Last week I got an extended preview of Viberg’s plans for 2020—meaning the year after this year, not an exciting new last they’re developing.
I spent a ton of time working my way through the upcoming collections, speaking with Viberg’s brand director and very excellent hair-haver Guy Ferguson (also be sure to check out this interview with Guy about Viberg’s future direction), and brushing wonderfully supple suedes lightly against my cheek.
Seeing shelves upon shelves of Viberg boots and shoes that will make up the bulk of two major coordinated spring/summer 2020 drops—plus another two tables of their always-available core collection of service boots and more—really highlights the impressive spectrum of products the Canadian bootmaker is capable of creating, despite only manufacturing about 50 pairs a day.
That evolution has often felt supercharged recently. What Brett Viberg and crew are creating today compared to even five or certainly 10 years ago underlines Viberg’s ability to consistently punch outside out of the creative box while (most of the time) still delivering a product that is wholly, unmistakably Viberg. It’s a neat trick indeed.
Viberg is never not a source of keen interest and deep feelings of all kinds within the boot community, especially when something new is on the horizon. So what’s up next this time? Here’s a detailed look at many of the places Viberg is headed next year—and some insight on what I feel is most interesting, unique, and of course, Viberg-y.
2020 will see four main product drops, on a quarterly schedule starting in January. Those boots and shoes will be available on Viberg.com, and also through interested retail partners around the world, a network Viberg seems very committed to growing. These will be separate from Viberg’s core collection—again, classic boots and shoes (think black and brown Chromexcel service boots) that are basically always available on Viberg.com and through retailers.
What I saw in person was the bulk of Viberg’s January and April 2020 drops. The collection is tame, polished, and I might even go so far as to call it conservative—or at least, definitely not cranking up too many big swings.
But it’s also really damn nice. It’s classy, and a little grown-up. It’s footwear that can persist, and be wearable basically forever in many situations—formal or casual, at work or while traveling, trends be damned. The leathers deployed are all predictably top of the line—I saw a ton of reverse leathers from England’s famed C.F. Stead tannery—but with a few exceptions (highlighted below) also often muted, subdued. They footwear seems focused on delivering that promise of wearable longevity, not just on being something interesting or unique that feels fun right now.
Now, if this story was about 99% of other shoemakers, this previous paragraph wouldn’t even be a thing. But this story is about Viberg, and Viberg takes risks. It’s not like the risks aren’t there; they’re just a little different this time around.
What About Other One-Off Releases? And Shell?
Viberg will still be coming out with its own non-mega-drop special releases throughout the year, probably about once a month—especially in the significantly more expensive shell cordovan realm, an area they’ve excelled while using Horween and Shinki shell alike, plenty of which have featured colors or treatments you rarely see elsewhere in addition to some of the Viberg classics like natural shell. Also, other boots and shoes beyond what I saw will likely be added into these drop-based groupings before they’re released next year.
Of course Viberg will be releasing exclusive boots and shoes through its retail partners who do special makeups, like Division Road, Miloh Shop, Brooklyn Clothing, Lost & Found, Standard & Strange, Withered Fig, and plenty more. Those makeups are specifically barred from using any of the leathers in the seasonal collections, and traditionally some of the more unique Viberg products have bubbled up through those channels, whether it’s service boots or derby shoes or slippers in mind-bending leathers, or revivals/re-imaginings of classic Viberg work or hiking boot styles (like those you’ll see periodically at Division Road). According to Guy, there won’t be any major changes in this area next year.
You May See a Lot More Goodyear Welt Boots and Shoes
Many of Viberg’s new derby shoes feature 360-degree Goodyear storm welts, as do the derby boots: essentially a service boot with a thin, quieter backstay instead of the service boot’s trademark counter panel. It’s a simple boot, but an extremely handsome one.
Now, none of this is new—both the shoe and boot derbies have largely been Goodyear welted for the last year, with some notable exceptions including their shell cordovan derby shoes, which got Viberg’s iconic stitchdown treatment. The big thing is that there’s more—more derby shoes, and more derby boots, in a variety of leathers. Viberg’s invested a ton in Goodyear welt machinery, and they’re very prepared to use it, especially if big swings of orders come in.
Service boots keep the stitchdown construction. Below are a few relevant excerpts from my Stitchdown Conversation with Brett earlier this year that presaged all of the above.
All service boots are made stitchdown. A lot of stuff I make is almost a Goodyear welt because I don’t want it to be stitchdown—that’s not the intention of what I’m trying to do. Ultimately it’s just how we decide to produce it.
What it ultimately comes down to—if you do a 360 stitchdown like a Danner it’s more automated in that when you actually pull the leather tight and stick it to the midsole, there’s less room for error. The way that we do it, only the front is done, and the heel is nailed under. So the moment that you nail in the back, when you pull on it, you’re gonna run into the chance of it ripping. So if you’re using a lighter leather or shell cordovan or something like that which is delicate, it’s very, very difficult to make a stitchdown product, because it’s meant for a heavy oil-tanned leather.
Now, if it’s a service boot it’s gotta be stitchdown. It doesn’t matter if it’s shell or not, that’s the process of it.
