Some people own a few items from a brand that they’re drawn to. Others go deeper, developing meaningful appreciation and knowledge of the brand. These individuals start looking beyond the actual product, learning more about the brand and history. Pierre-Yves Oriol is a prolific collector of Red Wing boots and other vintage items. He also designs and makes small batches of heavy waxed canvas jackets, sweaters, and bags under the name TONTON & FILS. Pierre doesn’t follow fashion or trends for his apparel, he only makes small batches of quality garments that he would wear himself. We met Pierre in Paris to ask him more about his love of craft.
When did you start your Red Wing collection and what was the first boot you bought?
I bought my first pair of Red Wings 15 years ago in New York City – a classic 877 Moc Toe. I had been dreaming of those boots for a long time, but it was almost impossible to find them in France.
Why did you seek out more than one pair of Red Wing boots?
What can I say, I’m just a real collector! When I bought those 877s, my first pair of Red Wing boots, it quickly became clear it would be impossible for me to just keep it to the one pair. It’s a bit like chips, you can’t eat only one! At that time I was wearing some other workwear shoe brands, too, but I was fascinated by the patina of my Red Wing shoes. The quality of this leather was so different, so strong. The more I wore the shoes, the better they looked. I love old patina; not only on shoes, but also on leather jackets and furniture, on anything really… I also love old vintage cars! Vintage goes with my lifestyle. Workwear goes with my life style, too.
How many pairs of Red Wings do you own?
Well, my wife is not so happy about it, but I have exactly 39 pairs of Red Wing boots. From Engineer boots to Moc Toes, from Iron Rangers to specific steel-toe workwear boots like loggers… e.g. the 879, 2972, 4418, 877, 875, 8138 (I’m crazy about the Briar Oil leather), Pecos 8869, 953 work boots, 2940… a lot of different styles for a lot of different wear styles. I also have some customized Red Wing boots. When I like a specific style, I always try to get it in different colors. I’m a collector, but I do like to wear all of them.
What is your favourite pair and why?
I’m more attracted by the Heritage work style than by classic dress shoes, even though I do wear Beckman shoes sometimes. It’s always hard to choose one pair over another, it depends on what you wear it with… but I do always wear my steel-toe Engineer 2972 with everything. I’m in love with the Copper Rough & Tough leather! The other two I have to mention are the 6-inch Moc Toe 8880 in Bourbon Yuma leather and my 8-inch Moc Toe 879 limited edition boots in Hawthorne Muleskinner. It’s hard to choose, but I think those three pairs are my absolute “must-haves”. They are my favorites because they really fit my personal way of life: I love to ride motorcycles, so the 11-inch steel-toe 2972 is the safest option. The 8880 really represents the typical Red Wing style for me: easy to wear with any kind of clothing, comfortable, and solid. And the 879 is just so stylish, and for me it is also an emblematic style of the brand and a bit different from the classic 877.
What vintage items do you collect besides Red Wing boots?
I collect vintage flight jackets, especially ones made before the 80s, from the brand Schott. I simply love the 674 flight jacket style with a talon zipper, and I love old Perfecto as well. I also collect varsity jackets. There is one thing I would really like to find: a vintage goose down jacket from Schott, Woolrich, or Rocky Mountain Featherbed. I also love vintage military jackets, Swiss army bags, and vintage street signs. As a vintage garments collector, I decided to create my own apparel inspired largely by heritage wear style.
What is the most valuable item in your collection?
The most valuable item in my collection is the pair that I don’t have yet! I’m still looking for the 8-inch Moc Toe 8830 in Copper Rough & Tough leather. But all jokes aside, I really love my vintage Irish Setter 877 because of its amazing patina.
Can you tell us a story of a great find and how you got hold of it?
One of my friends was traveling in the USA for his job, and he called me to tell me he had a gift for me. It was a Red Wing carpet he had found in a tiny work boots store in Pennsylvania. He was actually supposed to bring back a pair of classic 877s for me, but my size was out of stock. He saw the carpet with the logo in the shop and asked the shop owner if he could buy it, but the answer was ‘no’ at first. My friend told him it was for a real collector in France and he showed him pictures of my collection. The owner of the Red Wing store was so impressed that he gave him the carpet!! Now this grey and red carpet is in my garage, close to my motorcycle. Collector? 100% yes!
Do you still look for new (old) Red Wing items?
Always… I’m definitely a Red Wing seeker. Sometimes I even buy boots I already have, for them to develop a different patina or to customize them with a different sole… I’m very attracted by the Japanese Red Wing market, by their colors and models… they make me jealous! I am looking for a pair of logger steel-toe boots in Muleskinner leather. I think they were made only for the Asian market. Those boots are my new target!