In this particular case you know stands in for sequins, for Country Music, which has pigeonholed the collective imagination concerning Nashville. But those in “the Nashville know” want the rest of us to get hip to the fact there’s a whole lot else going on. Yes, you can still snag shit kickers at a honky-tonk on Lower Broadway, but one artisan designer is fitting the city to a new kind of boot, in a former meat packing plant, within the burgeoning creative community just north of downtown Nashville.
“We take a tremendous amount of pride in that we’re based in Nashville, and I think that’s something unique to the brand, especially an Italian hand crafted shoe company,” says co-owner, Jonathan Crocker. “Everything’s designed in Nashville but all of the craftsmanship is based in Tuscany, in Italy—and that juxtaposition of hand crafted design and an Italian handcrafted boot and shoe company based in Nashville, we think is a really interesting point.”
The very origins of the company speak to this globalization. In 2009, Phillip Nappi sold one of the biggest waste management and recycling companies in Middle Tennessee, buying the time to follow his lifelong passion for boots. Jumping in with both feet, Phillip moved to Italy with his wife Dana and their then-toddler daughter.
“Phillip lost his parents before he was twelve,” explains Dana, also Peter Nappi C.O.O. “For Phillip, moving to Italy was always a twofold effort: he wanted to reconnect with his past, and find a production facility for his designs.”
While immersing himself in Italian bootmaking, Phillip investigated his family’s history. Studying the papers marking his grandfather’s arrival in America, Phillip was stunned: In a section of the document where passengers listed occupations like “peasant” or “carpenter,” Phillip’s grandfather Peter wrote “shoemaker.”
“I called for Dana. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up,” remembers Phillip. Phillip thought his grandfather was a lifelong restaurateur, but Peter Nappi only gave up shoemaking when providing for his five children necessitated the career change. “So we get to continue his passion and fulfill ours at the same time,” smiles Phillip, talking about his company’s namesake.
While many artisan brands claim “authenticity” and “tradition,” Nappi has a real story and the real goods. “For us, we’re a brand—at the risk of sounding cliché—that is truly about creating these emotional connections. Everything is unique and authentic. From Peter’s story to the craftsmanship of the boots, to the leathers we use,”says Crocker. Their boots—including the linings and heel pad—are made from vegetable-tanned leathers crafted in Tuscany. Nappi’s men’s and women's lines both boast timeless cuts and striking silhouettes that are rugged, but refined—they would look at home in a farmer’s field or at a fashion fête. But, mind the “f” word around Nappi.
“Fashion is such a tricky, slippery slope,” said Phillip. “We don’t want to be a part of a trend. These boots are something you could wear a hundred years ago, wear a hundred years from now. Something you could wear. Wear right now.”
Nappi’s limited styles are stubbornly anti-trend. Their exceptional materials and expert craftsmanship deny the built-in obsolescence that is the hallmark of contemporary fashion. But, can a boot become a work of art? For Nappi, that happens when unique pieces transcend everyday utility.
He explains. “We let the natural imperfections and the actual markings that are on the animal come out in the shoes. They are individual works of art.” An upcoming vintage line will go even further, offering pieces to be admired, but sparingly worn.
“People won’t be able to wear them everyday—the leather is already 50, 60, 70 years old so they’re also better understood as art,” Nappi says.
Every Peter Nappi design gets a name. A new, heeled ladies boot is named for Phillip and Dana’s daughter. A men’s design recalls Bartolomeo, the patron saint of shoemakers. And if Peter Nappi continues striving for art through craftsmanship in his boots, I’m placing my pre-order for a pair of Leonardos right now.