From its origins as a small, family-owned shoe design company in 1975, Santoni today is one of the most recognized names in the luxury footwear industry with a global distribution network that includes standalone boutiques in cities as diverse as Milan, Moscow, Tokyo, Shanghai, and, most recently, Manila. With thousands of pairs produced out of its workshop in Corridonia, Italy, we asked how Giuseppe Santoni, son of founder Andrea, how the brand manages to uphold their artisanal traditions while meeting the growing demand for its products overseas.
How do you guarantee quality while at the same time expand production constantly?
Giuseppe Santoni: What we need to do to guarantee the quantity is to enlarge our production and to have more groups of people working. But we don’t simply enlarge the workforce. Our groups of people like 10, 15 people, but with more groups so each group can guarantee the quality. But, in order to do this, you need to have the full involvement of the people and within every group you need to have like a small boss who can guarantee the quality of their routine. So, this is our secret, how we can maintain the quality in order to guarantee the quantity.
But with less people interested in manual labor, how do you attract skilled labor and experienced artisans?
We are lucky to recruit good people and sometimes to come to work in Santoni is something that people in the shoe business appreciate. We also have an internal school that teaches people how to make shoes. For our new working groups, we assign the most experienced person manufacturing shoes from the older groups to act like a teacher. We try to have one master within each group to guarantee how to learn, how to teach other people how to make shoes.
You call yourselves an artisanal company, but, apart from your growing size, aren’t you also increasingly reliant on machinery?
Of course [for ready-to-wear shoes], we use machines because sometimes machines guarantee a better job, but obviously this has to be mixed with the human ability to know how to use the machine, and knowing when to stop using the machine and start doing the handwork. This mix of handwork and machine works makes the product sophisticated and elaborate, but with an unbelievable and distinguished touch of difference. So, every pair of shoes is made different from the other, so it’s not an industrial product. It’s not a product made in a line which every single pair is the same. But every pair is a different story.
So, ultimately the hand of the artisan is still the most important distinguishing feature of your shoes—be it ready to wear of limited edition pairs?
Definitely, the handlasting really makes the difference. The hand stitching of the shoes is also an important process. The hand polishing and hand coloring of the shoe, especially, makes a difference—so, these three processes we recommend as the three ones that cannot be made by machine, and if you do these by machine they will not look the same. You will see the difference.
And so is comfort, or so I’m told by your clients. The perfect fit is the most difficult to achieve.
This is thanks to the technique that we use in making the last. It is my father’s technique. He started with this philosophy in making the last in a way where you leave space for certain bones, which is important for the body structure as these bones need to have the right space for their work. This is how we can achieve the right fitting.
Among the various styles and models produced in your workshop, what is your personal favorite, your style statement?
I would say the double buckle is my favorite style.
Blue. My color is blue. It’s the company color. And the orange lining is definitely our distinguishing element.
The Santoni limited edition collection is considered the cult product of the family-owned brand. It’s what the Santonis and the artisans who work for the family use to explain and showcase their ability to produce shoes in a completely handmade process. For Giuseppe Santoni, “it’s where all the skills of the Santoni family are involved and where all the heritage of the brand is definitely expressed.”
Santoni employs a “one-shoe, one-man” approach, wherein every pair is produced by a single artisan from start to finish. To achieve this, only the most experienced shoemakers are tapped for the limited edition collection. With each step of the handmade process, there is no time limit for producing a limited edition pair.
To ensure quality commensurate to the rarity and steep price of every pair, the best quality fabrics, leather, sole, and lining materials are used. Creating Santoni’s trademark patina is one of the most demanding steps in the process. As many as 15 layers of color are applied in a precise rhythm in order to allow the color to penetrate and unite with the leather, rendering it softer.
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All limited edition models are named after an Italian wine. The Morasca is constructed from a single piece of the most supple kid leather using a process wherein the upper, the insole, and the sole are sewn together with two rows of cord and over 600 stitches that are crossed to produce its distinctive braided effect. Hand stitching under the leather provides the pair with a unique relief effect.
Also of particular pride to the Santoni family is the brand’s collaboration with the noble Venetian maison of Rubelli. Using exclusive fabrics supplied by the historic Italian manufacturer of high-end silk and damask, Santoni applies its handcrafted shoemaking techniques to produce a limited number of pairs for its capsule collection.
This story originally appeared on Vault Magazine Issue 16 No 4 2014.
Photographs courtesy of Santoni