Viberg Natural Chromexcel Service Boot Review (3 years)

Viberg Natural Chromexecel Service Boot at 3 years
Viberg Natural Chromexcel Service Boot at 3 years

My absolute favorite leather from Horween is Chromexcel – specifically Natural Chromexcel. I love the color depth and variation when the leather ages. I’ll show a before and after conditioning of my 3-year old pair of Viberg Service Boots in Natural Chromexcel. Horween’s other leather/tannages such as Cordovan, Chromepak, and Dublin all come really close as my runner-up favorites!

Here is a tannage chart taken directly from Horween’s website. Out of the 51 leather types listed, I narrowed the list down to 8 of the more commonly used tannages for leather goods. I highlighted what I feel are the key characteristics that makes Chromexcel unique, and I’ll briefly go over each.

Horween Tannage Chart
Horween Tannage Chart

Because Chromexcel is a tanning process and not a leather type, you can have both cowhide and horsehide. It is also known as the “original pull-up leather”.

  • Combination tanned: Chromexcel is both chrome tanned and vegetable tanned which brings in qualities of both processes! Tanning is the process of permanently altering the structure of animal skin. Chrome tanning is a faster method using chromium and makes the leather soft and water-resistant. Vegetable tanning uses organic tannins from trees and other plants along with other oils/waxes and creates a very durable leather. Veg tanned leather is not water-resistant, so water may stain.
  • Hot stuffed: Chromexcel is heavily nourished with oils and waxes that creates the pull-up effect and water resistance.
  • Air dried: Chromexcel is naturally air dried for about a week such that the leather shrinks to its original size.
  • Aniline finished: The leather is saturated with soluble dyes such that the texture/irregularities of the leather is left untouched which is ideal for a raw enthusiast like me!

My Natural Chromexcel Leather Goods:

These are a few of my other small goods in Natural Chromexcel. The most wears are probably seen on the One Star Leather Park Sloper and Hollows Leather Rail Belt as they were worn/used nearly every day. Both these are at about 3 years plus of age. If you don’t want excessive stretching on a belt, I’d shy away from CXL as it initially stretches significantly!

One Star Leather Park Sloper and Hollows Leather Witherward Belt Loop both in Horween Natural Chromexcel
One Star Leather Park Sloper and Hollows Leather Witherward Belt Loop both in Horween Natural Chromexcel

The leathers of both pieces started off as a light brown oak color. The leather color darkened quite quickly within the first few months to a rich brown by oils, dirt, and abrasion. I noticed that direct sunlight also sped up the darkening process. The leather also picked up significant indigo dye from my raw denim. After the initial and drastic color change, the color becomes quite saturated and will not darken all that more.

Hollows Leather Rail Belt in Horween Natural Chromexcel
Hollows Leather Rail Belt in Horween Natural Chromexcel
Teranishi x 3sixteen Travel Coffee Kit in Horween Natural Chromexcel

I have not felt the need to condition the leather, and they both still display a lot of pull-up. With the amount of oils/waxes in the leather, most superficial scuffs/nicks have been easy to rub away with my fingers.

Viberg Natural Chromexcel Service Boots:

  • Natural Chromexcel
  • Captoe
  • 7 Brass eyelets
  • Dainite sole
  • Stitchdown construction
  • Partial structured toe
  • Made in Canada
  • Price: $720 USD
Natural Chromexcel, Partially structured toe, 7 brass eyelets, straight captoe
Natural Chromexcel, Partially structured toe, 7 brass eyelets, straight captoe

When I purchased this pair, there weren’t too many pics of Natural CXL Vibergs online. There has been at least one similar spec MTO arranged by Styleforum around 2014-2015 but with an unstructured toe.

