Santoni: Blending Tradition and Innovation
Born into the world of luxury footwear, Giuseppe Santoni has long understood the craftsmanship it takes to make a good shoe. Giuseppe now holds the reigns as CEO of Santoni; the house founded by his father, Andrea, in 1975. Widely sought-after designer, Marco Zanini joined the house in 2015 to collaborate on the men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections, which reflect the richness in design Santoni is known for. Santoni and Zanini’s partnership is one of creative harmony which balances the houses philosophies of longevity, tradition and luxury.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
Where did you both grow up? What were your childhoods like?
Giuseppe Santoni: I grew up in the Marche region, a very nice place in the hearth of Italy, characterized by beautiful landscapes, simple life, concrete values. In this area, as well as in the rest of Italy in that period, the most important element in each individual and family life was work. Work was seen as a way to elevate oneself, to establish one’s family in the social environment.
Marche people, in particular, were well known as impeccable and hard workers. And my father and my family belonged to this category for sure. I have amazing memories of my childhood, while enjoying the authenticity of the simple life and seeing my father starting his new business with so much energy, passion and devotion.
Marco Zanini: I was born to a Swedish mother and an Italian father. I was raised in Milano, but spent lots of time in Sweden in my childhood: that gave me a very wide prospective from the start, and that’s something for which I’m very grateful. If I remember well, my childhood was rather introverted and absorbed in the playful fantasy world of my imagination. Later on, some of those early dreams eventually came true.
Giuseppe, your father stated Santoni in 1975. Were you close with your parents? What did your father teach you?
GS: I literally was my father’s shadow. The company, despite very small at the beginning, was the center of our family life and I was so fascinated by my father. I saw him as a powerful leader, and as an inspiring man with a clear vision. I still consider him my only icon and in my life I’ve never wan- ted to do something different from following his footprints.
Do either of you use social media? Do you enjoy the role it plays in both in your personal and professional lives?
GS: I do, of course, but not very often and mostly for professional issues. Social media, and Instagram on top, are now the best and fastest way to be always updated and also to find out some inspiration.
MZ: I do use social media, even if that’s quite recent. At one point few years ago, I realized I needed to follow what was going on platforms such as Instagram. To me, this plays a mainly professional role: my need to be updated is almost compulsive, and I use social media only to satisfy my curiosity and my hunger for information. I can’t deny there’s also a slight voyeuristic penchant, no question about it, but it’s not my primary drive.
Can you describe your relationship to me? Are you friends outside of work?
GS: I respect Marco very much, I consider him one of the most talented people I’ve ever met and I’m always glad when it happens to meet him not for business. I cannot properly say we are friends as I usually keep personal and professional life separated.
MZ: In my professional relations I always like to keep a healthy dose of respectful, yet friendly detachment.
Santoni has been manufactured by specialist crafts-people since its beginnings in 1975. Is it important to you both that Santoni remains manufactured in Italy? Do you think that the craftsmanship for fashion goods is of a higher quality in Italy compared to anywhere else in the world?
GS: It’s essential. Ours is the real Made in Italy, our production is 100% in-house, as only in this way we can guarantee excellence. Furthermore, Santoni product is mostly handcrafted so to maintain the traditional savoir faire over time is vital to us. Our distinctive feature is, in fact, our unique ability in combining tradition and innovation, craftsmanship to contemporary design.
MZ: I do believe that “Made in Italy” represents more that just a label. It is in fact a true value. Italy has a longtime tradition and specific sensibility towards what the French call savoir faire. It’s not by coincidence that all French high-end pret-à-porter brands come to Italy to produce their collection, right?
Do either of you believe in fate?
GS: I believe that we have a very important role in determining our path and our destiny.
MZ: I still don’t know if I really believe in fate, but I do know I owe fate quite a lot.
Marco, you joined Santoni last year. What did you know about Santoni before the opportunity arose to join the brand? Had you ever met Giuseppe before this time?
MZ: I never met Mr. Santoni in person before our first meeting to discuss the collaboration that followed, but I was surely aware of the excellence his family company stood for.
What kind of research and innovation goes into the construction of a shoe? Particularly when comfort is a key aim. Are either of you heavily involved in research and development of ergonomics for Santoni?