The Most Interesting New Shoes
Much of the 2020 line is made up of Viberg classics: service boots with and without cap toes, predictably refined Chelsea boots, dignified derby shoes, slippers, some jodhpurs (which I still don’t understand the appeal of for the life of me, but, I’ll evolve to be a fancyboot man one day I suppose?), a few side-zip boots, a Roper slip-on or two, their divisive chunky-soled sneakers (hey, I dig ’em!). The biggest development in terms of models is probably the expanded selection of those derby boots in a number of really wonderful, if not earth-shatteringly visually unique leathers.
But there are two that stand out as new products worth a longer look:
The Mules: Originally developed in a collaboration with Tokyo-based magazine THE NEW ORDER for their 10th anniversary, Viberg spent months getting these Goodyear welted mules right—especially fine-tuning the heel portion to ensure the right blend of function (lightly grabbing the heel) and aesthetics (not being too big or bulky). While an old-school room slipper was a reference inspiration, they’re definitely not just not a Viberg slipper with the back hacked off.
The original NEW ORDER mules were adorned with Western-style conchos, but Viberg simplified and un-concho’d things for their upcoming wider release. These were definitely a focal point of interest at the show, for Viberg collaborators and people representing non-shoe menswear fashion brands alike.
The Trail Runners: While the mules are new, they’re also unequivocally Viberg. Their new trail runners—a direct descendant of Viberg’s sneakers, as you can see from more quotes from the Stitchdown Conversation with Brett below—probably represent the newest trail the brand is blazing next year, and I’m only moderately sorry about the pun.
One of the things about doing a casual, athletic running shoe, whatever, is that there is no—what’s missing in our range is the gateway from an industrial product to this idea. Which exactly is trail running, a more tech hiker, so that there’s a crossover in between products that actually allows it to kind of make sense.
It’s a gateway into doing more tech, hiking and tech, trail running, and all this kind of stuff. It opens a big door rather than just what looks like a fashion door, right? So ultimately that’s where I want to go, more in that direction.
Guy made it clear that the trail runners at the show are definitely not the finished product, as Viberg’s still working development on them hard in various areas. But wherever they land, the trail runners will be highly technical, marrying rugged Vibram soles and tech fabrics used in Zodiac lifeboats and sailcloth (X-Pac) with textbook Viberg leathers like C.F. Stead suede and Italian calf. The ones I saw are equipped with Salomon Quicklaces you’ll see in trail runners from the ski boot company, although Viberg’s still working on the correct laces solution. They are LIGHT. Like crazily light, owing in many ways to those tech fabrics.
Is Viberg going to become a trail-runner company? I’m going with a hard no! And Guy told me the same thing. Salomon and similar companies are more focused on making a 100% technical shoe (and a wide range of them for many demanding customers); Viberg, meanwhile, is using less-breathable leathers borrowed from their boots and a leather insole. So these aren’t really positioned towards the hardcore trail running crew at all. Think more Nike ACG: fashionable sneakers with lots of tech elements (and their weight and durability benefits) built in.
A Couple Intriguing New Leathers
I saw a ton of new leathers, most of which are wonderful, but many of which fit very neatly into the wearable/versatile category. The milkshake-y, taupe-y Gaucho and rich reddish/wheat-brown Anise suedes from Stead are excellent, and I also really liked Stead’s Clove and Camel oiled calf leathers, which both display a ton of very cool pull-up and should age like mad in a very positive way.
But two leathers really stood out for me:
C.F. Stead Storm Calf Suede: This one is definitely the show-stopper in terms of color. The ghostly grey suede is incredibly soft and makes for a nicely unstructured upper on the Scout Boot (my personal favorite underrated Viberg model), which seem like they’ll require approximately negative-50 days of break-in. It also made its way onto the slippers and hiker, on which it pops really incredibly. It’ll be interesting to see how beating them up makes this leather, so off-the-shelf pristine, develop. While suede doesn’t patina in the same way as grain-side leathers, Guy put it this way: you can either work hard to keep your suede really clean, or you can let it get good and dirty and see how you like it. I’m looking forward to seeing some of this stuff on the good and dirty side.
Vegetable-Tanned Japanese Cowhide
This stuff is beautiful, and I can only guess it will become an absolutely beautiful-er version of nuts as it ages—veg-tanned leathers are renowned for their tendency to patina in strange and wonderful, if unpredictable ways. The air-dryed, shrunken grain leather will adorn a Roper slip-on, a brogued cap-toe service boot, and a Hiker, and displays a ton of really unique grain variation, even from panel to panel in the samples I saw—which is pretty much the whole idea. Viberg’s currently working with a small handful of Japanese tanneries on this leather and so didn’t want to say which they’re going with yet. But definitely one to keep an eye on.
Again, I’ll also be publishing an interview with Guy on Viberg’s 2020 plans soon, and keep an eye out here and on the Stitchdown Instagram for more looks at what the bootmaker has coming up, in terms of one-off releases, and the two drops from Fall 2020.
And Here Are a Bunch More Photos For Your Feasting Pleasure