Code breaking

Tod’s, the Italian brand best-known for its classic pebble-soled driving shoes (the ones favoured by former Fiat chief Gianni Agnelli), has decided to stray from its comfort zone: instead of refreshing its line of perennial classics, it teamed up with Jefferson Hack, otherwise known as the co-founder of Dazed & Confused magazine and Kate Moss’s ex, to create a new kind of footwear.

Called No_Code, the range of shoes includes Oxfords, ankle boots, desert boots with narrow, gently rounded toes and a thin flexible sole, and laces made of tan leather. They came about after a conversation between Tod’s chief executive Diego Della Valle and Hack, who mentioned that Tod’s were not really his kind of shoe. Challenged by Della Valle to come up with an alternative, Hack decided the shoes would have to be unisex and “unischedule” – footwear that can go from plane to meeting to miscellaneous event.

If No_Code shoes fulfill both imperatives they would make a pretty efficient investment, even at a starting price of £255. There was only one way to find out ...

When the black leather Oxford No_Codes arrived, my wife said she would wear them if they had fitted her, so that ticked the unisex box.

I then took them on a trip to Florida that would involve work and play, meetings with lawyers, restaurateurs and race car drivers, as well as sand, gravel, grass and asphalt. If the shoes survived, they would be more than a mere luxury good: they would be worthy tools for business travel.

A critical test came at airport security. After placing my belongings in the plastic bins, I bent down to untie my laces. This can be an irritating procedure and has given rise to a generation of business travellers who wear only loafers. Yet, thanks to the leather laces, the No_Codes came off fast.

Once I arrived in Miami, I took the shoes to meet with the heads of economic development agencies. These gentlemen, in their rumpled suits, did not seem to notice my fashion-forward footwear.

Later, things changed. Paired with brown slacks and a dress shirt, the shoes caught the eye of an executive at the University of Miami’s medical centre, a self-professed “shoe hound” wearing Ferragamo loafers, who said he might buy a pair.

At breakfast the next morning one friend commented that they looked cool but another remarked that they were a bit “effete”. My uncle, who lives in the area, said they looked like bowling shoes.

Over the weekend I toured some muddy horse stables, but nothing stuck and it all wiped off with a paper towel. At the Daytona 500, the No_Codes looked a little odd among the sneakers and hiking boots worn by most attendees but no one said anything. The next morning I toured The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park, walking miles and bumping into families pushing strollers. Amazingly, the leather emerged unscathed.

However, could the shoes make the transition from the road to the workplace? Back in New York, I put on a grey Calvin Klein suit and the No_Codes and headed to the office. In Midtown Manhattan, where conservative attire prevails, the contrasting laces and striped soles stood out – enough to cause colleagues to raise their eyebrows.

And enough to make me think that, for luxury goods titans like Della Valle or media figures like Hack, the shoes’ premise holds up, and you can get away with contrasting footwear no matter how serious the situation. But for those of us tasked with fitting in among myriad corporate executives, more conventional footwear – well, codes – may still need to be observed.

David Gelles is the FT’s US media and marketing correspondent

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.