Meet Our Friends: Phillip Nappi
We decided to take our shirting on the road, introducing a new collection of Short Run shirts inspired by Nashville, Tennessee. We photographed our lookbook for the Nashville Collection featuring five men that are helping to shape the creative landscape of the city, which included our friend Phillip Nappi – Co-founder and Creative Director of Peter Nappi. Phillip, along with wife Dana, is continuing the family legacy set by his grandfather, Peter Nappi, in constructing boots with an uncompromising commitment to craftsmanship. After our photo shoot, we caught up with Phillip to find out more about the inspiration for creating Peter Nappi, continuing the legacy of his grandfather, and the future plans of his business. How long have you been living in Nashville? The first time I moved to Nashville was in 1995, when I started working for a small business that was based here, but I then I ended up moving back to Ohio where I’m originally from. In 1999, I came back to Nashville and lived here until 2010, when my wife and I originally thought that we were going to launch Peter Nappi in New York City. We had actually sold our house, left for about three months, but decided to launch Peter Nappi back in Nashville instead. In some ways I’ve lived here three different times but somehow I kept coming back. Has it been difficult being located outside of New York City? I think it’s quite the opposite. If we were an Italian handmade shoe company based in New York City, we would have been lumped in with another 10 or twenty brands. Since we are an Italian, handmade shoe company based in Nashville, it makes people think – Why Nashville? This begins the conversation about Peter Nappi. Being located in Nashville, we are able to have this unbelievable space, which we would have never been able to have in New York City; and for whatever reason, there is a creative class that is moving away from major like cities like New York and L.A. and relocating to cities like Nashville. Speaking of Nashville’s creative class, something I’ve noticed is that you all seem incredibly supportive of each other. We all definitely support each other. In the beginning we all would hangout together, but right now we all are so entrenched in what we are doing and working hard to grow our own brands respectively. The more attention that we bring to Nashville individually and collectively, the better off all of our brands will be. So when were you inspiration to start your own boot company? It started when I was about 20 years old, living in southern Mississippi and working at a shoe store. My love for shoes and footwear started there and it just kept growing and growing. I used to dream about opening a shoe store in New York City with exposed brick, hardwood floors, music, and cool décor that would be a place for people to come and hangout. Your original dream wasn’t too far off from what Peter Nappi is now, how did you make it happen? I started a different business in 1999 when I moved back to Nashville, but I needed a creative outlet that I wasn’t getting through that company. So I started working on the boots, designing and sketching them and waiting for an opportunity to come when I could make my dream a reality. Fortunately in 2008, right before the crash of everything, we were able to sell that business and that is when my wife and I decided to start making boots. We knew that we wanted to have the boots made in Italy, so we went there in 2009. When you were in Italy on this trip, this is when you serendipitously discovered your grandfather had been a shoemaker? We had an apartment in the center of Florence and I was on the computer late one night getting some paper work done for the process of receiving dual citizenship. I stumbled on my grandfather’s
WWI and WWII draft registration cards and all of his passage papers from when he would travel between Italy and New York. All the passengers were required to write a trade or occupation on them and he wrote “shoemaker” on his. It felt like fate in that moment that making boots is what my wife and I should be doing.
Was this during the same trip that you started building the relationships with the artisans who currently craft Peter Nappi boots?
Yes, it’s a family that makes the boots and the patriarch is close to 80 years old now. He started making shoes by hand when he was only 11 years old and he opened his own factory in 1961. His wife is 75 and she sews everything in the factory and he still works on the line nailing insoles into the shoe.
This was back in 2009, was it a difficult time to start a business?
We started working with the Italian artisans in 2009 but we didn’t launch Peter Nappi until June 2011. We placed our first order at the end of 2010 when the economy was still relatively slow in Italy. If the economy had been strong like it had been in 2008, the factory wouldn’t have talked to us or given us a meeting. With the economy in the state that it was in, the artisans were willing to work with us and get to know the brand.
Now back to Nashville, your space is incredible but was opening inside an old meat packing plant your first choice for the location?
We were really close to signing a lease at a different location in Nashville but our agent and friend had told us that he had another place to show us. As soon as we walked into the two green front doors, I knew that this was it! Our entire business has evolved and grown from when we originally saw that space. It started off as a creative space for my wife and me, but quickly turned into an event space and a full-blown retail store filled with antique European furniture. We are very grateful of how Nashville has supported us.The location is off the beaten path, but people still come in and shop with us. We want people to feel at home while they are here.
What is next for Peter Nappi moving forward?
I’ve never been more excited about Peter Nappi than I am right now. We have a pot that is boiling with lids popping up and down with people coming to us, getting to know the brand, and asking how they can get involved. We are beginning to design the Spring and Fall 2014 collections, which are going to be huge for us. In 2014, we want to get more classic in the look and feel of our shoes and bag lines as well as eventually launching apparel. With these additional product lines, we just want people to think of Peter Nappi as footwear first when they hear our name.
Anyone would be hard pressed to find a more beautifully constructed pair of boots than those found at Peter Nappi. View the lookbook featuring Phillip as well as Peter Nappi boots and shop the limited edition collection of shirting inspired by the Music City. If you happen to find yourself in Nashville at the end of the week, make sure to stop by the Ledbury pop-up shop at the Peter Nappi showroom located in the East Germantown neighborhood of Nashville.