Back at Pitti 91, Arianna and I had the pleasure of running into Phillip Nappi, who’s the head of Tennessee-based footwear brand Peter Nappi. I can remember reading about the brand in its early days, and coming back to it occasionally over the years due to what I thought was a pretty handsome offering of un-fussy workboots. It fell off the Styleforum radar for a bit, but there’s always been off-and-on interest in the boots, and the brand’s been reinvigorated with a new push, a new adventure to Pitti, and even a new brick and mortar location to support its Nashville flagship store. I’ve circled back continuously, which made it particularly fun to talk to the owner.
As is the case with most brands I end up liking, part of my interest came because I liked Phillip a good deal – he’s earnest, straightforward, and very evidently in love with what he does. That last part encompasses a bit more than just overseeing a shoemaking company, since Peter Nappi is part of what I think is a pretty interesting Southern-US garment and craft movement (along with other brands like the underrated Shockoe Atelier), and their store in Nashville is as much a community space as it is a showroom for shows and events.
You might not be surprised to hear that, after all of this, I was pretty happy to have the chance to take an extended look at a pair of Phillip’s wares, in the form of a some extended wear and review of the Julius boot, which is their flagship model. Specifically, I looked at the “Julius basso” boot in Snuff. I happen to be a fan of lightweight work boots, and of light, versatile boots in general. I’ve owned many different brands in many different styles, and boots that can more or less stand in for sneakers have always had a place in my wardrobe. These fit that bill, both in the way they look and the way they feel.
Silhouette and Style
In the case of the Julius basso, the larger, rounded toe, tapered waist, and short heel give the boot a very handsome silhouette – the toe isn’t so upturned as to resemble Carpe Diem and its descendants, but it’s also enough to make the boot noticeable. According to Phillip, it’s based on a 20th century Italian work boot model, and I think it strikes a really nice balance between being handsome, eye-catching (I’ve been wearing this pair for a little over a month, and for whatever reason they seem to get noticed more than my other footwear), and easily wearable. As is, I think it’s a good alternative to a more standard chukka boot, while not demanding heavy workwear styling – it’s more at home with light jeans or fatigues than, say, a pair of Redwings, while also feeling a bit less precious (and a bit more versatile) than the Styleforum favorite that is the sleek side-zip boot (think Margiela).
They wear very similarly to sneakers as well. This model is unlined (though others are), but it’s also due to the low heel that wearing the boot doesn’t feel any more, well, taxing than wearing a pair of sneakers, aside from the lack of rubber sole. However, in this particular case the thinness and flexibility of that sole (more on this later) makes the boot what it is, and the unlined upper that this particular model features makes it a good option for summer. I often get very sick of wearing sneakers, but heavy boots are, well, heavy, and the low height and breezy construction mean that I feel pretty good about wearing these in the 80 degree heat.
This year, Peter Nappi has introduced a “Julius Due” model that is, according to Phillip, very similar to the standard flagship but with a slightly narrower toebox. Phillip told me via email that the Due model “Was really a test to see how the market responded to it,” which I take to mean that the standard Julius isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
This particular boot is constructed with a Blake-stitch, which I understand will concern some of our readers who are concerned about potential quality trade-offs. However, this is at its heart a lightweight workboot, and the slimmer sole looks very nice with the silhouette of the shoe. I’ll point you to Permanent Style’s dismissal of concerns over Blake stitching, but I’ll also say that if the thinner sole concerns you from a comfort perspective – this is not an issue in my experience – the addition of a rubber sticker sole will solve all your problems (and is something I do to all my boots anyway).
When I asked Phillip why he opted for Blake as opposed to Blake rapid, he told me that the brand originally began using the Blake stitch, and that last year they experimented with Blake rapid to make the boots look more “Beefy,” but that in the end, the brand is known for its lightweight, Blake-stitched construction, and that’s the route they’ll be going.
I find the sole and construction very comfortable, and there’s enough room in the boot for an insole should you choose. In fact, I think they’re very comfortable – it’s nice not to have to worry about crowded toes, but the silhouette from the top down really is well thought-out. I imagine that it would be nice to have a more cushioned insole, but that’s a very personal preference and there’s plenty of room in the boot for an insole.
I should note that Peter Nappi also sells a completely hand-stitched Julius model that also sports a hand-stitched Goodyear welt (yes, you read that correctly).
Price, Quality, and Final Thoughts
First, I should offer a disclaimer that, except at the far ends of the bell curve, ‘quality’ is not generally a metric I pay much attention to. I have never had a pair of shoes fall apart on me (with the exception of a rubber heel coming off), and I am not easy on my belongings. In this particular case, I think it’s more important to note that some will no doubt find the thinner leather sole less comfortable than a more rigid sole would be, but it’s equally important to note that this is purely personal preference. If you’re used to wearing lightweight Italian shoes, Peter Nappi boots will feel very familiar. This is, I think, a big part of the charm – the boots are flexible enough to be “shoe-like,” which makes them feel versatile and wearable, especially in the summer as an alternative to sneakers.
As listed, the price for the model shown is $595, which puts it firmly in the “mid-market designer” category. That’s not cheap, but it is competitive with many of the many other brands in the price range, and Phillip told me that they’ve managed to lower prices (when’s the last time you heard that?) based on increased production, reduced fuel costs (the boots are still manufactured in Italy), and the relative strength of the dollar. As a result, the new Julius Due retails for $100 less. “We always aimed to be as approachable as possible,” Phillip told me. “We want everyone to be able to experience what we’re so passionate about. After seven years, the tide is finally turning in our favor.”
That seems to me a better conclusion than any I could write: Peter Nappi’s boots are, in my eyes, defined by their accessibility. They’re easy to style, easy to wear, and they look damn good on the foot.
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