I purchased this pair of Vibergs from Mr Porter back in mid 2015. I believe it was the second restock of this makeup on Mr Porter. When I received it a few days later, I was blown away by how thick the Natural Chromexcel was. The leather arrived with a significant sheen to it. It took quite a while for any visible crease to form (in contrast to my Viberg Color 8 CXL pair). For the price of $720 USD, I’m glad Viberg used high quality hides!

Fairly scuffed heel counter
Fairly scuffed heel counter

The boots arrived with a small, adorable 1oz jar of Venetian Shoe Cream, a pair of flat waxed cotton laces, and a spare pair of brown rawhide leather laces in the box. I initially kept the flat waxed laces as I wanted the laces to accentuate the sleek, narrow 2030 last. Yet, I had a hard time deciding which laces suited the boots best. I eventually switched over to the leather laces after a few months. The flat laces reminded me much of the laces used on Alden’s boots (although this Viberg pair of laces were thicker and sturdier), and I feel that the leather laces fits the rugged Viberg brand aesthetic well.

I like the pairing of brass eyelets with this leather. They seem to make the rich brown tones “pop”.

The toe box is partially structured and is further reinforced by the thick Chromexcel leather. While the right boot’s toe area has flattened a bit, the toe box is still quite firm to the touch on both boots.

The boot tongue is also made of a thinner, softer Natural CXL which was different than my color 8 CXL pair that had a black contrasting oil tanned tongue. The black oil tanned leather is the standard go-to tongue for Viberg boots. I feel the CXL tongue fits this boot better than a contrasting one would. The leather used here is very much pliable, soft, and shows creases from the laces well.

Soft leather tongue
Soft leather tongue

Conditioning/Care:

For conditioning/care, I’ve kept to a simple regimen of applying Venetian Shoe Cream every 6 months or so. I apply it onto the palms of my hands (minimizes loss from using a rag) and rub the cream onto the boot. I let the cream dry for a couple of minutes, I brush them down with a horsehair brush. Initially, the cream darkens the leather and provide a glossy sheen. The color lightens back near to its original after some time outdoors. Every few wears, I wipe the boots down with a damp rag and brush away any dirt with a Horsehair Brush.

The cool thing about CXL is that you can rub away most scuffs/scratches because of the oils/waxes embedded in the leather. Down below is an example of superficial scuffs that went away after some VSC and brushing. I used a polished deer bone in circular motions in the area to create friction so the cream penetrates.

Before conditioning
Post conditioning/brushing
Post conditioning/brushing

 

Here’s a rear heel counter shot of a few pairs. You can see that the natural chromexcel pair on the left has minimal creasing compared to the color 8 CXL and Olive Chromepak.

Natural CXL, Color 8 CXL, Olive Chromepak, Color 8 Cordovan

Compared to the other 3 pairs, the captoe on this makeup seems a bit shorter, but I hardly notice it when it’s not next to my other pairs.

In conclusion, I think that Natural Chromexcel is an easy to care for, interesting, and beautiful leather. The selection of hides that Viberg uses on their boots is second to none. If I were to only own one pair of Vibergs, this pair of boots would be it! Although this exact makeup isn’t readily available, a handful of retailers such as Lost & Found, Brooklyn Clothing, and the Viberg.com site recently have stocked a Service Boot with this leather.

Alden Color 8 Shell Cordovan Patina and Aging

Three pairs of Alden in Horween Color 8 Shell Cordovan
Three pairs of Alden in Horween Color 8 Shell Cordovan

Ever since I have owned my first Alden pair of shoes in Color #8 Horween Shell Cordovan, I’ve noticed the color patina to a lighter shade over time. I’ve observed it happens most prominently with Alden’s Color #8 Shell Cordovan because the color starts very dark. I believe that Alden treats their Shell Cordovan (from Horween) with their own glaze that provides sheen and glossiness. On the other hand, their color 8 chromexcel brightens up much more quickly.

