Ace Marks is a high-quality footwear brand with a direct-to-consumer business model. In this review, we put their Carlo Oxford to the test.
I recently read an interesting article about how the internet might be saving the bespoke footwear industry. Apparently, despite sky-high rents and the wave of fast fashion, the internet is giving real artisans the opportunity to keep the art alive.
Ace Marks is made-to-order, which is sort of bespoke-adjacent. More importantly, their luxury shoes category, all made in Italy, which a lot of high-end fashion brands, as in fashion with a capital F, can’t even claim these days.
Are they worth their price tag though? I’ve been wearing the Ace Marks Carlos, their whole-cut Oxfords, for over a month now. By the end of this detailed, hands-on review, you’ll know why I recommend them and if they’re the right investments for you.
About Ace Marks
Ace Marks officially launched in 2016. However, founder Paul Farago had it in the works for quite some time. He noticed that the main choices when it came to shoes for men were cheap fast-fashion shoes or slightly more expensive shoes with upgrades not necessarily worth the premium.
Basically, the only well-built shoes were coming from big fashion, up-charging far more than many would consider fair just for the name brand.
Farago, coming from a family in the footwear industry, wanted to bring premium-built shoes without the designer mark-up, and already had the resources.
Circumventing distribution, retail, and several other middlemen, Ace Marks would sell high-end footwear for a fraction of the price you’d find with comparable models at name brands.
What makes them unique is that the leather is sourced from the Italian countryside. Also, their manufacturing is also Italian-based, versus Portugal or Spain.
Ace Marks Whole-Cut Oxford Review
The Whole-Cut Oxfords are minimal plain-toe, five-eyelet dress shoes made from one piece of leather. They come in several colorways including patinated shades of brown, brown suede, matte black, and a tuxedo-ready high-polish black.
I went with the Brown Antique, the second darkest brown colorway, after the Diablo Antique.
They’re made out of 100% full-grain calfskin leather, hand-dyed and hand-burnished, and Blake-stitched.
Immediately out of the box, I found these shoes to be super elegant. You know that quick-and-dirty rule about the casual to formal spectrum about how details bring a garment or accessory closer to the casual side?
These shoes fully prove that.
The only topography is a long piece of fortifying leather on the back.Even though they are brown, which tends to be more casual and Americana compared to chic black, I think that they’re far more formal looking than my traditional black Oxfords.
Plus, the patination on the toes matches the darker leather of the outsoles, giving it sophisticated, dimensional color without taking away from the minimalism.
Its silhouette is beautifully sleek, with a precise taper that really feeds into its formal aesthetic, as do the stacked heels.
I have basically no complaints here when it comes to the looks. I save these shoes for tuxedo situations, but they can easily be worn with a suit, and even in smart casual situations depending on your style.
You can style them like traditional Oxfords, but they can journey way deeper into the formal side of the spectrum than more detailed dress shoes in the same color.
Ace Marks wasn’t lying in their description about these shoes being full-grain calfskin. It has a sweet yet tobacco-like aroma and a supple surface, and the entire shoe feels sturdy in my hands.
The leather is impressively smooth, with the tight grain only showing up visually under direct light or as you bend the uppers. It’s still organic-looking, unlike say a wildly treated leather like the kind on Doc Martens 1460s, but as flawless as natural leather can look.
Overall, if you want a detail-free dress shoe, the Carlos checks all of the boxes, aesthetically and build-wise.
Comfort and Fit
I ordered these shoes in size 8s, in the regular D width, which is what I usually go for with my dress shoes. Ultimately, they fit true to size, but the whole-cut design does pose some challenges.
First off, since they lack any flex-supporting details like cap toes, it’s not easy to get your fit in these shoes without a shoehorn.
Fortunately, Ace Marks provides a really good, strong shoe horn with the Carlos’ packaging. So, extra credit to them for thinking that through.
And, since there aren’t any eyelet stays, loosening the laces is a bit complicated. You can’t just pull on the slack of the laces to retighten them, and you have to figure out from the interior what parts of the laces to push and pull on. Even then, the slack of the laces may come out uneven.
Unsurprisingly, since they’re a whole-cut design, these shoes start out pretty tight on the sides. Surprisingly, this didn’t last too long.
Don’t follow my example because I got lucky here, but I didn’t take the time to break these in. I wore them for the very first time ever, at a black-tie gala where I was standing and walking around for a good two hours during cocktail hour, then another two hours after dinner.
The tightness was easy to ignore and basically gone by the end of the evening — and I only had two martinis so my faculties and pain sensitivity were largely unaffected.
These shoes are Blake-stitched so that probably helped with the comfort factor. Moreover, Ace Marks uses a special last with “Blake Flex” which is noticeably low pressure.
The relatively non-existent break-in period is probably the biggest (positive) shock of my experience in these shoes. It almost makes up for the fact they’re so difficult to put on.
I think $350 is a fair price for the Carlos. Again, Ace Marks cuts out the wholesale expenses, the retail expenses, then the retail markup.
Similarly-built shoes by brands like Berluti and Crockett & Jones are easily double the price, or even up to two grand. I don’t think a Goodyear welt and brand name really justify that premium on a practical front.
They’re slightly more expensive than Allen Edmonds Oxfords when they’re on sale, and in the same ballpark as the Paul Smiths of the world.
Pros and Cons
Here are my prior-mentioned thoughts and experiences on the Carlos, as well as my thoughts on the brand overall, organized into what I liked and didn’t like.
The design is elegant and stylish. I love the tapered silhouette, stacked heel, and vivid and patinated color. The leather is supple and obviously premium, with a genuine calfskin smell.
The Carlos are surprisingly comfortable, despite the immediate tightness of the uppers. As a whole-cut Oxford, it’s meant to fit tighter than a traditional Oxford anyway.
They fit true to size, and Ace Marks even offers sizes all the way down to a 5 and all the way up to a 15.
The brand itself is pretty impressive. All of the shoes are made in Italy and offer a high level of artisan craftsmanship, especially for the price.
Additionally, Ace Marks allows you to chat with a real human expert on their website and has a buy-back program that allows you to trade in old shoes for a $50 credit toward new ones.
Getting into these shoes is a whole situation. Even when you loosen the laces (which is challenging to do and even more challenging to retighten), you’ll need to use full strength to shoe-horn your foot into the shoe.
My advice? Dedicate a good few minutes to put these shoes on. They aren’t a slip-on-and-go model by any means. Also, it’s 100% impossible to get into these shoes without a shoe horn, so don’t lose it.
Some of you might prefer a Goodyear-welted construction, but considering the tightness of the build, I’m happy with the more flexible Blake stitching.
Though you can wear them with suits, I’m sticking to super formal events when it comes to the Ace Marks Whole-Cut Carlos Oxfords. They’re too difficult to put on to make them everyday work shoes, and their elegant and high-class aesthetic looks perfect with a non-black tuxedo or a dark suit.
I don’t wear much black, and my tuxedo is a dark navy, so I love that Ace Marks offers a comfortable, minimal dark brown dress shoe that’s this formal looking.
If you have the time to dedicate to putting the Carlos shoes on, I highly recommend them. As a brand overall, Ace Marks seems to make excellent footwear (based on this one model I’ve worn), but also offers a wide range of sizes and hands-on customer service.
Questions? Comments? Leave them below!