There’s a moment in life when everything changes and you start looking at things from a different perspective. A sort of transition takes place and you realize that only once it is already completed.

Well, this is my moment.

I experimented a switch towards quality  in every aspect of my life: people, clothes, shoes, food, wine and so on. I suddenly realized that I was looking for few but good things, so I freed myself from excess. Unfortunately, once you become aware that quality wins over quantity, the problem arises. Because beautiful things and high quality things are, by definition, rare. Otherwise they would be just common. There it begins a long and hard path of research to find what really worth your money and your time.

I surely consider myself a very lucky person just because I live in Florence and, more in general in Italy, so it is kind of easier for me to find beautiful and high quality things in terms of cultural patrimony with respect to aesthetic beauty and taste and also food.

As many people in the world (especially girls, but I’m not really sure about that) I have a deep passion for shoes. In this regard I had the opportunity to discover a very special place here in Florence, where you can definitely find not just A pair of shoes, but THE pair of shoes.

The name of the brand is Ducal and I had the possibility to meet the owners of the company, Sauro and Marialisa Sani (father and daughter), and have a little chat with them.

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Sauro and Marialisa Sani – credits: Arbiter
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Marialisa Sani

Marialisa explained me that it is a family-run business born during the ‘30s in Florence. Sauro’s  grandpa started producing handcrafted shoes in a small workshop that soon later became a real factory that still exists today and where Ducal has its showroom.

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Ducal showroom in Florence. Photo by Sguish

When the Second World War started, the factory focused on the military shoes production, so Sauro’s father and grandpa and the workmen were exonerated from the conscription.

Then the company continued dedicating a small part of their production to the Military Academy, until recent years, in particular with respect to the evening shoe (white varnish shoes).

In parallel, during the last half of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s, they concentrated on the civil production and they began to distribute their shoes among the most famous shops in the centre of Florence. Sauro remembers with pleasure the cart they used to transport them, which is still in the company today. When the economic boom transformed Italian life, many buyers from the United Stated started to arrive in Florence and Sani family decided to produce shoes for other brands, such as Bally, Cole Haan, Gucci or  Ferragamo.

And then arrived the time to create their own brand. After several attempts to find the appropriate name, Ducal came into the world (1960s), thanks to the genius of Marialisa’s mum. The handcrafted shoes were sold not only in Italy, but also  in Japan, United States and, later, in China.

Directly speaking with Marialisa, I asked her (I) : “What does it mean to work in a family-run business for a son or a daughter? The tricks of the trade are handed down from the father to the son (in this case to the daughter)? Would you have liked to dedicate you life to a different kind of job?”

Marialisa (M): “ At the very beginning the first reaction is rejection. When I was a kid I used to put my roller blades on and skate in the factory or play there with the boxes and so on. So I was born and grow up in this environment. When you are a bit older the first thing you need is just not to produce shoes. Then, at a certain point you change perspective and you start appreciating your family business, because it is a patrimony.”

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I: “Which values does the Ducal handcrafted shoe covey?”

M: “ Style and elegance for sure. But, mostly, personalization and uniqueness. Sometimes I have the impression that the only one who likes my shoes is myself!  I mean, I don’t want them to be usual. When I design a pair of shoes  the first thing that I like, for me,  is the beautiful one. I could never produce shoes thinking “ok this product sells”. I’m aware that sometimes this type of reasoning could turn out not to be very smart, but I’m not able to follow the mainstream.  What we offer is a high quality handcrafted product and I’m satisfied when people recognize this, that’s all matters.”

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I: “What about the leather you use for your shoes? Where is it from and who select it?”

M: “Sauro, my father, is the expert. He has always been the one going to the tanneries and choosing the best skins. Then I give my own opinion in terms of aesthetic, I mean when something is beautiful and of good quality is clear. We use mostly French and Italian (from the North and from Tuscany – Santa Croce) leather, as we have always done.”

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Skins in Ducal factory, Florence. Photo by Sguish
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Skins in Ducal factory, Florence. Photo by Sguish

I: “Which kind of stylistic or artistic influences and stimulus characterize your creative process?”

M: “Everything can stimulate a person in every moment. It could be a painting, its colors, some details, or just a gown with a particular accessory, a fabric. This stimulus then can be translated in the shoe.  Of course, by the stylistic point of view, our shoe originates from the British one, that can be considered the traditional and classic one par excellence.  The difference consist in the fact that we are Italians, so we have a level of creativity that allows us to reinterpret the British shoe and develop  more contemporary molds, also taking into account current trends. Personally, I’m in love with the molds of the 1930s because I think that the innovations introduced in that period, not only in shoemaking, are everlasting. For example, we still have here some pair of shoes that are inspired by the ones of Gabriele D’Annunzio. I’m really in love with the dandy style.”

