Ecco’s marketing pitch: This technically advanced, minimalist, high-top sneakers defies the rules.
Upper: Perforated thin Yak leather, tongue gusset.
Midsole: Full length Polyurethane foam.
Outsole: No rubber coverage, the PU midsole also doubles as the outsole.
Weight: 340 gms/ 12 Oz for a half pair of Men's US 9/UK 8/EUR 42.5/CM 27
Widths available: D - regular (reviewed)
Wait, what? A casual leather shoe review? Isn’t this a running shoe website?
Unlike what most people think, solereview did not begin its life as a running shoe website. However, focusing on a single category made the content meaningful, so here we are. Solereview also doesn’t intend to be just a running website in the future, but for now, we’ll stick to being one.
So what’s the backstory with the Ecco Scinapse high top?
This is a personal purchase. While running shoes are comfortable to wear and nice to look at, you can’t wear them everywhere. Once in a while, you need to dress up a little, and that’s where the purchase of a casual shoe becomes necessary.
There’s a problem with a running shoe reviewer going leather shoe shopping. You tend to look for qualities which make an ideal running shoe. For example, the shoe needs to be lightweight and comfortable for standing or walking all day. The upper should fit true to size, have smooth seam-free interiors, and be adequately ventilated. It also needs to be easy to get in and out of.
Black and brown shoes are much about form as they are about function. So one expects a certain standard of materials – be it the kind of leather and other trims. Good shoes tend to run expensive, so they need to be durable too. Needless to say, finding such a shoe is easier said than done.
We finally bought the Ecco Scinapse high-top after nearly a week of browsing and trying countless shoes on. With this review, we hope to document the selection criteria and also list a few other shoes which made the cut. And ones which didn’t.
Comfortable casual sneakers are easier to find in 2019 than they were a decade ago. Back then, the leather sneaker category was virtually non-existent. If you didn’t want a dress shoe, you’d have to settle for a moccasin, a penny loafer, or stodgy walking shoes. There were comfortable shoes from Rockport, but they were far from fashionable and not as cushy.
Around eight years ago, Nike decided to infuse some of its running shoe-ness into Cole Haan, a brand it then owned. That changed everything. It led to the creation of an entirely new class of footwear; one which bridged traditional casual shoes and athletic wear.
Remember those leather brogue uppers with the bright Lunarlon foam midsoles? Or the extremely comfortable Air Olex Chelsea boot with its Cushlon midsole and Air bags? That was all the Swoosh working its magic back then. The original Cole Haan Lunargrand wingtip was what started it all.
It didn’t take long for the rest of the industry to catch up. Shoes with stylish leather uppers and EVA foam midsoles started popping up everywhere; today, some brands like Skechers have built nearly their entire assortment around this template.
When you look at the vast landscape of business casuals and curate brands which have a legacy of making premium and comfortable leather-wear, you end up with a concise list.
On one hand, you have brands like Cole Haan, Clarks, Ecco, Johnston and Murphy, and Rockport. We also tried shoes from Hush Puppies, Florsheim, Josef Seibel, and Mephisto.
We had a budget of $500 which meant that we could also explore high-end brands like John Lobb, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Santoni which are on their summer sale. We soon discovered that while the said shoemakers make drop-dead gorgeous dress footwear, a comfortable casual offering is not exactly their forte.
To the cut a long story short, we ended up with the Ecco Scinapse high, a shoe which we see as the best business casual shoe of 2019. It retails at US $170, but it can be had for much less. In fact, we paid around $120 for our pair.
The Scinapse high is a fine example of great shoemaking, and excellence here isn’t defined by the craftsmanship or the use of exotic materials and finishes. Rather, all design best practices come together in perfect concert to create one of the most comfortable and well-fitting leather shoes on the market.
We’ll walk you through other models we tried and rejected, but let’s leave that for the end – otherwise, we’ll never get started with the review.
UPPER DESIGN, MATERIALS, AND FIT
The Ecco Scinapse uses a unique material to make its upper. Unlike most leather shoes which use cowhide or calfskin, the Scinapse uses Yak leather. Yes, you heard that right. Ecco sources this leather from Tibet for many of their products.
