Nick V. talks with Peter Agati, Paul Stuart’s Director of Footwear

Paul Stuart has a sterling reputation as a provider of fine footwear, carrying both ideal business classics and charmingly offbeat models, made in England and Italy. Nick V. of B. Nelson Shoes talks with Peter Agati about his three decades in the footwear trade, sourcing, styling, and Paul Stuart’s current offerings.

Nick V.: Tell us of your background in the Men’s footwear business.

Peter Agati: My career in the footwear industry can be traced back to 1978 with the establishment of my first store in New York City on Madison Avenue at 38th Street. In no short order, my partners and I were able to expand the business, eventually operating a nine-store chain with a warehouse, offices, and distribution center in Long Island City. Over the next few years, my role as buyer led to excursions to several production facilities in the UK and on the European Continent where my interest in production and design afforded me the opportunity to begin customizing orders, and shortly thereafter, to develop my own label.

Most of this additional production was, naturally enough, concentrated in Italy—specifically in Tuscany. After making extended trips to both the Marche region and to the Padova area near Venice we discovered a number of accomplished craftsmen eager to work with us by interpreting and updating the classic styles we were most interested in introducing into our program.


NV: Can you tell us some of your experiences while visiting those factories?

PA: I have visited more than a hundred production facilities of every imaginable size in Europe. The trick is to make your way out of the showrooms and offices and into the working factory. The machinery and people on the production line are always fascinating. The average person doesn’t realize the extent of the handcraftsmanship regularly employed in the production of fine quality footwear. There are no conveyor belts with shoes flying through the factory. In Northampton the clickers methodically and painstakingly cut every pattern by hand—but only after assessing the most appropriate manner in which to address each skin. This attention to detail extends from there to the sewing table, where each hole is hand-punched in a brogue derby, to the hand corking of the insole, to the channel stitching of the sole onto a cap toe. All of these craftsmen take enormous pride in their work. That pride is reflected like a signature on each item they produce.


NV: Why did you decide to join Paul Stuart?

PA: In 2008 I was invited to join Paul Stuart, one of the most prestigious menswear stores in the world, with the intention of turning the lease department into an in-house shoe department.

NV: Describe the state of Paul Stuart’s shoe department when you joined them.

PA: For nearly 75 years, the Paul Stuart approach has represented the epitome of quality, taste, and—most importantly—the finest assortment of menswear available anywhere in the world. In terms of footwear, it was evident when I joined Paul Stuart that with our customer base showing a distinct preference for English make and styling (our production at that time was dominated by a single factory, with some additional Italian-sourced product), it would be necessary to add new production resources.

Two years into my tenure at Paul Stuart we took the entire shoe department in-house and began the diversification of English brands. We sourced factories throughout the Northampton region where there is a signature of sorts that is unique to each individual factory and to every aspect of the product line. It is something inherent in the finished product that allows one to identify which factory has produced that shoe. Drawing on this signature and recognizing its strengths allows us to choose a diverse selection in a classic environment such as Paul Stuart.

Since then, we have increased our English assortment dramatically and added six new factories to our mix. Moreover, we continue to augment our Anglo offerings with equally high quality footwear carefully selected from throughout the best manufacturers in Europe.

NV: How does the Phineas Cole collection differ from Paul Stuart?

PA: Our facility, with all aspects of production, has also made it much easier for us to extend our own signature to encompass the more forward aspects Phineas Cole. The styles may well begin with all the timeless hallmarks of fine classic footwear but, by working with Ralph Auriemma [Design Director for Phineas Cole, see Styleforum’s visit with Ralph], we interpret the classics and put a much more resolutely modern twist on the collection to complement the Phineas Cole aesthetic.


NV: Does your customer base prefer English shoes?

PA: The classic styling of English shoes and the durability of their Goodyear welted construction complements business attire. Many of our clients at Paul Stuart wear the same style for many years and refurbish the shoes several times before replacing them. Although all of the attributes of the English welted construction—things like the hand corking, wooden shanks, full leather insoles, aged oak bark leather soles, and the double stitching of the welted construction—aren’t necessarily known to our clients, the quality that allows for the comfort and longevity of these shoes is obvious. With six English manufacturers currently producing for Paul Stuart, we believe no other store in the states is able boast so large collection fine English footwear.

NV: When you are designing a shoe, what are the most important factors that you consider? How much is influenced by your customers?

