As I write, I’m sporting a pair of SantM’s Furlane velvet slippers. It’s a dreary, rainy day, but their cheery blue brings a ray of sartorial sunshine.
SantM founder and owner, Min Santandrea, introduced the slipper collection in October 2020, while we were busy re-assuring our pumps and stilettos that, yes, we still loved them, and yes, we will wear them again someday, but flat and comfortable works best with our current accoutrements.
She based the design on historic Venetian upper-class house shoe, in which “Royalty [could] sneak up to meet lovers,” says Min. The rooms were marble among the wealthy and kingly sets, so the hardwood-heeled footwear of the day made an unwelcome racket on the floors, alerting any and all residents to one’s comings and goings.
The slippers became popular among the plebeians for their comfort and style, becoming standard kicks for gondoliers, as the rubber doesn’t scuff their canal-faring dories.
The collection promptly became SantM’s top-selling shoe, eking out other flats and pumps, all handmade in Italy and designed to be pleasant on the pullum pedes.
Before founding SantM, Min, a former executive at Uniqlo and Walmart, lugged around at least 20 pounds of stuff with her: laptop, charger, notebooks. “I knew I should, but I did’t want to carry a second pair of shoes,” she recollects.
Yet her options were limited: needle-heeled toe-pinchers or geriatric spuds with the visual appeal of toenail clippings. She couldn’t, nor could most women, find a stylish pump that fit comfortably when running from trains to conference rooms.
After complaining to her husband, he suggested she start her own business. She’d always wanted to, so…
She studied, consulted with podiatrists and shoe designers, and tried to find a shoemaker in NYC. Then she quickly realized “I needed someone who learned the trade in the factory and knew the vernacular - how the pitch works, how the heel works.”
During one of her research trips to Italy she stayed with a colleagues - and “shoe addict” - Pepi, from her post-college days working at the Guggenheim. While talking about her search for the perfect shoemaker, Pepi exclaimed, “I know who you should talk to!”
Then she threw open her closet to reveal rows and rows of beautiful shoes. “This is Ernesto,” she exclaimed.
Min contacted Ernesto, nicknamed “The Prince of Shoes,” who told her “Don’t talk to anyone, I’ve got your designer.” He put her in touch with one of his first apprentices, Leopoldo.
In 2018 she and Leopoldo, now in his fifties, began fashioning her SantM vision. Leopoldo and his craftspeople, often family members, were exactly what she wanted. “…they preserve the beauty of a strong heritage and… they hold true to to the Renaissance Guild establishment that is still thriving in Italy.”
She includes video footage of the artisans on her website and it’s a great watch - a montage of craft, colors, leathers, and an antidote to the sterility of mechanical manufacturing.
Creating a pair of shoes “takes 36 artisans on average, which lends a rare and personal touch that no machine can replicate.” The result? “Incredibly well-made, well-loved shoes,” Min describes. Also, ones in which no detail is too small.
For instance, back to the Furlane. During WW2 the shortage of rubber forced shoemakers to cut bicycle tires into soles. With the design of this shoe, Min includes a recycled rubber sole stamped to resemble bike treads. Oh - and every shoe is handmade. The Furlane shoes uses no glue and the upper and the sole are hand sewn.
Each collection - Chiara, Anacapri, Cortina - is named after one of her favorite Italian neighborhoods. And all SantM packaging is scented with Carthusia, a perfume with a great backstory:
In 1380, the father prior of a Carthusian Monastery learned that Queen Joan of Anjou was visiting Capri. (Joan’s own tumultuous story includes the murder of her first husband, a string of three other doomed wedded unions, wars, and finally her arranging the marriage for a niece who would eventually have her thrown in jail and executed. #familyfirst.)
Anyway, Joan was set to alight onto the monk’s seaside enclave around the time Pope Urban VI declared her a heretic. (Yes, Joan lived not the life most enviable.) He hurriedly plucked blossoms and greens of all types to wow her with the little island’s abundance. Three days later, while extricating the bouquet from its watered vessel, he realized it smelled quite nice, so he conscripted a fellow monk to distill and concrete the flora and fauna for a lovely diffusive.
In 1948, a monk of a different order stumbled upon the centuries-old recipe and, with permission required from the Pope, recreated it to become Italy’s beloved scent.
A fitting perfume to compliment SantM’s shoes (Joan’s horrifying legend notwithstanding). Both the scent and the shoes evolved from techniques and recipes shared through generations of craftsmanship, re-invigorated for modern times, born in Italy, and designed to delight women with style and quality they can enjoy every day of the week.
On a personal note, I love mine.