When faced with a decision of which pair of shoes to choose from Heinrich Dinkelacker—the 140-years-young German brand which creates some of the more unboundedly distinctive and specific footwear in the entire world—the mind can lock a bit. Heinrich Dinkelacker (or, the company which bears his name; the founder isn’t around anymore) had reached out about sending a pair over for review. I was familiar with the company’s work, seeing countless photos on Instagram, largely in Japan and other Asian countries, but I’d never beheld one in person.
The shoes are…striking, which is likely far too soft a term. Incomparable might be another.
So of course now, let’s talk comparisons. Dinkelacker’s signature shoe is the Buda, short for Budapester. The Budapester sprung from the shoemaking tradition of—in a turn that will shock no one—Budapest, Hungary, where Dinkelacker relocated to from its founding city of Sindelfingen, Germany in the 1960s. The traditional Budapester is as full as a full brogue can get, all loud decorative perforations, including on the heel. The style is also typified by an open, or derby, lacing system (as opposed to the closed lacing system of the sleeker oxford), and a distinctive last shape. Full is yet another understatement to describe that last; all Dinkelacker Budas’ standard width is G.
Budapsters—interestingly known as Karlsbaders in their home country—were originally designed, much like similarly chunky English country shoes, to shod the feet of people putting their shoes through hard wear in wet countrysides and later, rough city streets. Today, a small handful of shoemakers continue to create Budapesters, most notably Vass, which has hand-welted Budapesters and countless other styles in the shoe’s namesake city since 1978. Heinrich Dinkelacker’s Budas are relatively honest to the style’s traditional design cues, including the high toe that’s more of a fortress wall than the gentle rolling slope you’ll see on most shoes.
Back to my decision. I thought about the Buda, mainly because it’s the Buda. But it also scared me. Was it just too much shoe? What would I wear it with? I love people asking me about my shoes, but would everyone want a piece when I wore them?
I thought about the Rio, a very similar shoe to the Buda, although its lack of a pronounced sole and welt extending out around the shoe threw off the proportions a bit for me (despite being frightened by a shoe that was maybe too much shoe, I couldn’t convince myself that the similar shoe, that was less shoe, was the right shoe. Go figure.). I decided, ultimately, on Dinkelacker’s shell cordovan Luzern full brogue, something of an austerity brogue that just got a cash infusion: the wingtip toe cap is clean other than some quiet perforations ringing it.
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When I got the Luzerns, it was clear a mistake had been made. The shoes were beautiful, to be sure. But I had underestimated how sculpted the toe was—I like a more rounded toe, even on my dressier shoes. That was not my folly, however. The shoe was too muted. If I was going to own a pair of Dinkelackers, why was I trying to go undercover about it?
So a swap was made. The Luzerns got sent back—after some photos of course—and in came the Budas in dark cognac Horween shell cordovan (although I briefly considered saying screw it and really going for it with the blue shell). And as soon as I saw them, my fear dissolved. They were, without question, an astoundingly beautiful shoe. A screamer, absolutely, but also essentially a work of art. Photos had driven my fear; in person, they were a just-right pot of porridge. On my feet, even better.
The exhaustive brogue detailing tends to be the first thing people notice, with good reason. The perforations seem to cover 50% of the shoe, and the toe detailing is un-humble—but why should it be otherwise? The cognac shell is a deeply compelling and very versatile color that looks completely different in just about every lighting situation, and promises to age beautifully and interestingly.
But then comes the real showstopper: the mind-bending welt stitch winding 360 degrees atop the sole. Completely executed by hand in a method called Goyser-welting (also known as reverse-welting), two pieces of leather are braided with themselves and a thread to create an arresting effect—partially because it’s simply something you don’t see all that often. While it’s certainly intentionally decorative, the construction also allegedly provides a strong waterproofing seal. With these shoes, I’m honestly not sure I plan on testing that out too much.
I also love how the three-eyelet lacing system sits up very high on the shoe, allowing for the small ocean of beautiful cordovan vamp to run up from the wingtip toe cap as it transitions into the tongue. The shoe needs that; it provides a perfect aesthetic balance that just so slightly counteracts the extensive brogueing.
And like many a great shoe, extensive thought is given to what few will ever see—the outsole. The JR pit-tanned double soles are absolutely beautiful, branded with a Heinrich Dinkelacker signature and studded with separate six-brass-pin triangles (plus five more on the heel).
So what are these things like on your feet? In some ways, they’re massive—the G width is very loyal to the letter’s position in the alphabet. The sheer width of JR leather underfoot on the double sole is a sight to behold; the waist is the opposite of delicately tapered. After initially botching the sizing on the Luzerns (not why I sent them back, although it did provide a handy excuse to recenter myself towards the Budas), I ended up going down 1.5 sizes from my typical US dress shoe size. But with that size drop, they fit wonderfully. Interestingly, despite all that leather underfoot, and the seemingly nuke-proof construction, the shoe is not as heavy as you might think. I picked one up in one hand, and my Alden color 8 shell longwings in the other, and the Dinkelackers, I’m pretty sure, were a touch lighter—and definitely not heavier.
Do they embrace my foot like a bespoke shoe would, or even an upscale oxford on a perfect last? Not exactly. But the fit is firmly in the snug range, and they were comfortable basically right out of the box, which has only improved as I’ve worn in those JRs with some heavy city walking.
Are Heinrich Dinkelackers, or Budapsters in general, for everyone? No. And that’s exactly the point. It’s a rare shoe, and a head-turner, but only once you have them on your feet do you realize that you’re going to find as many excuses to wear them as possible.
And now, because why not, enjoy some more photos of Heinrich Dinkelacker shoes being constructed.