Details:

These are three Alden shoe pairs pictured and their dates purchased:

  • Alden x JCrew Color #8 Shell Cordovan Captoe Boot (10/06/2013)
  • Alden x The Bureau Belfast Color #8 Shell Cordovan Longwing Blucher (12/28/2015)
  • Alden x Epaulet NYC Color #8 Shell Cordovan Tanker Boot (11/30/2016)
Alden x JCrew Color 8 Shell Cordovan Captoe Boot
Alden x JCrew Color 8 Shell Cordovan Captoe Boot
Alden x The Bureau Belfast Color 8 Shell Cordovan Longwing
Alden x The Bureau Belfast Color 8 Shell Cordovan Longwing
Alden x Epaulet Color 8 Shell Cordovan Tanker Boot
Alden x Epaulet Color 8 Shell Cordovan Tanker Boot

My shoe care routine for these three pairs of Shell Cordovan have been the same:

1. Wipe down with damp microfiber cloth after every so number of wears
2. Brush with a Horsehair Shoe Brush

Every 6-12 months, apply some Venetian Shoe Cream to the cordovan sparingly, letting it dry, wipe down any excess cream, then back to brushing.
 
For any scuffs, I apply a small drop of Venetian Shoe Cream in the area and then use a Polished Deer Bone to rub circularly with light pressure. I’ve tried the Deer Bone without any cream and noticed it doesn’t do much. You can also use the back of a metal spoon to achieve similar results.

I’ve yet to need to apply any wax based polish to the shoes.

Color depth variance on color 8 shell cordovan
Color depth variance on color 8 shell cordovan

Recently, I feel that Alden’s Color 8 batches have been much darker than I remember. The color looks almost black unless in direct sunlight. I believe much of the reason Alden re-dyes their Color 8 is to minimize any blemishes/scars the leather may have.

I’ve yet to determine what causes the lightening of color in the Color 8 Shell Cordovan. It might be pigments naturally degrading with age or even direct sunlight playing a role. Either way, we each have our own perceptions of what Color 8 Shell Cordovan should look like – whether a very dark burgundy or a deep, vibrant red, Color 8 will always be king.

Oldest pair of Color 8 shell cordovan from the top
Oldest pair of Color 8 shell cordovan from the top
As color 8 shell cordovan lightens, the leather shows great character.
As color 8 shell cordovan lightens, the leather shows great character.

Alden 403 Indy Boot Brown Chromexcel (5 year review)

Alden Indy 403

I keep an Excel spreadsheet of the dates and price purchased of almost all items in my wardrobe. After several wardrobe overhauls involving selling my used pieces on eBay/Grailed, the Alden Indy 403 Boot in Brown Chromexcel is the oldest footwear that continually holds a spot in my wardrobe.

The TruBalance Last. Alden Indy 403 on the left.

Let’s take a journey back to the year of 2012, when I obsessively browsed /r/malefashionadvice and had just graduated college. The Alden Indy boot was the bee’s knees back then on Reddit (and probably still is!), the boot that Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) wore. The footwear I recall owning at that time were a pair of Allen Edmond Strands in Walnut, Clark’s Desert Boots in Beeswax, and Red Wing Beckman in Black Cherry Featherstone. I had just purchased the Beckmans a few months prior from Amazon. The Beckmans were robust and very toe structured, and gave my heels quite a time breaking them in. However, I wanted a pair of quality boots that had a slimmer toe, were made in the USA, and were also versatile in many outfits as I was still trying to find comfort in my own style!

Between the Alden 403 and 405, many more people recommended the 403 because of the interesting properties of Chromexcel . I wasn’t interested in the 404 because it appeared too rugged for me (Dark Brown Kudu Leather on a Vibram Lugged Sole). The Alden 401 in black, while also very beautiful, wasn’t one I considered because the black color would be more difficult than a brown color footwear to pair with. The appeal of the Alden 403 Brown CXL is that it would patina to show a great depth of color variation. Plus, Chromexcel has the repuation of being quite an easy leather to maintain and to care care. While the Alden 405 in a lighter brown calf/cow were was the pair that Indiana Jones wore, the Brown Cowhide leather appeared a too tan and light colored for me.

