Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Magnificence: Magnanni

few years ago I was trying to prepare for an interview when I had a sudden epiphany that suits sucked for interviews. While they represent maturity, class, elegance, and sophistication, they also represent a certain anonymity - homogeneous nothingness where one candidate blends in with the next. So two days before I ran over to Rothman's to find some sort of non-suit alternative interview-ware. I found an excellent Hickey Freeman jacket and a sweet pair of Canali pants (a combination to which the salesman found time to heckle me for) when I realized that I had no appropriate shoes for the outfit. I ran upstairs (the store was closing) and grabbed the first pair of tolerable shoes that caught my eye.

Unfortunately for me, I seem to have good taste in shoes - it wasn't until checkout that I found out they cost more than the sum of the rest of the order. Ack. I bit my lip and took them home. I had never heard of Magnanni, but I liked the style and they were incredibly light and comfortable shoes. What I think had caught my eye was the subtle variations in color in the leather, which is called the "grain" of the leather. This is typical of "aniline leather" where the leather is not dyed with a color, and therefore is not of uniform color.  The "imperfections" of the leather comes through, adding a roughness or rawness to come through, almost like a patina.

The interview didn't really pan out, but the shoes sure did.  Nearly five years later I just got them resoled and they have at least another five years left in them.  They are still as comfortable as ever, and along the way, I learned a little bit about Italian shoes and what sets them apart from British and American shoes.  There is much speculation and mis-information on the topic, so I thought I'd share the info.

Essentially, it comes down to differences in what each country needed for their circumstances.  The Brits, in their horrid climate conditions (rain, cold), required a shoe that would stand up to the elements.  So British styled shoes were built within an inch of their lives with stiffer leather and heavier, thicker soles where the sole was both stitched and glued to the rest of the shoe (known as welted construction).  The physical size of the shoe was larger to accommodate these changes.  On the other hand, Italians, with their warm, sunny climate wore slimmer and trimmer clothes so as not to overheat.  This style required a smaller, lighter, slimmer shoe; nobody wants to wear Bobo shoes with a slim fitting outfit.  They used a thin sole that was glued (not sitched) to the body of the shoe.  It was more about style than construction.  American style shoes attempted to balance the two, with a slimmer stlye than the Brits but with better construction than the Italians.  ...And there you have it.

So which is better?  Neither.  Both have their uses - just look out the window to figure out which is more appropriate for the day.  You choose your outfit for the weather, and your shoe choice should be no different.  And if someone tries to tell you that one is better than the other, you now have solid proof that they're clueless in the style department.

As for Magnanni - I don't know if all their shoes are this wonderful.  This pair was at the top end of their price point, and they've held up amazingly well.  I love them and hope very much they continue to deliver.

Update, Jan 19, 2012:  As the commenter below kindly pointed out, Magnanni shoes are from Spain, not Italy.  Thank you for this correction!


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