Last month in Nashville, Clay worked with GQ during their How-To series, providing social coverage of the hottest brands in the city. He also had the opportunity to sit and chat with Philip Nappi, founder of Peter Nappi. They craft luxury leather goods. Philip and his wife Dana are wonderful folks with incredible taste. Here's their story - enjoy! BC: Tell us about where you come from and your background.
PN: I grew up in Ohio, until my parents died when I was 11. I was sent down to rural Mississippi to be raised by my mother's family. Having lost my parents at such a young age, I knew little of my ancestry. In fact, I never had the opportunity to meet my grandfather, Peter Nappi. The stories I heard of him were as a chef and restaurateur. We didn't find out he was originally a shoemaker (as was his father, and his father’s father) until we were already started down the path of footwear design ourselves. Peter Nappi came to America as a shoemaker 1904—this is my heritage, I’m just happy to be able to carry it on. As we say here, “Peter Nappi: born 1887, est. 2009.”
PN: I had just sold a business and was at a point where I wanted to do something I was passionate about. I wanted to wake up every morning knowing I was doing something that was a part of my soul. And I wanted to re-connect with my family heritage. I’ve always loved footwear, and have been fascinated by the craftsmanship that goes into creating a beautiful pair of shoes. Of course, Italian craftsmanship is among the finest in the world, so I followed my heart and moved my family to Italy where I could study among the best of the best. That’s where we discovered my family legacy. Really, this business found us. We had been given an opportunity to continue a craft and journey that Peter Nappi the man began over a century earlier.
BC: What kind of leathers do you use for your product and where do you get them from? Furthermore, how do you know what leather is good leather?
PN: We believe authentic character and style are cultivated over a lifetime, and are dedicated to producing goods that reflect that. Our pieces are meant to be both loved and lived in...to wear beautifully with time and age. To that end, it is essential we chose the highest quality leather; it's the foundation of these principals. We use a lot of kudu, cavallo and vitello sourced from across the globe, most of which is not available in the States. Good leather has been allowed to retain its natural oils—they act as a protectant against climate while allowing the leather to contour to the shape of your foot. It needs to last the test of time, but still exhibit the signs of a well-travelled life.
PN: There's an Italian phrase that sums up their effortless style: sprezzatura [sprettsa’tura]. It's a certain ease, making something difficult appear effortless. It’s the art of performing complex things gracefully and naturally. This type of attitude is almost absent in America; it’s as if everyone is in a competition to try harder or force things. On the other hand, the approachability found in America is both refreshing and inspiring.
PN: I was just in Austin and will be spending more time there, so their music is in heavy rotation these days. Sturgill Simpson, The Band of Heathens, Ryan Bingham, Willie Nelson's Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be). Also loving a little Gil & Jorge, Francis Cabrel, Hot Chip and Ryan Adams. And my staples are always Band of Horses & Robert Francis.
PN: My ideal weekend would start off very similar to my weekday: first coffee, a bit of reading, then a workout. By then my youngest daughter would finally be awake, so I would eat breakfast with her, then head to work. Getting in a few hours at the office when it's quiet is so productive. But by one o'clock I’d be ready to wrap it up and head to 12th South Taproom for lunch with my family and friends, then home to watch football. I may sneak in a nap if Im lucky... If it's nice out we grill out —I use my Big Green Egg every chance I get. Then, more football. I’d love to be asleep before 10. Not very exciting, but a laid back Saturday would be so nice. Sunday would be more of the same - workout, work, Mass, then lunch at Corner Pub. Football all day. Maybe an inspiring trip to Whole Foods, then home to cook an Italian meal for family and friends...while I watch football, of course. In bed by 9.
BC: The acronym TVB is etched into every product you make. What's the meaning and significance of that to you?
PN: My wife and I were married at Our Lady of Pompeii in New York’s West Village by an Italian priest. In the time we spent together beforehand, we often discussed the meaning of love. This turned into a conversation about the difference between t’amo, which is the commonly understood Italian translation of “I love you,” and ti voglio bene, which implies unconditional, selfless love and literally means “I want you to be well.” Italians often use the abbreviated form –TVB – as a salutation. It’s what they say to friends and family, to parents and children and neighbors, to those who mean the most to them. Ti voglio bene has since become the cornerstone of the Peter Nappi brand philosophy. In addition to being the official tag line, it’s a subtle visual element we work into each product we make–the heel of a shoe, the pull tab of a bag, the lining of a jacket. It’s the spirit we aspire to embody in every aspect of our business, from the goods we produce to the relationships we build.