Alden Indy 403
I love the color depth with Brown Chromexcel!

It was around the time that Uniqlo had just opened their first west coast store in San Francisco. I scoured the internet for sizing advice knowing that my Red Wing 9011 Beckmans fit well. I came to a conclusion to purchase the same size in the TruBalance last (half a size down from my measured Brannock). I embarked on a journey to San Francisco with the destination of Alden SF on Sutter Street with a determination to purchase a pair Alden 403s.

Cedar shoe trees are important in keeping their shape and absorbing moisture.

I was greeted by one of the sale associates Robert, and I requested that I wanted to try on pair of Alden 403s. I was wearing a pair of Happy Socks (relatively thin cotton socks) and the pair of RW Beckmans. I remember another customer browsing in the store complimented my Red Wings, asking which model it was. I started trying on a size 9D that I knew most likely was my true size. And I also tried on a 9E and a 9.5D. While the 9E felt comfortable initially, I knew that CXL leather would stretch widthwise (but not so much lengthwise) and went with the 9D. Robert graciously threw added in a pair extra cotton shoelaces free of charge.

Alden Indy 403

Details:

Alden 403 – Indy High Top Blucher Boot in Brown Chromexcel

Price: $507.78 USD after CA Tax in 2012

Alden Indy 403

Alden Indy 403

  • Brown Horween Chromexcel Leather
  • TruBalance Last. This last fits large, recommend to size down half
  • Moc toe stitching
  • Neoprene Cork Outsole
  • Full Glove Leather Lining
  • Closed heel storm welt
  • Vegetable Tanned Leather Insoles
  • Made in the USA
Alden Tanker Boot in Color 8 Shell Cordovan next to the Alden 403 Indy Boot

Impressions:

I remember wearing the pair of 403s out the door and I walked a couple blocks to Uniqlo SF and my heels were starting to feel a bit tattered. I waggled my way back to the Caltrain and took the ride home. The Chromexcel leather started to form creases that eventually became permanent. Even though the Chromexcel leather was soft and supple, they weren’t 100% comfortable initially. It took a couple wears for them to break in. But compared to the stiff Red Wing Beckmans I recently broke in, the break-in period for the Aldens was almost negligible!

The TruBalance last is quite wide compared to Alden’s Barrie last. Actually, it’s the widest last that Alden carries and can look quite chunky top down. The TruBalance last was designed for all day comfort, and I do agree it’s the most comfiest last I own. The insole has molded well to my feet, and I can easily wear thick wool socks (Darn Tough or Smartwool) with these boots. The Alden Indy boot used to have a duck cotton lining around 10 years ago instead of the full leather lining it has today.

The stock laces that came with the boots were wide, 100% cotton, and burgundy tinted. The extra pair of laces that Robert added in were exactly the exact same ones I read several reviews that noted the laces felt really flimsy and frayed teasily with the speed hooks that came with the Indys. Feeling the laces, I definitely agreed they felt quite cheap and shortly after I ordered a pair of flat waxed brown laces on Amazon. The TZ laces that I ordered were densely woven cotten and haven’t shown any signs of wear over the years. I’d highly recommend the Brown TZ laces in 55″/140cm length which is perfect for the Alden Indy. Another alternative is the stock Alden waxed laces that come with most Alden Shell Cordovan Boots.

An issue that I have along with several others is that the tongue of the boot tends to slide outwards after lacing. The Indy boot has a free, non-gusseted tongue (a tongue sewn to the upper behind the laces, preventing debris from entering) which most prominently on my left boot tended to slide outwards after walking a few steps. I’ve heard of people who took their pair to cobblers to have them stitch the tongue to be gusseted which fixed the problem. However, I hardly felt any difference in comfort with this issue. My girlfriend once time did notice this issue when I was lacing up and pointed it out.

