Robust Reality - Modular Canvas Shoes

“If you’re going to spend money, spend it on good shoes or a good bed; because if you’re not in one - you’re in the other!” A mantra for living, shared by the always effervescent David McKendrick, when I collared him to tell me about his latest footwear purchase. As an art director with something to say about most things, it was easy to get him rolling on the subject of shoes. He’s been striding about in his new Studio Nicholson Sharps for about a month now and was only too happy to pause for twenty so I could start my interrogation into how things have panned out since they plopped onto his doormat.

“Shoes like these - well, they’re a vehicle for stories. As soon as I opened the box, there was this overwhelming smell that transported me straight back to my 13-year-old self. Pure rubber. There’s nothing that evokes the excitement of new shoes quite like that aroma. It was immediate nostalgia and flashbacks to Boxfresh Hi-Tec or some Gola.”

It’s the same for almost all of us - the association with canvas shoes and childhood. Where I grew up (in Yorkshire) we called them ‘sannies’. Primary school regulations outlawed outdoor shoes indoors, so we all changed into our ‘sannies’ the minute we hung up our duffle coats. When not in use (which was rare), we kept them in cotton gingham bags with our names on. Seemed like such a quaint ritual, but I’m guessing the headmaster just wanted to keep the corridors quiet and clean - and protect those hallowed parquet floors.

That JND (just noticeable difference) is what differentiates the new Studio Nicholson Sharp and Numbers canvas shoes from your average plimsoll. Originally, plimsolls were developed back in the 1830s for wearing on the beach - these versions are quite the opposite. Seriously robust, they’re engineered from a cotton canvas so densely woven and strong, that they are fit for purpose; even when the weather turns rotten. Not to mention the layers (and layers) of vulcanised natural rubber - all applied by hand in Spain, by a small factory known for producing some of the world’s finest canvas shoes.

Designed as a shoe - not a plimsoll, the latest additions to the Studio Nicholson footwear line-up have all the carefully crafted high notes of something much more formal. In short, you’ll struggle to ‘wear them out' because they’ve been manufactured to withstand more steps than your pedometer can handle. Look at them through the same lens you would with say, a Northampton-made brogue. They’ve been built to last. 

McKendrick turns up the voltage on this explanation by remarking that on first wear, he felt he could easily “survive being struck by lightning - twice”. He’s not wrong. They’re weightier than you’d expect, with a character that is part all-weather welly/part bench-made shoe/part perfect canvas plimsoll. A cocktail of brilliance with pure leather insoles that make the daily trudge feel all the more sophisticated.

I took my new Dove-coloured versions for a spin around Sheffield with a cashmere sock. Unlike an over-easy leisure shoe, these ones gave my 48-year-old feet a reassuringly firm cuddle with the arch equivalent of the lumbar support you’d get with a Herman Miller Aeron chair - AKA - a bloody good investment that's worth every penny.

Co-founder and creative director of Commission Studio, Christopher Moorby, echoes my love letter to the Sharp low tops. A former Moonstar devotee, he shifted allegiance over to the Sharp shoes for a catalogue of (very valid) reasons. As a bloke who likes to run, he’s careful about his footwear choices. Nobody needs pre-marathon bunions. Track days aside, Chris admitted that he doesn’t “have the energy (or inclination) to keep up with the sneaker market. I hate the whole idea of the resale thing; new colourways weekly or entering a raffle to try and ‘win’ a chance to buy the latest designs.

Part of the appeal of a paired-back approach is to be moving actively against the hype. Something that will be as relevant to my wardrobe in the coming years as it is to me today. This is really important to me and I’ve dressed with this attitude for a long time now. I look at pictures from 5, even 10 years ago, and can safely say that I’d wear everything in those pictures today. In fact, I still have most of it (which creates a different problem…). Anyway, I can see myself in these Studio Nicholson bumpers for years ahead. The chestnut colour is also spot on; so deep and rich, which adds to that shoe-like quality. The leather insoles are also great. Better for your sock longevity too! It’s a bit of a secret deluxe touch - just for the wearer.”

As we parted ways, Moorby confessed that he’d deliberately splashed through a few puddles whilst wearing his Sharps that morning, and had arrived at the Studio with socks still bone dry. Unintentionally, these shoes have brought out the childlike playfulness in both blokes - and myself. It’s a noun synonymous with Studio Nicholson and the modular wardrobe - so in that sense, they’ve done their job.