Yak leather does for casual footwear what Kangaroo leather achieves for soccer/football boots. Both are thin and yet have a high weight-to-strength ratio. Yak leather has a fine grain with a tightly-packed fiber structure, thus imparting it with softness and superior weather resistance over other leathers.
It’s like a blend of calfskin and sheepskin – a smooth texture combined with a soft hand feel. And Ecco doesn’t skimp on the leather with the Scinapse. The outer upper is made entirely of Yak-hide; there’s no mesh here.
Leather is used even in the padded heel collar area. The soft thinness allows a stitch-and-fold construction without requiring a break-in period, something which is hard to achieve with conventional materials. The Scinapse is good to go right out of the box, a rarity for a shoe with an all-leather upper.
The upper has a very clean, minimalist side profile. The Scinapse uses large leather panels without overlays crowding it. The lateral (outer) side uses a single piece of Yak hide from the toe to the heel.
There’s a seam connecting the midfoot to the heel on the medial side, but the thin leather allows for a bump-free stitch and a turn joint which is nearly invisible.
Even the leather heel overlay is folded for a clean aesthetic effect.
The foam-filled tongue is attached directly over the upper, and it is also the base for the lacing speed loops. The Scinapse uses non-elastic cord lacing which can be adjusted and locked by a fastener near the top.
The tongue has a partially sleeved construction. The outer upper and the tongue go their separate ways near the midfoot. This allows the flap to sit flush over the foot instead of being folded inside – many leather shoes chose the latter design. The Ecco approach is more comfortable.
This design makes the Scinapse very easy to get in and out of. Due to the half-bootie construction, the upper opens wide near the top.
The lacing process is super quick, efficient, and functional. The cords pass smoothly through the loops and the stopper without friction. The cords stay tied without any play, but if you want to loosen the fit, pressing on the sides of the stopper and pulling upwards results in a quick-release action.
The only aspect worth nitpicking about the lacing is that its fully-cinched state leaves a lot of spare cording past the stopper. We just leave it tucked under the laces. We reckon that the BOA kind of lacing (Ecco has it on their Golf shoes) will solve this problem, but that would spoil the clean design lines.
Every design element on the Scinapse’s upper is an example of great shoemaking, the tongue included. Notice that the top part of the tongue is made of mesh so that it doesn’t press into the skin. Again, this is a shoe which feels comfortable right out of the store.
The lack of outward seams results in an extremely smooth interior. It’s worth pointing out that there’s a very thin layer of foam between the fabric lining and leather upper. This is what gives the insides a soft feel. Can’t say we see this often on a leather shoe.
One of the common complaints with leather casuals is the paucity of space. As we discovered recently, even brands known for their ‘comfortable’ leather sneakers tend to make uppers with an uncomfortably narrow fit. Either the forefoot will be too tight or the toe-box too shallow; sometimes it’s a case of both.
Not so with the Ecco Scinapse. The forefoot grips securely without applying unwanted pressure, and the toe-box fit is perfect. There’s enough splay room and height for the toes even with a pair of thick socks.
The heel is lined with a thin leather for a smooth feel. There’s an internal stiffener which cups the foot in place. The Achilles dip and collar wrap softly around the foot without biting.
There are slits cut into the upper and tongue so the ventilation is decent for a closed leather shoe. Naturally, the interiors are nowhere as breezy as a running shoe, but the Scinapse does relatively well for its design.
And why did we pick the high instead of a low-cut profile?
The cut and ankle height of the Scinapse ‘high’ is more like a Chukka boot rather than a Chelsea cut, so it’s an all-year silhouette if you ask us. Besides, this isn’t the only Scinapse model – there are other low-top variants of this shoe. There’s a mention of them at the end of this review.
With a little help, it’s also possible to make the fine-grain leather upper water-resistant for all-season use. We applied Ecco’s leather spray to create an invisible, water-repellent coating. It doesn’t make the shoe waterproof, but water beads off the leather during occasional spring showers.
SOLE DESIGN AND COMFORT
One of the reasons why we chose the Scinapse over the others was its Polyurethane midsole. EVA foam-based midsoles are lighter and might feel soft initially but they age poorly. The midsole tends to crease and trap dirt over its sidewalls – EVA also compacts over time and affects the performance and overall aesthetic. They also tend to scuff easily.
Polyurethane midsoles do nothing of that sort. They are more durable than EVA and do not lose their shape over time.
