Giuseppe Santoni has been steeped in shoes ever since his parents founded the family brand in 1975 from their garage in Corridonia, Italy. “The factory was my playground,” he remembered. A baptism by fire followed, with Santoni joining the business at 19 and being named CEO in 1990, at the tender age of 21. “It certainly made me grow up faster,” said the executive, 46, who still holds that position. Today, Santoni is focused on expanding outside Europe and attracting new customers. A U.S. flagship opened in October on New York’s Madison Avenue, and the growing women’s collection, which launched in 2005, now accounts for 30 percent of the business. Footwear News tagged along with this discerning-yet-discreet leader for a busy Saturday during Milan’s fashion week.
“I didn’t get up early because last night we went out quite late with friends,” admits Santoni, who celebrated the showing of his brand’s spring ’15 women’s collection with dinner at La Risacca 6 and drinks at Hotel Bulgari. After breakfast, Santoni pops in to see his tailor. “It’s relaxing for me to visit him and talk about my fall wardrobe,” he says. Today, he wears a bespoke blue suit lined in signature Santoni pumpkin orange, finished with matching crocodile loafers.
Giuseppe’s next mission is to take his teenage children shopping. “They always need something, especially my daughter,” he says of 14-year-old Sofia, who, along with 16-year-old brother Gabrio, visits on the weekends from boarding school in Switzerland. Their headmaster recently asked for Santoni to provide uniform shoes.
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Santoni and I meet at the showroom on Via Monte Napoleone for a look at the new collection. Handsome men’s shoes are the brand’s strength, so Santoni’s design team wisely weaves in gentlemanly touches — kilties, monk straps, patina finishes — into the women’s offering. The effect is dashing. And it must be said: The handmade quality is a huge source of pride for Giuseppe. “We built a school [at our factory] to teach the next generation. It’s important to me to [help] new people to learn the craft. It’s how we will keep our [reputation].”
Coffee break. Thankfully, Caffé Cova, a Milanese institution since 1817, is nearby, and Giuseppe comes here often for espresso. “Italian coffee is short. It’s like, boom — a quick break,” he says.
On the walk to his flagship store, also on Via Monte Napoleone, Giuseppe tries to take a work call, but is drowned out by the roar of a Ferrari. “Too flashy for me,” says the elegant designer, who prefers to drive a tricked-out Mercedes. “It’s a powerful vehicle that appears to be an old-man car, but it’s much faster and discreet,” he explains.
Santoni stores smell intoxicatingly good. “It’s a custom scent made by a special nose that I worked with. I’m crazy for perfume,” Giuseppe explains. He visits the store regularly to get feedback and tweak the merchandising. Today, he gives notes on the window display and instructs one associate to polish his own shoes to a Santoni-level sheen.
Outside the store, Giuseppe bumps into his wife and daughter, who are still out shopping. His wife, Alessia, works on the administration and finance side of the business. So do his children hear the siren call of the business? “Both of them have very good instincts for design,” Giuseppe shares. “In our house, we always talk about the philosophy behind luxury. It’s in our blood.”
We arrive for a late lunch at the Hotel Bulgari’s hopping outdoor restaurant. “I’m friends with the owner, so I like to come here a lot and sit outside,” Giuseppe says. Not surprising, he bumps into several other pals on the way to our table. “Everyone knows everybody here,” he says. “Milano is really a small town. It’s friendly, easygoing and open. The quality of life we get in Italy is very hard to find anywhere else.”
Giuseppe is off to another meeting, this time with the Mercedes team. “We have to talk about their new car, the GT, as we are creating a special style for it — sports shoes, but very elegant,” he says.