Ron Rider knows a whole lot about boots (we’ve got the podcasts to prove it)—including how to make one of the great Chelsea boots we’ve ever worn. So it was only a matter of time before we collaborated with Ron and his Italian partner factory Cortina to create our own custom Fritz Chelsea boot.
That time just so happens to be now!
When we first started getting real about this project, Ron was adamant that an entirely new boot brand should be created. And I was even more adamant in refusing. Ron’s remarkable work in the industry over the past three decades goes far too under the radar—as does that of Cortina, the excellent factory in Giussano, Italy that Ron has worked with the bulk of his career. So calling this project, simply, “Rider Boot for Stitchdown”—and recognizing Cortina as much as possible (Cortina! Cortina! See?)—made all the sense in the world.
I do want to be clear that I’m far from having a single negative thought about brands that use a third-party factory to manufacture their product, and put their own name on it. It’s an essential part of the industry—most people don’t own their own shoe factories! In the majority of cases there simply isn’t another way.
But given the way we view and cover the industry, and how important we feel it is to constantly acknowledge those people doing incredible work to keep this great craft alive, this felt like the right move. I didn’t make these boots! The Cortina factory made them, under the guidance of Ron Rider. So thank you for making these fantastic boots, Cortina and Ron Rider.
While the plan is to explore other leathers, soles, etc in this particular Fritz Chelsea boot, and possibly other patterns as well, for now our focus is squarely on one Chelsea boot we consider to be pretty darn great. I’ve been personally wearing the boots you see in the photos for almost three months now to give interested folks a sense of how they look with significant wear on them—they’re actually my Patina Thunderdome boots. And I have to say I’m absolutely thrilled with how they’ve been performing, feeling, and looking.
Here’s the product page in our shop if you’re interested in pre-ordering a pair from the first run.
Now let’s dive into these suckers.
The Fritz Pattern
The magic of the Fritz is how it manages to find that perfect balance between…everything, really. It earns its keep by sitting perfectly in the middle of so much, and making zero apologies about any of it.
It’s not overly dressy, but it certainly isn’t ready to hit the job site. The pattern may not be a wholecut, but it’s too well-executed to really matter all that much. The Rapid construction makes for a boot that’s beyond sturdy but not overly weighty. In terms of what you can wear it with, it’s a stylistic chameleon—which can be nudged in one direction or another thanks to the two sole choices we have on offer. And it’s just a wildly comfortable boot for just about any wearer.
We’ve had an absolute blast working with Italy’s Conceria Maryam in past collaborations, and turned to them again to source the exact right vegetable-tanned Toscanello horsebutt, one of the world’s most rightly lauded horse leathers for footwear. Our selected Vachetta tannage—an unfinished article that lacks the TPR coating you’ll sometimes see—has a wonderfully soft hand, responds to brushing beautifully, and thanks to the shell membrane present in the leather, breaks across the vamp on a properly sized boot like absolute dark magic.
Veg-tan leathers are sought after for how they age and patina far more dramatically over time than chrome- or combination-tanned leathers. One of Maryam Toscanello’s other bits of magic is how it picks up EVERYTHING it encounters over time, but manages to corral it all in a beautifully subdued way. You need to look pretty close to see each individual spot of water, or oil, or whatever it may be. But backed out a touch, it’s all just one wonderfully aging piece of leather with endless character and personality.
Maryam Toscanello horsebutt can uncharitably be called “brown”, but as a full veg-tan leather, its instincts are to darken over time. While each hide comes out of the tanning process differently (definitely something you need to prepare yourself for), Toscanello’s natural state after being worn hard is an impossibly rich caramel, with a beautiful natural sheen and reminders throughout of each wearer’s journeys.
We find Rider’s 60 last to be about as handsome and versatile as casual Chelsea lasts get. It’s not over-reliant on hard angles and elongation, while also avoiding being overly round and bulbous. We’d call it “approaching almond” in the best possible way. Especially with the thinner Vibram Stresa half-sole, it projects a damn classy silhouette. Fit properly, it’s also as comfortable as lasts get, while still maintaining the prominently defined toe shape that any great Chelsea boot needs.
The Two Sole Options
The Fritz is endlessly flexible in terms of outsole pairings, so for this pre-order we’re offering two options we’ve personally wear-tested. Both are half-soles, which provide the beauty of an uninterrupted heel stack, plus a slightly more aggressive stance and appealing visual balance to the boot (especially on the thicker, lugged Mortara sole). Both options are Italian Vibram soles, which means you’ll be required to call them vee-BRAM!
Option #1: Vibram Mortara. A half-sole featuring Vibram’s famed Carrarmato lug pattern, but chilled out in terms of depth (and weight!) from the full-lug hiking version. Wildly capable in various conditions—the grip has proven excellent—while still presenting a very handsome profile. Just a ton to love about this sole.
Option #2: Vibram Stresa. An almost imperceptibly thin, double narrow line-patterned half-sole, you can think of this as a Topy, or protective rubber sole for a leather sole. When viewed from the side, pretty much all you see is leather. Major benefits here are the refined look it provides, and how remarkably easy and affordable replacing this sole when it’s time. The downside? It’s not really geared for off-road action.
How To Size This Boot
This boot is available in two widths: D and EE.
That said, the last is quite forgiving and we recommend customers with D- and E-width feet take a D width and go .5 sizes down from their Brannock in length. C-width feet could likely also do great with the .5 down advice if thicker socks are in play. Some trusted sources with higher volume/instep feet have also enjoyed Rider Fritz boots while sizing true-to-Brannock in length.
EE widths are slightly more limited (sizes 8-11, including half-sizes), and should be treated as a true EE width up front, but with a combination-last B heel fitting. Trust us you’ll love it. Again, we recommend going .5 sizes down from Brannock on length unless your volume/instep is known to be quite high, in which case true-to-size is in play.
All boots feature a veg-tan leather footbed, but also a removable leather-topped cushioned insole with some slight arch support. The boots can be worn with or without the insole, whether that decision is driven by underfoot feel preference, or dialing in fit. I actually keep mine in and wear thin socks; they feel fantastic and really lock in the fit. Simply removing the insole also makes using orthotics or other inserts an absolute snap.
If you have any sizing questions at all, please get in touch with ben [at] stitchdown.com or probably even better, Ron Rider via the @riderbootco Instagram account.
Yes the world is crazy these days, so things always might happen—but the expected delivery date on these boots is no later than March 2023. Production at the Cortina factory is already specifically set aside for this order, which makes us feel quite confident in that date.