When I first came across Paraboot years back—which I’m pretty sure were a pair of Michaels, their quite distinctive Tyrolean shoe—my initial thoughts were: ok, these things are weird. And I still do not believe that is an incorrect assessment! But 1) they’re less truly weird than maybe I was struck by initially, and 2) weird can be very good, when wielded correctly.
Paraboot wields weird well. One of the reasons I love the French shoemaker’s Avignon is that it pulls those elements of funkiness, and sifts them through a colander of class and distinction—not terribly delicately, thankfully, because then you’ve got yourself just another shoe. No: Paraboots must be distinctive, even when they don’t scream it aloud. This shoe certainly is. And I love it.
The Brass Tacks
Model: Avignon in Brown Grain Leather
Price: $495, purchased from Drake’s
Months Worn: 12
Worn How Often?: On average, about once a week for those five months
How I Cared for Them: Cedar shoe trees always inserted when not being worn; wiped clean whenever dirty; brushed just a little bit periodically; no conditioning whatsoever
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A Brief History of Paraboot
Paraboot founder Rémy-Alexis cut his shoe-teeth by making more elegant, dressier stuff before partially inventing the rubber sole revolution and conceiving of Paraboot. For decades they made a line of dressier but (very uniquely at the time) rubber-soled shoes, before shifting gears into heartier walking footwear and shoes for farmers, hunters, and all sorts of craftsmen who were on their feet all day and put whatever was on their feet through hell.
In the 40s, Paraboot birthed the still-famed Michael, but also began crafting legitimate mountaineering boots, and things got heartier and heartier until the business became the opposite, with Paraboot filing for bankruptcy in the 80s after a decade of decline. But the company was brought back from the brink. In the late 80s and 90s, Paraboot was reborn with a far more fashion-driven outlook, which it has continued, with considerable success, to this day.
Paraboot Avignons, I’d say, are far from purely weird. Their split-toe, apron-front pattern is a classic look and highly reminiscent of a particular favorite shoe of mine, the also-French JM Weston Demi-Chasse. Paraboot adds a fun swoop from the almost-top of the eyelets to the heel counter, and I like the bit of flair and deformalization that adds. I also really enjoy that they don’t feel to loooong, which shoes of this type can at times. But the Paraboot character is in the big, chunky (not QUITE chonky, I’d say—there’s a difference) Norwegian welt, and its bold white stitching.
The welt itself is exaggerated especially on the top, and flares the top-down profile of the shoes out fairly widely. And the thread is quite bold, in all its thickness and whiteness. As I said in this story here about tromping around Paris looking at shoes, I’ve been given countless compliments on my very nice Doc Martens while wearing these. So it’s definitely a look. But once I started thinking hard about getting some Paraboots, and spending more time with them, I really came to love it. They’re unabashedly not formal shoes, but you can still dress them prettttty far up if you need to. And I think that all those elements add a bit of fashion punch to them, which I don’t normally lean towards personally, but I think sings when all put together in this case.
And then there’s the Paraboot tag, a point of contention—and cause to buy a tag-removing X-Acto knife—for some. I honestly love it. Why not keep the funk going, right?
Sizing, Fit and Comfort
These shoes are beyond comfortable, and were that way essentially immediately. That’s what honestly clinched me—just putting my foot in and immediately realizing that this is a shoe that it needed to spend a lot more time with. I’m normally a 10.5D in most US shoes/boots, and I took at 10 in these, which works perfectly. If I remember correctly 9.5 seemed to fit well in the much rounder-toed Chambord, but that extra space definitely helps keep the ol’ toes free at the front of the tapered-toe last. Otherwise, the insole is wildly comfortable right out of the box, and the overall fit—which grabs but doesn’t strangle the heel—is honestly just about perfect. Can’t say enough about Paraboot comfort.
Basically non-existent. See above. Goddamned wonders, these are.