The brown Chromexcel leather started off as a medium brown and has darkened a bit to a deeper shade of brown. Chromexcel is an easy leather to care of, although it does scratch/nick easily. I always place in cedar shoe trees inbetween wears to absorb moisture and help minimize creases. My typical maintenance care is to wipe the boots down with a damp microfiber cloth and then to brush vigorously with a horsehair brush. The brushing will help bring out the leather’s oils towards the surface and also to provide a shine to the leather. A few times a year I use a small dab of Venetian Shoe Cream, rubbing it in with my fingers (prevents wasting cream by using a cloth) to condition the CXL and follow with a extensive brushing. Venetian Shoe Cream is what Horween Leather of Chicago recommends.

Here’s an example of how easily some scuffs can rub out with a Venetian Shoe Cream and a polished deer bone (you can use the back of a metal spoon to achieve the same effect)

Chromexcel scuffs come out fairly easily out with some rubbing/friction from a deer bone (Left: Before, Right: After)

One issue I will address soon is that the Foot Balance Heel included with the boot have worn away. My Alden x Jcrew Captoe boots with a dovetail leather heel (purchased not long after) are not as worn down as these.

Alden’s recrafting services does not include replacing only the heel, so I soon will have to bring them to a local cobbler. A pair of Foot Balance replacement heels can be ordered through Alden directly either through email or calling their 1-800 number. They cost around $16 for a pair.

 

In regards to keeping the moc toe stitching white, I use several Q-tips with a dab of dish soap and some water to go over each stitch on the moc toe. Some of the areas around the stitching will lighten up because of the soap, but the end I brush the whole area and the brown color generally restore. I don’t use any polish for the Chromexcel leather because I feel that the contrasting stitching is what makes the Indy boot what it is. Some people take Obenauf’s Heavy Duty Preservative, Neatsfoot Oil, or Snow Seal to the whole boot to weather seal them because of necessity for their their climate. In doing so, however, the stitching will likely darken. The Alden Indy 404 in Brown Kudu is a good example of how the boot looks without any white contrast stitching.

The Neocork (Cork nitrile) sole looks quite sleek and is flexible. I wouldn’t recommend this sole for snow or icy conditions, but instead would recommend a commando sole. It is a rubber lug sole that attaches to the front half of the boot. There have been a handful of Alden Indy makeups in the past that have used a commando sole. The Neocork stock sole provides a slight bit more traction than a leather sole, and I haven’t reached the point where I needed a full resole. Since I purchased the Indy, I’ve worn them about once every two weeks. For many people including me, the Foot Balance heel will wear out faster than the sole because of their gait and will need replacement first.

Conclusion:

I’ve owned my pair of Alden Indys for more than 5 years, and even considering the new footwear brands that have emerged in that timeframe, I would still recommend them. Alden’s prices have been increasing by $15-20 dollars every year due to inflation. I jokingly say that Alden’s are worth putting money into as stock. From what I’ve seen, the 403 Brown Chromexcel develops more variation in leather than the 405 Tan Cowhide. For most people, the 403s will mesh well with their wardrobe. You can choose to beat them up like Indiana Jones or Alden footwear is generally not sleek by any means, but the Indy Boot has a much slimmer toe profile than Red Wings (see my past toebox/shoe sizing post).

The Neocork Sole and Heel.
Superficial scuffs on the toe eventually were minimized with some cream and brushing

Alden Indy 403 Gallery

 

Viberg Color #8 Chromexcel Service Boot Review

Viberg Color 8 CXL Service Boots

I first heard of Viberg through /r/goodyearwelt. Around 2014, a there were quite fewer number of boot companies around primarily made in the USA – Oak Street Bootmakers Trench Boot, Wolverine 1K Mile Boot, Aldens, etc. Viberg’s sleekness of their service boots and their quality was mentioned several times. Dayton boots also made in Canada were also quite popular (the black nubuck). By then, I already had purchased Alden Indy 403 Brown Chromexcel, Alden Shell Color 8 Captoe Boots, and wanted a boot that was military looking to go with my style at the time.