While PU midsoles are heavier than EVA foams, the Scinapse fares pretty well on the scale. It weighs 12 ounces – which is decent for a casual shoe with a full leather upper. It helps that the midsole has a hollow, ribbed section on the outsole to reduce weight.
The Scinapse’s midsole is also the outsole – the PU foam is durable enough to be used as one. We’ve had the shoe for over two months now with little to show for wear and tear. The traction could be better on smooth surfaces but on the road, the PU midsole has excellent grip.
The firmness of the cushioning makes the shoe extremely stable. The outward facing flare of the Scinapse’s wide midsole creates a supportive platform, and the hollow groove underneath keeps the foot centered.
The midsole provides sufficient under-arch support as well; the insole flares under the arch and cushions the foot from the midsole edge.
Unlike most shoes which paste their midsoles to the upper, the Ecco Scinapse uses direct injection. Ecco was one of the first adopters of commercial footwear making robots; a lot of them are used to inject molten Polyurethane directly over the upper.
This process eliminates the need for gluing, thus creating a stronger bond between the Yak leather upper and the midsole. Telltale signs of direct injection are visible underneath the insole.
You can see the gray sections (refer to the picture above) where the once-liquid Polyurethane foam seeped inside the shoe and hardened.
The cushioning is firm with a soft topping of blown foam insole. The Scinapse isn’t the shoe to find EVA or E-TPU grade of softness. But the midsole is comfortable enough for daily walking and getting road – the PU cushioning feels much better under your feet than leather-soled dress shoes and Moccasin drivers with rubber outsoles.
OTHER SCINAPSE VARIANTS
The Scinapse high isn’t the only one of its kind. It is part of a four-shoe assortment which includes two other low-top versions and an ankle-length boot. All feature the same midsole under different upper designs.
If you’re not into Chukka cut, then the Scinapse band is a fashionable slip-on. It’s more of a sneaker and not as dressy as the one reviewed, but you get an easy-on, easy-off fit with the same premium fit and feel.
Ecco also sells a Scinapse low with regular laces – if a more formal look is what you’re after.
We liked two Johnston and Murphy’s model and their variations – the XC4 Prentiss and the Keating with the mesh and leather combination. We almost put our money on the mesh Keating.
The XC4 Prentiss is available in a variety of upper combinations, ranging from leather, mesh and leather, to the waterproof version. It has a cushioned ride and a soft, leather upper. However, its EVA midsole is one of the reasons why we did not buy them.
If you want a breathable sneaker which you can wear to work, the Johnston and Murphy Keating mesh would be our top pick.
Mind you, the Keating also comes in a full leather upper version; that’s not the model we’re referring to. There is a mesh and leather variant which has an excellent fit over a comfortable midsole.
If the idea of dropping $200+ on a shoe doesn’t appeal to you, we strongly recommend Skechers. They sell a mind-boggling assortment of comfortable and lightweight business casuals. If you have a silhouette, material, or price-range in mind, chances are, Skechers sells it.
OTHER SHOES WHICH DID NOT MAKE THE CUT
The Cole Haan boutique was the first place we went to looking for a cushy sneaker, and it turned out to be a disappointment. Cole Haan still makes great leather footwear, but of late their supposedly comfortable products aren’t what they used to be.
Nike no longer supplies their tech to Cole Haan, which means that materials like the Lunarlon foam or Air bag are off the menu. We had high hopes for models like the Cole Haan Zerogrand All Day Trainer with Stitchlite and the $300 Zerogrand LSR Wing.
Both fell short of our comfort standards; the All Day trainer looked bulky on the feet and nowhere as comfortable as imagined. The upper looked stretchy but wasn’t. Even the lacing felt disconnected from the rest of the upper fit. And the LSR Wing looked very beautiful but had a very narrow fit and a flat ride.
We tried shoes from Rockport and Clarks too. Honestly, even Rockport looked lost once they split from the adidas group – they have decent products but live in the shadow of their past glory.
Among other brands, we were open to the idea of buying from the high-end Italian shoe brands. We soon realized that the Italian craft absolutely gorgeous dress shoes but are average casual-wear makers. Sure, models like the Salvatore Ferragamo Gancini (also called the Cult 6) sneakers have a comfortable upper but weigh over a pound. The same goes for Santoni and John Lobb too.