Leather and Care
The brown grain leather was far from stiff or really problematic in any way at the start, but has evolved over time into something incredibly supple—while remaining remarkably durable. I’m quite skilled at finding myself excuses to wear my Avignons for all sorts of reasons, but if it’s raining, and I need to wear something snazzy, these are it, almost every time. Despite what I’ve put them through, they haven’t lost a tick of luster; if anything, they’re just looking better and better. The grain size is pretty much perfect, and is there and definitely visible without swinging too bold. Many of the Paraboots you’ll see, especially in the US, are a smooth leather, and I love those too—but I’d love to see more grain Paraboots on people’s feet.
Again, I’ve done almost zero care on these shoes—the beauty of really good grain leather.
It wouldn’t work for every type of shoe—far from it—but the Paraboot rubber lugged outsole is one of my favorites out there. It provides very serious cushioning without being spongy, is grippy in pretty much all weather situations, and are bizarrely defiant to wear. With the way I walk, the outsides of my heels tend to wear heavily fairly quickly. But here these are, a year old, and only slightly worse for the wear.
All of this should come as no surprise—Paraboot’s outsoles are as important a part of the brand’s history as anything. Paraboot founder Rémy-Alexis Richard actually developed his own vulcanized rubber soles in the early 20th century, a full decade-plus before Vibram released their iconic lugged rubber soles. Today they’re all still made by Paraboot, at their Saint Jean de Moirans factory.
Construction and Durability
There are tank-ier shoes available out there, to be sure (see: Tricker’s), but Paraboots are built with a very nice heft to them, which I personally love in general, and works well for a shoe like this. You know they’re not going anywhere. I wouldn’t say the finishing is exquisite, but it doesn’t need to be; it’s just not that type of shoe.
Now for a story. This pair, which I purchased from Drake’s, is very spot-on in pretty much every way other than the split toe on one shoe being slightly off-center (which can happen even with the best makers…and it doesn’t register really at all). But my first pair, the exact same model, which I bought on final sale from Frans Boone, was a bit a mess. The main issue was the welt and, subsequently, outsole, on one shoe being…compressed, I suppose, in a large-ish area near the toe. Just pushed really far in, almost under the upper, whereas the welt/sole on these extends out quite a bit. Which is what I want. You almost couldn’t see the outsole, which was kind of crazy.
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First I contacted Paraboot, who never wrote back. So I got in touch with Frans Boone, sent them pictures, and explained the issue. They were kind enough to take them back—including free return shipping—and refund me the whole price. So, very good on Frans Boone. I’ll forever be grateful, and would strongly recommend everyone support them (although not because you want them to always take back their final sale products…). But the other takeaway is: if you can see Paraboots in person before you buy, I recommend doing it. They’re not all going to end up like that, but it was bad enough that I feel they shouldn’t have shipped. All shoemakers have their issues, and I hate to nitpick this kind of stuff, I really do. But I would’ve loved a bit more response from Paraboot.
At under $500 (and often cheaper over in Europe), with their legitimately distinctive styling, top-quality components, and absurd comfort levels, I consider Paraboot to be right up there with the better values in quality shoes today. Yes, you can get some wonderfully elegant Carminas for around the same price, or classically American Aldens in every style imaginable for $100+ more. But for a lifetime shoe, I have to say that Paraboots are in a small group at the top of my value list. And I do mean lifetime: check out these 40-year old Avignons (different leather) owned by David Hodgkins, owner of the Portland, Maine menswear mecca David Wood Clothiers.
The Stitchdown Final Take
In case I hadn’t made it clear (or you just skipped down to this part because you don’t enjoy my writing): I love my Paraboot Avignons, and I would re-buy them 11 out of 10 times. Comfort for days (or really, years/decades), a very unique pizzaz (or funkiness, said in the nicest way imaginable), really darn solid build. These shoes are very good shoes. If you see a style you like—and not everyone will, but if you do—I can’t recommend pouncing strongly enough.