with the machine-stitched raised toe and apron bead (they are not separate panels), and the classic derby facings and heel counter for a very unpretentious design.
This shoe would suit similarly chunky clothing, such as a pair of brown corduroys, a navy shawl-collar sweater, and a Tattersall shirt in the depths of winter, where the commando soles would truly prove their own. Another benefit of these soles is that they minimise the amount of material needed for resoling.
Here we encounter the evergreen classics that have come to define this genre of shoe style. Heritage make, the best quality materials and designs finessed over many decades are the expected norm. Interestingly hand-welting, hand-lasting, and hand-sewn uppers are not necessarily found on all models, with a trade-off occurring for brand recognition. Nevertheless, you can be guaranteed that in whatever style the shoes are made, they will be finished immaculately and look virtually flawless.
Option 1: Edward Green Dover in Dark Oak
Considered by many the Platonic ideal upon which all other NSTs are measured, this model has been a cornerstone in Edward green’s catalog for much of its’ illustrious 130-year history, and can currently be found in no less than nineteen individual makeups.
Perhaps the most iconic of all is the Dark Oak calf on the 606 last. The 606 is a very soft chisel last with lovely proportions that suit the patterning just so. The ‘burnishing calf’ upper leather is an extremely selectively clicked (cut) hide from an undisclosed French tannery, whose surface is buffed, finished, and polished to perfection, producing a gorgeous patina from the factory.
The hand-sewn apron and toe are on par for the course at this point, as are the flawless sole and upper finishing. Given the beautiful mid-brown shade and seasonal versatility of this model, it could be worn with a tan and brown houndstooth jacket, denim shirt, navy socks, and off-white trousers.
Option 2: J M Weston Demi-chasse in Brown Box Calf
This model from JM Weston will win no medals purely on a specification level, although its' cult status is still truly deserved. It is Goodyear-welted with a fully machine-sewn toe and apron, done in a unique ‘French apron’ style, in which the apron sits over the toe pattern pieces.
This shoe is made entirely in the Limoge factory from the finest French calf, thanks in part to JM Westons’ ownership of some of the most prestigious French tanneries. The shoe features a classically round Ogive last - which suits high-volume feet well - and a sturdy storm welt.
The out-sole and heels are made from Bastin & Fils leather, an ultra-slow tanned oak bark tannery that guarantees the longevity of the shoe, as does the included toe-cap.
To reinforce this model’s le style Anglaise associations, try pairing it with a grey flannel sports jacket, a pink oxford shirt, and olive chinos.
Option 3: Antonio Meccariello Centurion in Aglianico Vintage Box Calf
These stunning shoes are made in Mecariello’s workshop in the Benevento region of Italy. Recalling the practices of yore, where outworkers would be members of community shoe-making cooperatives producing handmade footwear, the creations of this studio are truly breathtaking.
First gaining notoriety on the feet of elegant Neapolitans, the marque has seen worldwide praise for its striking lasts (the lovely Argentum round in this case), impeccable finishing, and committed handwork. Entirely hand-lasted and hand-welted on its chiseled last, this model pushes the upper boundaries of elegance attainable for this shoe design.
In a lovely aubergine colour (named Aglianico after an endemic grape varietal), this shoe could be worn with a casually-cut dove grey linen suit, white shirt, and navy grenadine tie for a sophisticated summer ensemble.
A true style chameleon, the NST deserves a place in any well-dressed man’s footwear wardrobe. From chinos to worsted trousers and even casual suits, this shoe can deliver a unique but subtle point of differentiation. Pick whichever model suits your stylistic sensibilities, a round-toed last and grained leather, or sleek calfskin on a chiseled last, the options are endless.
Disclaimer: Any views represented in this article belong solely to the author and may not represent those of the blog owner. This article is not sponsored by any brands.
Photography: as stated, otherwise own