Top 10 Italian Shoe Makers

A. Testoni — Three different levels of quality. Regular-line shoes (now called Studium, I believe) are okay, if a bit bit fashion-forward. The Black Label shoes are better. They’re all Bologna-constructed, and each so often I see a model that I actually could wear. Most of them are a bit too fashion-forward for my tastes, and the prices (over $700 per pair) are high. The third line known as Amedeo Testoni and consists of Goodyear-welted and Norwegian constructed shoes. These are excellently-made but mostly unattractive to my eyes. They’re also extremely expensive for what you’re getting.

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Bruno Magli — Magli has a number of different lines. The one line worth talking about is the Platinum line. They seem like well made (I believe that they are Blake-constructed), however the designs are a bit over-the-top for me. They’re also very expensive for the standard. I don’t believe that Magli actually owns any production facilities but rather contracts all production out to third parties.

Silvano Lattanzi — Handmade shoes of impeccable quality. Lattanzi was originally brought to the United States by Louis Boston and is a pioneer here of handmade shoes and very high prices. He’s best known for gunboat-sized Norwegian- or Bentivegna-constructed shoes with flashy antiquing, but he can do more subdued styles as well.

Kiton — Kiton’s shoes have a eye-popping antiquing much like what one sees on Lattanzi shoes, but the last shapes are typically sleeker and the designs, while unusual, are generally more conservative.

Sutor Mantellassi — I’ll admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for Sutor Mantellassi shoes. I really like the best way that they do Norwegian construction (with a single row of stitching rather than the flashier two braided rows favored by other makers) and their innovative use of skin stitching. Like most Italian producers, Mantellassi has multiple line: a Blake-constructed line of fine but not outstanding quality and a Norwegian or Goodyear-constructed line that’s of wonderful quality.

Gravati — One of my favorite Italian manufacturers, not because there aren’t better producers out there (there are) but because Gravati makes a superb shoe for an affordable price and because they’re almost infinitely flexible in what they’ll and can produce. Through the years, I’ve placed many, many special orders for Gravati shoes, and they’re always right and of remarkably consistent quality. Their shoes are mostly Blake- and Blake/Rapid-constructed, but they may make Goodyear-welted shoes on request.

Borgioli — Borgioli is a serious producer of private-label shoes, a few of which are made to execrable standards of quality and which Borgioli would never want to assert. Hey, they need to survive. The shoes produced under their very own label are superb. Most are Blake-constructed. Just a few are Norwegian-constructed, and they are excellent.

Romano Martegani — Martegani operates a very good Blake and Blake/Rapid factory, and they’re endlessly flexible. Gravati will almost never say no to a customer’s cockamamie ideas for a shoe, but they’ll say no sometimes. Martegani won’t. These are good, not excellent, shoes offered for an affordable price. User Ron Rider, formerly the shoe manager at Franco’s in Richmond, is now the US distributer for Martegani.

Salvatore Ferragamo — Like Bruno Magli, Ferragamo does not own any of their very own production facilities. Also like Bruno Magli, they market shoes of widely varying qualities. The Studio line shoes are cemented and never worth the cash they cost. The Lavarazione Originale line shoes are generally Blake-constructed and are sometimes attractive and well-made, if overpriced. The Tramezza line shoes are Goodyear-welted and are superb. Ferragamo has a joint venture with Zegna called Zefer, and Zefer produces all the Zegna-labelled shoes. I believe, although I am not certain, that Zegna owns the production facilities for these shoes, a few of that are very good.

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StefanoBi — I do not know an entire lot about StefanoBi shoes, but I believe that this was Stefano Branchini’s original company and that he sold it to LVMH in the 1990s. The StefanoBi factory apparently produces shoes for all the LVMH companies, including Berluti. The one pair of StefanoBi shoes that I ever saw (square-toe tan wingtip balmorals) were attractive in a flashy, Italian form of way.