PA: When designing men’s shoes, the most important aspect of the design is the toe character of the last. This is one reason why at Paul Stuart you may find 10–12 black cap toes all with different toe characters, fittings, and slight detail differences. The toe sets the tone for each article.

Design inspiration comes from many sources. We often find ideas in archived items that were popular decades ago, and we constantly endeavor to update the looks so they are relevant today. Inspiration can also come from the entertainment industry, such as HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and its prohibition-era wardrobe.

NV: How has the high-grade footwear industry changed since you started in the business? What lies ahead for the footwear department in Paul Stuart?

PA: Footwear designers and retailers like Paul Stuart continue to enjoy success by providing our clientele the highest quality products available. Compromising quality for price dilutes the potency of any brand. Unfortunately, in much of the market, the separation between true luxury brands and the balance of the goods available has increased tremendously; there is a huge gap in quality and price. Although many of the mid-priced manufacturers have fallen victim to competition from the Far East, things are somewhat more settled now and an argument can be made that the top footwear resources will probably continue to get stronger. The internet’s sartorial forum provides a clearer picture of the fashion world and its possibilities. When men realize that a shoe is not simply something you need to complete an outfit but an essential component of that outfit, quality will always come out on top.

At Paul Stuart, we will continue to grow the classic—and, certainly with Phineas Cole, the less conventionally traditional—English collection. We will also continue to expand our already diverse selection of leisure footwear to best complement the wide selection of tailored clothing, sportswear, and accessories we offer. As ever, we are always looking for new items and directions in all of our lines. It is this approach that continues to set Paul Stuart apart from any and all competition.

Thanks Peter!

Images courtesy Paul Stuart.

Coffee with Mariano Rubinacci, Redux.

As Pete wrote earlier, one of the calmer moments we had at Pitti Uomo was our morning coffee with Mariano Rubinacci.

Mariano met us at the Westin Excelsior on the Thursday morning, the last busy day of Pitti Uomo before people start packing it up on Friday in preparation for the long season ahead.  Milan, Paris, and New York are upon you in quick succession after that, making it a very long month ahead.

After introductions, and a brief tangent on the Excelsior’s stunning lobby and cut flowers (I only noticed them when Mariano pointed them out), he suggested that we get a cappuccino.  He explained that he would be going to Pitti after coffee, and asked if we would like to share a cab with him.  Although he seemed politely amused by our presence, he was a gracious host, and patiently answered all of our questions, most of which I’m sure he had answered many times. Where was Luca? How often do they come to the United States? Etc., etc.

Rubinacci spoke of his son, Luca, who was vacationing in Aspen—but Mariano would soon be fitting clients in London.  He went to London to meet clients more often and to New York, less frequently.  A fluctuation in your size?  Within 4 kilos, a garment could be adjusted.  Four kilos was a full size though, and you might need a new garment for further expansion after that.  “Not for me,” he pointed to his own jacket, which I thought looked impeccably tailored, “I don’t change this, to remind myself that I am fat.”  Yes, Rubinacci would be doing some ready-to-wear, but only accessories.  I joked that I might have to steal a jacket he’d once made for a friend.  “No, no, no, that wouldn’t work, since that garment would have been made for someone else.” No, he does not consider himself a tailor—he could not cut a jacket himself.  What he is, “It’s a difficult question.”  But he does tell people what will work for them.  And he does a classic style, which doesn’t change so much.  About Fabio Borelli’s tight suits and high-water pants, “It’s very modern.”  He was very happy that many of the 45 tailors in his workshop were under 50 years old.  He wanted to leave something for his son, he explained, and if everyone was old, that was not much to leave.

Coffee in Italy was good.  It was, according to Mariano, not the water, as some claimed.  He had the same coffee in London, and it tasted the same when made with British water.  He gave us a recommendation for a good seafood restaurant in Florence, something of a rarity; Florence is better known for its enormous steaks (prices are per 100g, often with a 700g minimum).  Next time I go to Florence, I will have to get myself to Fuor d’Aqua.

Outside, while we waited for a cab, he greeted an older gentleman whose car service had just arrived.  “The owner of Kiton,” he told me.  On the drive to Pitti, I asked him for recommendations for leather goods—I needed to get something for my wife.  “There are many good leather goods in Florence, but I am not so much an expert,” he explained.

