Monday, October 17, 2011

A Series on Leather Craftsmen: Interview with Phillip Nappi

Following my interview with San Francisco based leather craftsman Gad Tal, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Nashville based leather goods brand Peter Nappi. I'll admit I have been salivating over their Julius boot for a while, so the chance to speak to the man behind the brand, was definitely a pleasure.

Launched by Phillip Nappi, the grandson of Peter, the story behind the brand and its Italian heritage is one that will have everyone believing in fate (read below). The story behind their Nashville studio, and the incredible level of quality and detail behind their work, is one that will have you believing in the resurgence of craftsmen and how you can purchase goods that will last a lifetime (continue reading below!).

Based in a rebuilt studio space that had been Nashville's Neuhoff Meatpacking Plant, the Peter Nappi team not only produces handcrafted beautiful products, but has engaged with local musicians, artists, and chefs to connect with the community and those who share a similar passion for artisanry and craftmanship.

The Tote

Julius Boot, a personal favorite

5 Questions with Phillip Nappi:

MR: What inspired you to "relaunch" the Peter Nappi brand?
It all boils down to a passion for boots I had shared unknowingly with my grandfather, the founder of the original Peter Nappi. I've always dreamed of having a shoe store with old, great leather couches, a cappuccino machine and incredible music playing in the background. I was inspired to turn my dream into a mission when my favorite pair of work boots finally wore out beyond repair. I had worn them everyday for years to the point that they were molded to fit my foot as if they were made for me. It was like losing a great love and I couldn't find anything to replace them that could offer its perfected fit from the beginning. So I started sketching out some ideas, ripping out pictures, and piecing together all of my favorite aspects into one model. It became an obsession. But if we were really going to do this we had to be all-in. So my wife and I quit our jobs, boarded our dogs and moved to Italy to make the perfect boot. Everyone thought we were nuts.
It wasn’t until about six months into this venture that our fate was sealed. While in Italy, I found out my grandfather, Peter Nappi, whom I had never met, was a shoemaker from Vietri, Italy. It was as if all of this was predestined, uncovered piece by piece to seem like it was my own idea, when really it was a part of who I was all along. This is my heritage, I am just happy to be able to carry it on.

MR: What is the basis for your designs?
PN: Quality takes precedent. We spend equal time choosing the leather as we do designing and crafting our boots. Only the finest, most supple leathers will do. Then we focus on simple, time-honored designs that last. We believe your footwear should be a staple so we design ours to be both timeless and have the quality to last a lifetime.

MR: Is there a specific training or apprenticeship program for your artisans?
PN: We work with an incredible group of people in Italy. The man that helps bring our designs to fruition actually teaches the art of shoemaking to students in town (Monsumanno Terme, outside Firenze). He is so passionate about sharing the talents and skills of past generations and passing them on to the next reign. The family that owns the factory where our shoes are made has worked there since the 60s. The owner, now 78, and his wife still come in everyday. He's actually been making shoes for one of the most famous Italian fashion houses since he was only eleven years old. He's about to hand over operations to his daughter who's probably been there since birth. The head foreman, lovingly called "iL Mastreo" (the Master) has worked there 32 years - and he's only 50 years old. Shoemaking is in their blood— that more than anything trumps their training. They are truly incredible people and we are lucky to work with them.

MR: Are there any new materials or techniques you're looking to use moving forward?
PN: I've been experimenting with finishing techniques. One of the best things about our shoes is that they only get better with age. The leather is such that through wear, they actually become more beautiful—like life is evolving them into an extension of the owner. Some of these finishing techniques will bring out hidden qualities that would take months or years to see. Although the journey is half the fun, these effects on the leather give the boots the appearance that they have a life and a story to tell coming straight out of the box.

MR: Where do you see Peter Nappi going from here?
PN: We have some great women's models coming soon. Heels, boots, open toe, laced shoes. All with our signature quality and timeless style. We've also been working on leather jackets. We want "Peter Nappi" to be a lifestyle. A way to live—not just in the products we sell but in the principles we believe in, which inspire the way we work and produce our goods.
There are just so many options! We are thrilled to be given such an incredible opportunity to revive and continue a great man's calling.

Wooden shoe boxes

Inside the studio

Be sure to check out all of the great content on the Phillip Nappi site, including video and more photos of their amazing studio!

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