Perhaps you have followed Dirk Verelst on the BirthdayShoes forum or read his previous blog post on Denim Classics in the Vibram Five Fingers 2010 European Line-up. Dirk is very knowledgeable about all things Vibram and quite a collector of unique Five Fingers. He recently scored an obscure pair of Vibram Five Fingers Cortinas, a funky boot-like winter shoe that never made it into production. He sent us pictures and the write-up that follows.
Guest Post by Dirk Verelst
As winter is upon us, many people find themselves being forced to return to regular shoes. Save a few exceptional people perhaps, no one’s toes/feet can stand prolonged exposure to cold, snow and/or melting-water when wearing Vibram Five Fingers. Faced with this problem, I sought out an obscure, likely never produced (on any scale) pair of boot-like Vibram Five Fingers that might better be described as “bear paws” — the elusive sasquatch of toe shoes, the Vibram Five Fingers Cortina!
Pre-historic Vibram Five Fingers …
Here you can read about a VFF-boot for women that was conceived by Vibram a few years ago, the “Cortina”, which adresses this problem in part. I can’t tell for sure when exactly Vibram made this shoe, but my guess is 2007, given the enclosed paper sheet in the box. Then again, they have the newer type of Classic sole (as opposed to 2006 Classics that have slightly smaller toe pockets and a slightly different toe ‘cut’). As far as we know, the Cortina was never put on sale and these were just prototypes. Through some luck and of course an exaggerated interest in Vibram Five Fingers, I was able to put my hands on—my feet in—what may very well be the only male Cortina boot produced (M42) via a source here in Europe. Unfortunately, if you’re hoping to pick up a pair of these, you’re likely out of luck.
The shoe is built on a regular Classic sole, the footbed is not yellow, but covered in wool just like the outside of the shoe (the box reads “Merino”). Sole thickness and flexibility is comparable to the KSO/Flow. The shoe material is leather covered with Merino wool on the outside. On the inside two pieces of yellow leather hold the two zippers in place. These zippers go forward and down diagonally on both lateral sides of the ankle/forefoot. The toe pocket sides are made of standard yellow fabric. The two ‘windows’ in the rubber sole around the ankle have no leather, just two layers of wool.
I remember having seen a promotional picture of a woman wearing the Cortina, probably on birthdayshoes.com but cannot find it anymore. The impression left by this image was avant-garde fashionist, stuff that you see worn on a catwalk to surprise the audience and leave an impression about evolving fashion. Even as our perception (and the general public’s!) of toe-shoes has greatly evolved in the last few years, these wooly toe shoes still look kind of weird today. Thus I ordered this FiveFingers “boot” a bit afraid that the looks would just be too much for me and it would end up in the closet unused. “Bear paw” is what most people call them indeed.
Then again, in my personal VFF-experience, many of the models I thought of at first as most ‘over-the-top’ because of their looks have become my favorites later on (versus more compromising color schemes). Same here, I felt good about walking around in these right away. Apparently I’m past what other people think about my weird shoes even if they really do look like bear paws. Also, people seem to be more forgiving about looks when it’s really cold and even regular winter footwear sometimes looks ‘off’ — the freezing cold must take people’s minds off footwear! Function over form, perhaps. Wearing ‘fur’ shoes is very acceptable (especially for women), and given the toes don’t really show a lot, it’s even easier to go unnoticed in the FiveFingers Coritna than during summertime. The neutral dark brown color helps too. Nonetheless, I can imagine some Vibram Five Fingers fans might find it inconceivable to wear these wooly toe shoes!
I wear mostly M42 in my VFF’s. The fit is comparable to (black) Classics. When both zippers are closed, the foot is wrapped in Merino-wool covered leather which holds the shoe nicely in place. There still is a little room around the ankles as you can see in the pictures, let’s say for people with higher forefeet. The ankle is completely free to move which is great, given the fact these shoes go up quite high. In fact there is nothing ‘booty’ about the fit at all, they are more like Converse All Stars.
The first thing you notice when putting them on is how soft and WARM they feel. Just the thing you were looking for in the cold season! The ground feel is excellent. At the same time, the ground doesn’t feel cold at all (we’re having freezing and snow here at the moment). Wearing my Flows or KSO’s even with thick socks, the cold quickly permeates my feet and I’ve found myself standing on the sides of my feet when waiting for the train to keep my feet from freezing. No need whatsoever to do so with these on! Surprising indeed, in my mind the only solution to deal with the winter cold was to make even thicker soles (I don’t own Treks, so cannot compare to those). I suspect they might become ‘colder’ over time as the woolen footbed probably will flatten out with prolonged use. That will need to be assessed later, but as for now my first reaction is concerned, I’d like to say “Vibram, put out a woolen footbed FiveFingers shoe ASAP please!” The feel can be best compared to a pair of comfortable house slippers, the ones you find yourself wearing outside spontaneously. I’ve worn them mostly with socks because I was afraid to get sweaty, but there is really no need to temperature-wise. Flows get hot when indoor, but not so these boots. I’ve worn them in the office with thick socks and they protect from the cold but don’t overheat indoors. I don’t know how cold it would have to become for this model to stop protecting from the cold, but I’m not planning on moving to Moscow or Alaska anytime soon, so . . .
Alas, they are not waterproof
The Vibram Five Fingers Cortina is not waterproof, which is a pervasive problem with all VFF’s. I don’t think these can be washed (Nothing suggests they can be washed in the packaging). I imagine their washability would depend on the type of leather used, and I’m not a specialist. Maybe Vibram can use Trek’s kangaroo leather in their next version! (hint hint) Wearing these in the rain or (melting) snow may prove a very bad idea if you can’t put them in the washing machine: the woolen footbed is an even bigger funk reservoir in potential than a standard VFF-footbed, sucking up moisture like a sponge. If they were washable, that would be a BIG step in the right direction. But even washable Cortinas might leave some people still battling ‘the FiveFingers funk’. As they are, I’m going to have to keep these for limited snow use and dry cold weather.
They probably aren’t made for running distances as the fit might be too loose. Mind you, I’ve found myself running short distances in them without any problem whatsoever. They are great for quiet winter promenades! And thus, Vibram Five Fingers Cortina’s aren’t at all like any of the other VFF’s in that they are not a good choice for activities like running, kayaking, bouldering, Pilates, etc. These shoes are dressy, and ONLY meant for casual, everyday wear.
As the world is increasingly accepting of minimalist footwear designed for active wear, perhaps Vibram should dare to open up another part of the minimalist market. At the time of conception it was evidently not the most logical next step for the Five Fingers brand to introduce these “bear paws,” which were probably conceived pre-KSO; but now that Five Fingers have set a new standard, it might be time to give the wooly Cortina VFFs to the world! I have a strong feeling that the Cortina could become fashionable, as may other non sport-oriented VFF’s. The reactions from people have been much more positive than I thought!
Are they any good? Yes and no. They have a very comfortable, loose and warm fit. Degree of protection against the cold unseen in other VFF models. A look that could set a new trend.
I’d be interested to know wehther Vibram discarded this model because of the potential ‘funk’ problem. There is a need to wash VFF’s, especially when confronted with (melting) water, and these leather shoes are no exception as it looks like they aren’t built for machine washing. The same shoe with machine washable kangaroo leather might make it marketable instantly, but even then socks would probably stay a good idea.
What say you?
Thanks, Dirk! Quite the VFF pioneer! So what say you the community about the Vibram Five Fingers Cortina? Should Vibram have brought it to market? Should it stay an obscure collector’s treat for the feet? Are they barking up the right tree? Sound off in the comments below!