The 3 main colors of service boots that Viberg had on their site was Black, Brown/Icy Mocha, and Burgundy/Color 8. I actually wanted the Icy Mocha (which looks very similar to natural chromexcel), but the site didn’t have it in stock at the time with no estimated time to restock. Between the black and burgundy CXL, I decided with Color 8 CXL at a total cost of $735 USD including shipping. At the time, I thought this was going to be my one and only Viberg boot, so I wanted it the color and style to be as versatile as possible.

Details

  • Last: 2030 Last (Canadian Military Officer’s Last)
  • Size: 9
  • Color: Color 8 Chromexcel
  • Style: Service Boot
  • Specs: Brogued Captoe, Unstructured Toe Box with a contrasting black tongue
  • Sole: Dainite
  • Hardware: 7 Brass Eyelets
  • Price: $735 USD

Sizing:

I had already owned the Alden 403s on the Trubalance Last (9D), and Alden x Jcrew Captoe Boots on the Barrie Last (9D), and was confident I sized correctly in those. The general online consensus is that the 2030 last runs half a size large just like the Barrie and Trubalance. My brannock sizing is 9.5E, so I ordered a size 9.

The boots fit perfectly with thinner dress socks and stretched out comfortably to fit thicker wool socks later.

Scuffs and nicks

Impressions/Quality:

I remember the box the boots came in – it was the sturdiest shoe box I had ever felt in my life. Inside came with shoe bags, a handwritten note, and an additional pair of laces. The two pairs of shoelaces included were a flat waxed cotton black shoelace and a brown rawhide leather shoelace.

The depth of the color 8 chromexcel was really beautiful, such a stunning color. I don’t remember seeing any flaws that warranted returning. The black contrasting tongue was very thick but yet still soft. I initially wore them with the black flat waxed laces, but later settled on the rawhide laces. The toebox was unstructured and provided a very sleek/slim look from the top and sides.

I believe this was the first or second boot that had Dainite soles. However, this pair didn’t actually come with Dainite branded soles. It was actually Itshide which is slightly firmer and less flexible. I had problems with some of the lugs chipping off quite early on within the first couple of wears. I’m not sure why Viberg used Itshide soles for this batch, but in later makeups they switched back to Dainite. I like the soles because they’re really sleek, yet provide enough traction in rain to prevent a slip.

Conclusion

After owning them for just about 4 years, I think they were a solid purchase. Now that there are other quality boot competitors (Truman, Junkard, Thursday Boots) that also provide a slim last, it’s quite questionable whether Viberg boots are worth $700+.

Viberg Color 8 CXL Boot Side View

At the time I purchased them in 2014, they were the only company that provided a slim look accompanied with an unstructured toebox. Nowadays, Viberg has ventured into wider territory such as using Italian leathers, switching to goodyear welt, no longer producing unstructured toeboxes (I stand clarified by Frank P. @imustbefrank ! Viberg still produces boots with an unstructured toebox, but as of now all the CXL have a structured toe – may change in the future) , no more contrasting tongues. A lot has changed since then. Right now, I’d price these boots at around $500 new. Viberg hasn’t decreased at all in their quality boots, but now with increased competition in the market, they may not be the “best bang for the buck”. In addition, Viberg has held a couple sample sales where you can get a new pair of one-offs for $400 and below once a year. I’ve also been noticing companies being more liberal in placing them at sale prices such as Mr Porter, Superdenim, and Brooklyn Clothing Co.

I think the era of Viberg’s dominance in the market peaked in 2013-2015, and now if I had a brand new footwear wardrobe, I’d look into other options such as Truman boots. However, that’s another day’s discussion!