On a recent trip to Europe, I was fortunate enough to swing by the Spanish island of Mallorca to visit Carmina Shoemaker, makers of what many consider to be the perfect luxury Chelsea boot.
The brand has tremendous stature in the industry of Goodyear welted shoes, and they deserve the hype. Their presence on Mallorca was established back in 1866 — predating the Goodyear welt itself — and is today managed by the family’s fifth generation of shoemakers.
Buying a pair of Carmina boots is a rite of passage for a lot of guys who are into quality footwear — you might think of them as the European Alden — and if anyone ever tells you that Chelseas can’t be dressy, send them to my Carmina Chelsea review video and watch their minds be blown. These shimmering calfskin boots are sock-comfortable yet look tremendous with a suit.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited to get an opportunity to tour their factory and learn about out how my boots were made, especially now that I’ve visited boot-making factories in New York City, Mexico, and Guatemala.
And Carmina has some shoemaking strategies that even I hadn’t seen before.
Carmina Shoemaker: Background
As mentioned earlier, the family has been making shoes in Mallorca for over 150 years old and has been operated by the same family the entire time.
Sandro Albaladejo, great great grandson of the founder and current Sales Director told me,
Carmina is a shoemaking company that comes from a long line of shoemakers that began in 1866 in the city of Inca, in Mallorca, Spain. My great, great grandfather Matias Pujadas founded the company, my parents formed the Carmina philosophy, and my siblings and I are in charge of the brand’s internal workings.
How Carmina Makes Luxury Chelsea Boots
“For a few years now, the Chelsea boot has become one of our star models in the men’s collection,” Albaladejo notes. “Here at Carmina, we can create our Chelseas with two pieces of leather or in a ‘wholecut,’ a one-piece Chelsea boot.”
It all starts with a simple block of wood.
Making the Last
Lasts are arguably the most important part of designing a boot. Best described as a foot-shaped mold that dictates the shape and comfort of a shoe or boot, one might assume that all lasts are largely identical attempts to approximate the shape of a human foot, but it’s not the case: there’s a huge variety in terms of the shape of the human arch, instep, heel, and more, plus lasts may be built to emphasize comfort, fashion, certain occasions and formality, and so on.
Carmina sells shoes with thirty different lasts, and the Chelseas are available in six. I put together a quick reference for you at the end of this article if you’re interested in checking them in more detail, as this can be one of the most important and confusing parts of buying a nice pair of boots. (If you’re ordering, make sure to double check which last the shoe is being sold under, as it can be confusing — you can have the same model number, like 80216, available in multiple lasts and leathers.)
Designing the Chelsea
Creating a single pattern for a new design can take 2 to 3 months. Specialists draft a pattern on paper before transferring it to a ‘hardboard’ template that will be used to cut or click the leather.
“The most challenging part of designing a Chelsea is making sure that the height and the width of the elastic go hand in hand with the design of the shoe last,” designer Enrique Simonet told me.
Selecting the Materials & Clicking
Carmina is perhaps best known for their box calf leather, which comes from either Germany or France depending on the color. Box calf is a very popular leather for Chelsea boots and dress shoes because it has a high shine, soft feel, and smooth appearance, with no visible grain or pebbling.
There’s an art form to matching the type of leather to the design, especially for Carmina, which keeps over 18,000 leather hides in stock. This is the science of clicking: selecting the right pieces of leather for a shoe so that they match aesthetically, so that they don’t show scars or blemishes, and so that they won’t wrinkle an undue amount. Carmina does all their clicking and cutting by hand.
“For the Chelsea boot, we use a high quality leather,” says Carmina’s master clicker, José Vicens. “We try to separate the higher quality ones from the leather that comes with more defects.”
“Where we make our Chelsea boot better than the rest is, of course, in the cut of the leather,” adds Albaladejo. “We choose completely clean leather, or as we would say ‘mirror-like’, so we can use big pattern pieces.”
[Related: See our review of the Carmina Chelsea!]
Stitching, Closing & Molding
The next part of the process is where all these disparate, disembodied parts begin to come together and form a recognizable boot.
The pieces of leather are assembled and stitched together; Chelseas usually use four pieces of leather (stitched under the elastic goring and down the back of the heel) but Carmina’s use two, though for their Whole Cut boots it’s only one single piece stitched at the heel.
“Once we have cut the pieces, we have a specialized molding process, where we manage to give the leather the curves that make our Chelsea boots so special,” Albaladejo explains.
Much is made about the elegant lasting of Carmina’s boots: the way the upper’s leather bulges slightly on the instep, the way that, on this Simpson last, there’s an almost imperceptibly vertical shape to the toe — like a little ski jump that offers a hair more space for your toes and manages to make a boot that’s both more “foot shaped” and more sleek and streamlined.
This is why a really important part of the Chelsea boot’s production at Carmina is their molding machines. What most people don’t know is that the intricately balanced shape of the boots needs a specialized molding machine that shapes the leather before it’s put onto the last. This is an extra step that’s practically unheard of.
Next, the leather is fitted over the last; because they were molded first, you have the advantage of having a boot that has a very snug fit over the last, which means a better fit for the wearer.
“To mount the boot we use these molds that we have developed so the leather stays in perfect condition, and, of course, without wrinkles,” said Albaladejo.
