The shoe designer Gianni Giannini’s father started making shoes in 1970. Giannini, who was born in and spent almost all his life in the Doucal’s shoe factory, is now running the business with his brother. He designs high quality, classic Italian shoes and he can’t understand why the world is invaded by sneakers!

FASHION&TRAVEL You are proud to be Italian. What part of Italy are you from?
GIANNI GIANNINI I’m from the Marche region, in the center of Italy. We can say that it is a mixture of the North and the South. You know, Northern Italy and Southern Italy are very different from each other. Well, like I said, Marche is a mixture of the two. It has the only plural name for a region in Italy, Le Marche. This must be the reason. It is a region of great natural beauty, the mountains, the sea… It has a great deal of history as well. In its towns with populations less than 10.000 people, you can feel the typical historical Italy. Traditionally the main source of living has been agriculture. The people of the region are used to growing things, working with their hands.

F&T And now they make shoes?
GG Yes, exactly. We discovered shoemaking in the beginning of the last century. Since then, they have been making shoes using their hands just as they did in agriculture.

F&T But your brand name is Doucal’s… When I first heard of it, it made me think it was a English brand.
GG My father started the company. He began making shoes in 1970. At first the name of the company was Doucal. It means ‘Shoes for the Dukes.’ Important shoes for important people… In 1973, he changed the company name to Doucal’s.

F&T Where does the English influence come from?
GG English shoe making has great tradition. My father went to Southampton to learn the trade. He was introduced to an old and well known shoemaker. He learned the techniques and the quality of English shoe making. He then aimed to combine English production quality with Italian sense of fashion and style.

F&T Can you tell us the difference between English and Italian shoes?
GG English shoes have great tradition. The quality is impeccable but they keep making the same shoes. The English are very conservative in shoe making, just as they are in many other things. Italians, on the other hand, are creative. We have a sense of fashion. We enjoy the redesigning process that fashion requires.

F&T Did your father have any technical education when he started this business?
GG No, but he knew what he wanted. He told his ideas to the craftsmen who worked for him. He also had someone who helped him with the technical aspects. He really had a passion for the business. You need this passion to succceed.

F&T Did you learn the business from your father?
GG Yes. I can say that I was born in the factory. I spent most of my time there. When I was a kid, I played with the molds and shoe boxes. I graduated from the Polymodel Fashion School in Tuscany. I do the designing. My brother runs the business side. He is responsible for departments like production, sales and marketing. I still make the prototypes of shoes that I design by hand, then I introduce them to my team.

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F&T Do you only produce men’s shoes?
GG Only our men’s collection is sold in Turkey, but we have been making a women’s collection as well, since 2013. Our women’s models are not very feminine, no high heels, no thin leather. They somewhat resemble the shoes in our men’s collection. I design the women’s collection as well. We had record sales last season. Our women’s collection sold out.

F&T Isn’t making women’s shoes a completely different business?
GG Yes, it definitely is. I had to start from scratch. I did some research. I traveled around to observe the trends in different places. Only after all this, I entered the business of making women’s shoes. Every country has its own different preferences and styles in shoes. I like mixing traditional and modern styles. I create modern designs with tradition at the base.

F&T How do men and women differ in terms of their preferences in shoes and their shopping habits?
GG They are totally different. Men are much more conservative in terms of fashion. Their sense of fashion remains almost unchanged throughout their lives. But of course they can not wear the same shoes all their lives. They have to shop, buy different models, try new shoes. And they will want their new shoes to be more of a statement than the ones before.

F&T How do you provide this?
GG Color is very important to us. Black looks great in shoes, but it is a classical choice. We want to put passion into what we make. We do this with the choices of color and the details we add to our classical models. A classic man has classic shoes in his wardrobe. When he wants to try something a little different, he may choose a different color of the same pair of shoes, or a different kind of leather, or one with a different kind of buckle. Today, these kinds of shoes sell very successfully.

F&T Do you have any rules about shoes?
GG It is very important for shoes to breathe. If you always wear the same shoes, you may want to buy two pairs. This way you will wear them alternately, and let your shoes rest and breathe. I personally like to wear my shoes without socks. This way I can feel the shoe, the leather.

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F&T You must have a lot of shoes. Do you only wear your own designs?
GG I like to wear the shoes that we make. This is, in a way, quality control. This way I can test and see if everything is perfect. I really do have a lot of shoes. When I fill up a room at the factory with shoes that I wear, I move to a another room, then another… My father has the same problem. For this reason, last year we opened a museum at the factory. Each and every model we ever produced is on display there. Every model since 1973… Thousands of shoes… We, in this factory, have tried and succeeded everything that can possibly be done in the production of classic shoes, and this can be seen in our museum.

F&T Do you have a model, a design that stands out?
GG Yes, we recently developed a special sole. The shoes that we use this sole on look like hand-made, leather-soled shoes. However, when you pick them up, you realize that they are very light, like sneakers. And they are very comfortable. But they look very elegant. These models break records in sales. Especially young businessmen prefer these elegant yet comfortable shoes.

F&T What are your plans for the future?
GG We aim to appeal more to younger people. Young people mostly wear sneakers these days, and their feet are not trained to wear formal shoes. When they enter the business world, they prefer comfortable models over heavy and rigid shoes. Doucal’s is on a growth trend. We are growing slowly but steadily. There is a saying in Italian, ‘we don’t want to take a step that is too long for our legs.’ This is our growth story. We opened new stores in Moscow, Milan and Paris. We also have partnerships, collaborations in various parts of the world. We are everywhere in Europe except England. We also have not entered the US market. We have plans to expand into the American market, but we are taking cautious steps because it is a very difficult market.

F&T What do you think about the footwear choices of Turkish men?
GG I can say that they like to wear beautiful and high quality shoes. Classic, leather shoes. But now the world has become smaller. Everyone can reach all kinds of information through the internet. People travel more. And differences between countries in terms of fashion have diminished. Today, all over the world we are experiencing an invasion of sneakers. People, especially men dress more casually. They don’t wear ties with their suits, and they wear them with sneakers. This surprises me. One needs to respect business life, respect formal events. We used to go to the theater in the evenings and everyone used to dress up. Now even there people dress casually.

F&T You take your business very seriously. What time do you wake up and go to work?
GG I am an early riser. I start working at 7:30 AM and I don’t leave the factory before 8:00 PM. I work more than 12 hours a day.

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Leyla Melek