When Giuseppe Santoni’s father decided to set up a modest establishment in Le Marche, a booming shoemaking epicentre on Italy’s Adriatic coast, he did so not in pursuit of a commercial empire, or even to make his fortune, but merely to provide his family a decent living. Six decades on, the company that bears the Santoni name is a global enterprise with almost 500 employees and an annual turnover of more than €50 million. It makes around 1,000 pairs of shoes per day for discerning consumers in more than 70 countries.
We’re talking about footwear of unparalleled calibre, in terms of both form and function; shoes whose handsewn soles, carefully selected skins and artfully applied patinas have prompted luxury commentator and longstanding Rake contributor Nick Foulkes to describe them as being “about as close as it is possible for a factory-made shoe to get to being entirely bespoke”. How does Santoni achieve this unlikely feat? By using a modus operandi of its own creation: one that reverently adheres to the sacrosanct, centuries-old methods of artisanal shoemaking, but on a vast scale and with a contemporary twist.
It is an almost absurdly ambitious enterprise, made possible by a combination of passion and diligence that is borderline obsessive — a state of mind that they expect of others, too. “All our suppliers, everyone with whom we collaborate, everyone who works for us, must be crazy about quality, like us, and crazy about details, like us,” Giuseppe Santoni tells The Rake over lunch in Corridonia, the town nearest to Santoni’s brilliant-white, three-storey production facility. “The staff have to know the Santoni story and ethos inside out.”One of the most (literally) hands-on, proactive CEOs in the luxury world today, Giuseppe is in an effusive mood, as is usually the case when he is asked to expound on his company’s impressive commercial and critical success in what are, particularly in his native Italy, times of austerity. But first, let’s rewind a little: his father Andrea had found work as a leather cutter for a major shoemaking corporation at the tender age of 14 before moving on to a stint as a stitcher, then a production manager. He and his wife Rosa decided to go it alone in the mid-’70s.
From the outset, Andrea had wanted to buck the prevailing shoemaking trend of the newly industrialised era — one in which prolific output was considered the hallmark of superiority — and shift the focus back to the time-honoured, quality-driven methods of shoemaking. To say that his young offspring was vocationally precocious in these early days would be a serious understatement. “You could say that I began working with my father when I was seven years old,” Giuseppe laughs. “I was there the first day he started the company. It was the summertime in 1975, and he had just two workers — one of them is still with us. I remember telling my father, ‘If you need to go out, I can watch over them…’ The factory back then was the garage of our family home. It was my playground. I’ve always naturally been a very curious person, and being near to my father, seeing, learning, understanding the things he did — this was fantastic for me.”