Stefano Branchini — If I recall correctly, I believe that Sr. Branchini started this company after he sold StefanoBi to LVMH. I have never seen any of those shoes within the flesh, and I really cannot touch upon the standard of construction. What I can say is that these shoes, to me, represent everything that’s wrong with Italian shoemaking today. They’re ugly and over-the-top. It is like Sr. Branchini took all that is excessive about Lattanzi shoes and used it as a toned-down model for what he wanted to do.

Artioli — I believe, although I’m not sure, that Artioni shoes are mostly Bologna-constructed. They give the impression of being to be well-made and are undoubtedly very flexible. I’ve two primary complaints with Artioli shoes. First is the leather that they tend to make use of: it’s that glove-leather-looking stuff that Italian shoes were known for within the 1980s. Sure, it is soft, but it surely would not wear very well. Secondly, they’ve succumbed to the witch’s shoes trend: their shoes nowadays are inclined to have elongated, needle-nose snouts that I think are extremely ugly.

Santoni — Santoni produces many, many different lines of shoes. The Nuvola shoes have natural rubber soles and are decently-constructed and comfortable Blake shoes. The Classic line consists of some Bologna, some Blake, and some Goodyear shoes. The new Bologna models, specifically, are made on a really attractive round-toe last and are extremely flexible. The Fatte a Mano line consists of some Blake and some Goodyear, Norwegian, or Bentivegna shoes. Many of the Fatte a Mano models are, well, ugly, with overly-elongated, pointy, witch’s-shoes-looking snouts; but once they’re right, they’re very, very right. Regardless, while you’ll be able to complain in regards to the looks of the non-Blake Fatte a Manos, you cannot complain about the development. It is excellent.

Moreschi — Moreschi is yet one more good maker of mid-range Blake-constructed shoes. Much of what they sell is, ah, exuberant. Combinations of blue peccary with blue ostrich leg are to be found. You don’t have to purchase those. The normal shoes are well-made and reasonably priced. Probably a small step below Gravati in quality of construction, and much below Gravati in flexibility of offerings and receptivity to special orders.

Fratelli Peluso — I’ve seen a lot of several types of Peluso shoes. The primary is a line of Goodyear-welted shoes that look to be well-constructed and fairly-priced. From the website, it appears that these shoes have a gemmed linen feather and are machine-welted just as most English welted shoes. Given the worth (under $500 per pair), this is to be expected. Peluso also makes a line of Blake-constructed shoes and yet another line of Blake-constructed shoes sold under the “Peluso for As well Adam Derrick” label. Both seem like relatively well-constructed shoes offered for reasonable prices.

Barrett — I have never seen a Barrett shoe in person, but their website certainly shows a number of beautiful models. Although the web site does not specify the development methods used, it is likely that the majority of them are Blake or Blake/Rapid constructed, with just a few Norwegian models.

Bontoni — This company has made a recent splash on the US market, getting themselves carried by Louis Boston and Stanley Korshak. The shoes are very much of a bit with a lot of high-end Italian shoes nowadays: a bit clunky, with eye-popping antiquing. If you want that sort of thing, these shoes appear to be well-made versions of the aesthetic. The problem is that they’re grossly overpriced. They’re Blake/Rapid-constructed, and the channel for the Rapid sole stitching is not closed. Frankly, the quality of construction is inferior to Gravati or Martegani, for my part; and yet the retail price for the calfskin models is nearly $1000 per pair.

Bonora — Florentine bespoke maker that has branched into RTW. I do not know if these are factory-made shoes of if they’re made in Bonora’s workshop. Given the prices, I believe that the previous is more likely than the latter. The shoes themselves seem like mostly Goodyear-welted and staid of their styling.

De Tommaso — A specialist in handmade Goodyear, Norwegian, and Treccia shoes.

Zegna — A number of years ago, Zegna began a joint venture with Ferragamo called Zefer (oh, the originality!) to produce Zegna-labeled shoes. I think, although I have no idea for sure, that Zegna actually owns the production facilities for these shoes. In any event, they run the gamut from the very ordinary to the very nice. Most of the lower-priced versions are either cemented or Blake-constructed. The top-of-the-line shoes, however, are Goodyear-welted and really attractive. As with plenty of Zegna’s products, they are probably overpriced for what they’re, but what they are appears to be excellent quality shoes.

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