GS: I’m fully involved in the creative process of the footwear and comfort, for sure, is an important issue. It’s part of the elements you have to guarantee if you want to deliver a perfect product. I love to define us as “makers of beauty”, and a beautiful object is something you totally love not only when you see it but also when you use it. Our investment in research and development is aimed also to find out new techniques and solutions to enhance also the ergonomics of the product.
Santoni was launched as a footwear company, but has since grown with accessories and ready-to-wear collections. How did the launch of Santoni’s ready-to-wear collection come about? How has the response to this been?
GS: Santoni’s mission has always been to create beautiful objects that have great quality and a distinctive design. I understood that the way we conceive our product could be extended to other categories, which is indeed something our customers have been asking already for some time. The very same spirit informs the Santoni Edited by Marco Zanini project, which consists in a series of items aimed at an audience of connoisseurs looking for quality, culture and modernity.
How is Santoni’s approach to the luxury footwear sector different to other brands in this sector? Does heritage play an important role at Santoni?
GS: Santoni brand is founded on heritage and authenticity. What is really different is that we have always been able to distinguish ourselves adding a certain twist. Thus, we are not seen as a traditional company but, instead, as a niche luxury brand able to interpret the classic in a contemporary way.
Santoni has fantastic initiatives to help alleviate the brands environmental impact, while maintaining an image far from the hemp sack cliché of eco fashion. Why is eco fashion so important? What does Santoni do to remain sustainable?
GS: I believe that the care of the environment is part of every entrepreneur’s responsibility. A few years ago, when I decided to build a new HQ, I wanted it to be eco-friendly. The materials used in the production of the building – glass, steel and aluminium – are 90% recyclable.
The glass façades are conceived to reduce dramatically the power consumption of the building. Amazing vertical gardens in the lobby and the conference rooms give a unexpected breath to the space, making it more pleasant, and purifying the air.
A special system collects and recycles rainwater and most of all a big photo- voltaic plant, consisting of 3,945 panels installed on the roofs, allowing us to produce using exclusively solar energy.
In the most recent collection, Marco, you took inspiration from Italian architect Piero Portaluppi and the marble he used. How did you come across Portaluppi’s work and what is the significance in transforming this Italian inspiration into contemporary fashion design?
MZ: Since the first RTW collection I developed for Santoni I knew I had to give it a context to make it more believable.
Milan became immediately my focus. Milan has an incredibly rich heritage, both aesthetically and culturally, and I put it at once at the very center of my creative process for Santoni.
Portaluppi played the leading role in my second collection for the brand, and his highly-influential, sophisticated mid-century aesthetic is indeed overall very inspiring.
Santoni has had great commercial success across Europe, America and other parts of the globe. How do the consumers change from country to country? In what ways does Santoni adapt to these varied consumer markets?
GS: Our collections are really wide, and we cover several segments, from the sneakers to the luxury, handmade shoes in precious materials. Furthermore, we develop special models for important markets that have specific requirements, sometimes climatic or even cultural.
What role does music play in your lives? What was the last song that you each listened to? Do you play music in the studio?
GS: I love listening to music, even not during the creative process.
To me, music is a way to relax myself, and I love listening to music when I travel, or at home, rather than in the office.
MZ: Music is absolutely central in my life, how could we all live without it? The last song I heard 2 minutes ago is People Ain’t No Good by The Cramps, one of the favourite bands of my teenage years. Yes, I always play music, in the car, at home or at the studio.
What makes a shoe or garment luxurious? How does it feel, smell, appear…?
GS: The materials, how you can feel it when you see and touch it, and the care in the manufacture
MZ: What makes an object luxurious lies in its hand-made quality. That quality refers to a very human touch that cannot be mass-produced.
That touch involves time, grace, expert hands, culture, tradition, passion, un- compromising standards and joy.
Mass market, greediness and fast-fashion are not and will never be luxurious simply because they don’t know or value that rare quality or that noble touch.
The luxury footwear sector is highly competitive and fast paced. What is the secret to adapting Santoni to a market with rapidly changing business demands?
GS: It’s a tough challenge indeed. Year after year, we have to firmly defend our handmade procedures and our sort of bespoke approach to business, when everything is hyper industrialized, multiplied, inflated. And extremely fats, while true quality and exclusiveness require time.
What are each of you most looking forward to at this present moment?
GS: Consistent growth and international development.
MZ: Honesty and respect, integrity of vision, authenticity and creative fulfillment.
Does Santoni have clear goals to work towards in the future?
GS: I see Santoni more and more as an international reference brand in the luxury segment.
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