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Dandy style by Ducal. Photo by Sguish
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Dandy style by Ducal. Photo by Sguish

I: “ Now I know that you are a beauty lover and that the research and passion for beauty are the engines of your creative process. Fashion in its largest sense is supposed to be driven by the same crucial components, so is there any other sector of this world to which you would like to dedicate?” 

M: “ Interior design for sure. I really like fabrics because of the colors and patterns and prints, so yes, I really like that sector. “

I: “Now we come to the serious questions. We know that the world moves faster and faster and differences between generations are huge. Which are the difficulties and/or positive aspects that your father had to face in his years and which ones instead characterize yours (with respect to your business) ?” 

M: “Well, things nowadays are not simpler for sure. They’re definitely more articulated and complex. With respect to our business, at the time of my father our set of samples consisted of just ten pieces. He used to attend shoes trade shows during the 1970s here in Florence in a very small place (Parterre), so you can imagine the average production of shoemakers at the time. Today the same shoes trade shows take place in Milan in a huge place (Fiera di Rho) and if you present one hundred pieces  maybe they’re not enough! Things nowadays are harder for sure. With respect to the distribution phase and physical contact with people as well. I mean, at the time of my father we had sales representatives who used to visit each single shop to which we sold our shoes and we used to fly to the United States to sell our products. Today relationships are far more virtual and exports increased.

Moreover, as I always say, fashion has become finance. So we assist to the merge of firms under huge groups that make the “smaller” artisan producers kind of disappear from the market. Then you add the economic crisis and the deal is done!

Today big fashion brands are focusing on a new type of selling, which is the live one: in the same exact moment of the fashion show at which they present their new collection, they give the possibility to immediately shop the pieces.

For an handcrafted pair of shoes this is not possible because you need time to produce them by hand and offer unique pieces. So you cannot immediately shop in the very first moment you see them.”

I: “From my point of view the world has become smaller, because we can easily travel to the opposite side of the globe, we can speak everyday with our friends in other continents or in other nations, so everything is more interdependent and interconnected. The new key word is internationalization, because if you’re not international you’re left aside from the global dynamics. How can you conciliate the need to internationalize with the nature of the artisan and handcrafted product which, by definition, is an exclusive product?”

M: “Paradoxically our product, which of course remains an handcrafted and exclusive one, is more appreciated abroad. We used to successfully sell our shoes in Italy during the 1980s, but today we focus more on foreign markets.

At that time in Italy still existed the beautiful shops selling Italian products and the ones working in those shops were extremely competent people. There was the passion for beauty and beautiful things. They educated and taught clients to buy high quality goods. Simply because the griffe, as it is interpreted today, didn’t exist.

So, in our case, the  internationalization process made the Made in Italy handcrafted  good emerge as a quality product. Unfortunately, today in Italy there are a lot of firms and companies which are invisible in the domestic market because they sell their products entirely abroad. And that’s a pity for sure.”

I: “ Details make the difference between a beautiful and an ugly thing. Which are the details and features that make the Ducal shoe unique and different from the others?”

M: “First I would like to say that there is a big difference between man’s and woman’s shoes. Man’s ones are more difficult for sure because you cannot go wild with them! The only exception is the evening shoe for man. For this kind of occasion we sometimes added something more, such as the pair with plumes.

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Difficulty arise with simple things, because there you can immediately evaluate the quality of the product. In other words, if you have a very simple and basic model and you use a poor quality leather, that would be the first thing standing out.

So, if you ask me what makes a shoe beautiful and unique, I would say a combination of factors. The design, the appropriate proportions, the high quality materials, the structure (including the one of the sole). Everything has to be balanced to obtain an high quality handcrafted pair of shoes.”

I:”What about Ducal in the future? “

M: “We are working to equip us with an e-commerce platform on our site, because we really need it. For now, clients just email us or phone us to ask information and buy our shoes.

In January we will participate as exhibitors at Pitti Immagine Uomo as always, because the level of the exhibition is really high and we deal with people who exactly know what they want and they’re deeply aware of the product they buy.

Recently we also took part to the so-called trunk shows , which basically consist in meeting the final clients in places such hotels directly presenting them  the collection.”

I suggest you guys to watch the video down below to understand what handcrafted production by Ducal means:

 

If you are interested in knowing Ducal, please take a look at the web site here.

You can find  Ducal on Facebook as well  @www.ducal.it  (Ducal calzaturificio).

 

Hope you enjoyed the chat!

Sguish

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