We walked together to the entrance of Pitti, and then he had to go.  Not sure where tailoring luminaries go.  We were on for another day taking notes and photos at booths.  Although I am unlikely to ever have the opportunity to commission a garment from him, I understand why his clients are so loyal.  He gave us a peaceful hour in the midst of a week of chaos.  Thank you for that, Mr. Rubinacci.

More street style from the Grungy Gentleman.

Styleforum did not send any contributors to Milan this season.  Fortunately Jace, a.k.a. Grungy Gentleman, agreed to pick up the slack.  More instagrammatic style via Grungy.

Robert Rabensteiner at Carven.



Rocking out with @SebastianSauve at Ami

Milan Vukmirovic, again. This man is my idol. Can I get a #mostdope from the congregation?

@Sartorialist doing work backstage at @CoSTUMENATIONAL in a super-cool camo jacket

Just another day at the office @CoSTUMENATIONAL


Shoot legends on my iPhone yo.



Our Legacy fall/winter 2012.

With a handful of seasons now in the rear view, Our Legacy doesn’t need much of an intro. Since 2008, OL has put out eight collections of arty, northern European casual wear with diminishing hints of prep (nothing too cute or go-to-hell, more like chinos and button-down-collar shirts) and more and more use of unusual fabrics. In the last couple of seasons they’ve edged toward stronger texture and more refined raw materials, and some of the more interesting pieces have incorporated ethnic prints.

At Pitti, I talked through some of Our Legacy’s collection for 2012 with Jockum Hallin. Hallin told me their romanticized vision of the brand’s character is a guy, maybe a struggling artist, who manages a triumph–the sale of one of his finer creations. With the proceeds he decides to treat himself to a luxury: maybe a new coat, maybe a pair of English shoes. Then he incorporates that into the rest of his beat-up, work-worn starving artist’s wardrobe. It’s a new origin story for the high low mix Our Legacy does well–beautiful topcoats paired with less tailored pieces, for instance. Hallin said you’ll continue to see some of their perennial shapes: “great sweat” sweatshirts, similar shirt cuts, because returning customers demand them, but there are some new silhouettes, particularly in outerwear.

A dominant color in fall 2012 will be carmine red, and variations on it. OL had sweaters and shirts in variations on the tone, which was muddier than I expected, less the color of blood than of dried blood. Other pieces that jumped off the racks were more Northampton-made shoes, a shawl collar overcoat with closely spaced buttons in nubbly, water resistant wool, paisley shirt jackets (with pants to match, if you so choose), and a reversed star-print shirt. There’s a mix of spring and fall pieces in here, so keep an eye on because some will be available sooner than later.

Carmine red sweater

Camel topcoat in Casentino-ish wool.

The 3 roll 2 jacket gets a welt breast pocket rather than patch.


Paisley shirt jac.

Ethnic print, washed shirt (no button collar on this one).

OL will continue their work with Ebbets Field Flannels.

Reverse star print fabric shirt.

Grungy Gentleman’s Milan street style.

Styleforum did not send any contributors to Milan this season.  Fortunately Jace, a.k.a. Grungy Gentleman, agreed to pick up the slack.  More to come from Paris as well.

If you look up the word impeccable in the dictionary, this is what you find @NickWooster



Mario Boglioli at his presentation (great guy)

Complete honor getting to know one of my idols this week. Milan Vukmirovic in shearling and a white tee.


“Black, or brown?” “No.”

An unusual, impractical daub of color is one way to grab the attention of casual passersby at Pitti, where orders, after all, are still dominated by tones of navy, black, khaki, and gray. But it seemed maker after maker had at least a pair of shoes (mostly brogues) that were emphatically not in compliance with conservative business dress regs. While it’s not surprising to see out-of-the-shoebox thinking from lines like Yuketen (who, in addition to new colors, used exotic skins and hair on hide calf) and ts(s) (mixed panel, poly felt brogue boots), it was matched also with the casual tailoring of Italian lines like Lubiam and Piombo.  If seeing red shoes has you seeing red, read no further.

 Aubergine and blue at Edward Green.

Green suede at Simone Righi’s Frasi shop.

Red with natural leather midsole at Lubiam.

A nonproduction sample in burgundy at Alden. I.e., they won’t be making this. Sad face.

Deep green suede with a natural welt from Yuketen.