“It’s very important with a Chelsea is to make sure that everything is smooth,” adds Ioana Dinu, Carmina’s business development manager. “You have to make sure there’s no creasing happening, ”
Stitching the Welts and Soles
The next part of the construction is sewing the welts and adding the soles.
“All of our Chelseas are Goodyear welted and hand welted,” explains Albaladejo. “But for some years now we’ve also offered the option of a ‘soft’ or ‘flex’ Goodyear welting, which maintains the quality of the Goodyear but is much more flexible.”
If you’re going with a leather soled boot, an interesting touch is the closed channel stitching. If you look at the outsole, you won’t see stitching piercing through the leather, despite the Goodyear welt. This is because with closed channel stitching, the outsole is cut into, the leather is peeled back, it’s sewn into the welt, then the leather flap is glued back down. The result is a completely smooth outsole. It’s an aesthetic touch that many appreciate in high end shoes.
The final part is the finishing, which is more involved than one might think.
The craftspeople have to remove every imperfection from the boot and smooth the heel to a glossy sheen, and this requires a steady hand, a ton of sanding, and patience. They start by evening out the edges of the soles and trimming any extra material. Then they attach the heels, which are made in-house. After the edges have been smoothed, a team of painters dyes the sides and edges of the boots.
Laces and tassels are added before the boots are boxed up and sent out.
[SHOP CARMINA’S CHELSEA BOOTS HERE]
How to Pick a Carmina Last (Carmina Chelsea Last and Style Guide)
If you’re looking to pick up a pair of Chelsea boots from Carmina ,you have plenty of options — 25 to be exact.
I decided to put together a short guide based on the lasts, which I think is a good starting point because the last will influence the fit, the style, the leather, and the type of sole. Remember you have a different number for each model, but that model may come in multiple types of leather and lasts. So, you have to be careful.
We’ll start with their most common and versatile last.
The Rain Last: 80216, 80306, 80216, 80514
- Slightly Squared Toe
- Regular Instep
- More Room Across the Forepart
- More casual, but still a bit dressy
If you’re buying your first pair of Carmina boots, the Rain last is a good place to start.
This is a very versatile last and Carmina uses it on many footwear styles, from Oxfords to fur-lined zip boots and four styles of Chelsea, including their whole cuts.
The Rain is so diverse because it has a slightly squared toe. It’s not too narrow or chunky, so you get a boot that’s comfortable but has a classy look to it. I’d call it an elegant but practical fit that’s a great entry last as it fits the widest range of feet.
It’s actually quite impressive to see a last design that works equally well on a Split Toe boot as it does on an elegant whole cut Chelsea.
The Inca Last: 80186, 80809
- Round Toe
- High Instep
- Elegant and classy; often used with exotic and special leathers
Their Inca last is used on fancier more elegant boots, it has a more elongated appearance than the Rain last and rounder, roomier toe. It has a high instep.
You’ll find they use more exotic and interesting leathers like alligator and Vegeno calfskin leather.
The Simpson Last: 80216
- Squared-off Toe, slightly narrow toe compared to the Rain last
- Elongated forepart
- Simple, elegant look; some may call it minimalist
- A narrow E width
- Fashionable and elegant, often with a leather sole
- Customers often size half size up from your normal Carmina size
The Simpson is dressier last than the Rain, it’s also narrower — this is the last our own Chelsea boot is built on. If someone asked me what a classic European last would look like, I’d show them a picture of the Simpson, or at least a boot built on the Simpson last.
It’s long and narrow with a square toe, and that’s not going to be for everyone, especially if you’re used to American workboots and not European dress shoes.
The Sineu Last: 80738
- Rounded, slightly pointed toe
- Forgiving Instep
- Almond-shaped last
- Similar fit to the Rain last
- Formal, long
The Sineu is a great last for a business casual setting. It has an almond shape and shape that fits a wide range of feet.
Carmina makes two unlined Chelseas in this last, all are suede. Their 80738 boots are swanky and run the gauntlet from brown to bit daring in a dark Navy all come in Janus Calf from CF Stead.
They used their Flex Goodyear welt on many of these models which makes the boot lighter and more flexible; they also tend to use this last on boots with suede uppers and single leather soles. It’s very comfortable, perhaps a hair too round for dressy situations, but it’s not a casual last. Anything with a button down and no tie can work with these shoes.
The Forest Last: 810 Chelsea
- Rounded Toe
- Regular Instep
- More Room Across the Forepart
Some of their Chelseas, like the 810 models, use Carmina’s flagship Forest last. It’s a classic design that’s said to be a favorite of the Albaladejo family. Its most distinguishable features are the rounded toe, regular instep, and roomy forepart. For a gorgeous European Chelsea, this is the least formal: it’s roomy and round in the toe, looking great under jeans.
Didn’t we promise six lasts and there are only five? That’s because the sixth last is a bit mysterious: they call it the Lloret and there’s not a ton of information about it. It’s only found on the 80844 and Carmina only says it fits similarly to the Rain and Inca lasts, that said, it’s a tad less sleek and more casual than those models.
There you have it: a very in-depth look at how Carmina makes their Chelsea boots and what separates them from the rest.
I’m a big fan of mine and as a casual guy who seldom dresses up, it’s my favorite part of wearing a suit. I have quite a few Chelsea boots from a wide range of manufacturers, so they’ve had some pretty stiff competition.
If you’re looking for a classier boot than a US workboot, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something nicer.