Pane e Panno Casentino at Isaia

Standing around in Panno Casentino

One of the standout pieces for FW 2012 season was Isaia’s peaked lapel, camel topcoat in Panno Casentino fabric, the yarn of which, as was explained to me, is roughly brushed before looming, so that the dense woven fabric comes off the loom with a rough, pre-pilled, look.

The mark of Isaia

The Isaia crew had a great strategy.  When you are being plied wine and really great food, including some some of the best pickled mushrooms in olive oil I’ve eaten in a while, you are going to inspect every piece very carefully, especially when the alternative were overpriced Italian “toast” sandwiches, essentially a single, thin, slice of meat between two pieces of bread.  Even without all the help, I would still have noticed this piece, the texture of which immediately jumps out.

Isaia had the best spread in at Pitti Uomo on Tuesday, January 10, at around 11 a.m.

Later in the day, we saw the fabric again in a green coat with a much more conservative cut and turnback cuffs at Liverano&Liverano.  While Pete was busy talking to Taka in the back, Stephanie (the Styleforum sales rep) and I took a load off in some very comfortable chairs, and chatted with Mr. Liverano’s daughter, who had been working at the shop for 20 years.  “My father told me, either I go to school, or I work.  So I work.  20 years.”  I suppose that it’s as good a way as any to choose a career, especially when your father is one of the foremost tailors in Florence.

Liverano & Liverano #ogflorence #turnbackcuffs #pannocasentino

She told us that Panno Casentino was a very famous material from Florence.   It is known for its durability and natural water resistance.   Tuscany being one of the cooler, wetter, regions in Italy, it’s nice to not be soaked.  Very practical, and though Italy doesn’t really get winter except in the far north, I suppose that 50 degrees (F)  would be cold enough for me to enjoy the awesome Italian tradition of a coffee and pastry eaten at the bar, in the late afternoon, while wearing my Panno Casentino coat.

The next day, we saw the same fabric in a coat from Our Legacy, a brand from Sweden, where clothing that holds up against winter is actually necessary.  I suppose that this might be a microtrend in the making.

Firenze via Sweden in Firenze - Our Legacy


Coffee with Sig. Rubinacci.

It’s hard to stay cynical in Florence. I arrived prepared to look down my nose at Pitti’s tradeshow circus and the inevitable sartorial showmanship from attendees, to see through the veil of #menswear and tell the unvarnished truth about what I saw. Which, of course, I will. But as a longtime fan of makers like Isaia, designers like Daiki Suzuki of Engineered Garments, and shoes like Edward Green and Crockett & Jones, not to mention those not exhibiting but present all the same, to have all the product and people in one place, and a place as easy on the eyes as Florence? It stuck a smile on my face almost all week.

One of the quieter, most pleasant moments of the week was when Fok and I met Mariano Rubinacci for a morning cappuccino at the Excelsior Hotel on the Piazza Ognissanti. Before we all visited Pitti on Thursday, we spent a little time talking about the recent and less recent history of the suit (has the suit really changed all that much in 100 years? Will anyone still be wearing suits in another 50?), the nature of Rubinacci (they run a tailoring shop, but Sig. Rubinacci? Not a tailor. What he is, he says, that’s a difficult question). Didn’t get a chance to ask him what Ye ordered.

We hope to have more from Sig. Rubinacci in the near future, as one of our contributors will be visiting Naples soon.

Grungy Gentleman’s Pitti street style.

Styleforum did not bring a dedicated street fashion photographer along to Pitti (although I think we were alone in that–the place was bristling with $1000 lenses). Fortunately Jace, a.k.a. Grungy Gentleman, agreed to pick up the slack. Pitti is the peacock enclosure at the #menswear zoo, but Jace picked out subjects that are celebrated as much for their work as their personal style quirks.

Lino is sooo good, it’s unfair!

Josh Peskowitz always comes correct. Down vest over a DB blazer? Yes please!

FASHION FACT: The fellas behind the camera really bring it. Nam shut it down with this pink camo jacket.

Let the brain trust behind Isaia teach you how to appropriately rock a DB suit.

Menswear is all about subtle detail. My boy from Amsterdam, Cees Prins looks murderous (in a good way) with those yellow buttons.

Team Details always lookin’ sharp. Eugene Tong and Matthew Marden know the menswear game inside and out. And it shows!

The ever so dapper, Bruce Pask. Have admired this gentleman for years. His content is fantastic.