First stop of the week: Shoe Alley. Rows upon rows of shoes...and it's boot season. Boots are THE only footwear to consider for winter wear, and Italians wear their boots in all shapes and sizes - cowboys, stilettos, slouchy, thigh highs, wedge heels, flat. It seems that the style of boot is not important as long as boots are still on your feet. I had a goal. Black, knee high, and comfortable for lots of walking - these were to be my winter, travel shoe. I found them. Beautiful, black leather, comfort soles, cushion, the real deal...and one size too small. I just could not make it work. I'm still on the hunt, but Ma (my grandmother) found her boots and a few more shoes as well. And while I didn't find my boots, I never leave Shoe Alley empty handed:
|After the dye process|
Our real highlight though was a visit to gLOVEsim, a leather glove factory right here in Naples and being run by it's third generation of the Simeone family. Four of us toured the factory and got the chance to see how the lambskin leather is dyed, dried, pressed, buffed, measured, cut, and sewn, each step performed by hand by a member of the family. They make gloves for companies all over the world, including Armani and Talbots. We learned a little tip on how to tell quality leatherwork - ask the seller if the item can be ironed. Many factories spray their leather with something that covers the imperfections, and over time, the spray wears off, allowing the imperfections to show clearly. At gLOVEsim, the leather is inspected for it's quality so closely that they don't need to spray. This means the leather can have a quick press of the iron (no steam, of course) to make it look new again. The lovely Anna gave us our tour - she married into the Simeone family and now works at the factory only when Americans want to have a tour. She speaks perfect English and is so excited to share the family's work...and her enthusiasm is contagious. For me, getting to see the family's work in person, to see the dedication and handwork that goes into every single pair of gloves, is one of my best experiences - much like meeting Signore Mazzetti, the Coppersmith, in Montepulciano.
|Stretching the leather, piece by piece|
Americans here each find their niche - some love to learn about the cooking, some go in-depth with the archaeology, some take art and photography courses, some love the ceramics. While my interests are varied, and I have a little interest in everything, my favorite is getting to meet the people who produce handmade items, from wine to copper to leatherwork and all points in between...and then getting to purchase some of the finished product, having just seen just how much work goes into it. These purchases mean more to me than any other, and it's the reason I'm so drawn to street artists, to stores selling locally produced crafts, and to websites like Etsy. I love that a focus on artisan goods seems to be making a comeback and consumers are once again placing a value on the time, skill, and creativity of individuals.
|Ma will win Most Fashionable Grandma award|
The leather factory produces mainly gloves and do so year round, but each season, they produce a limited number of leather coats - when those are sold, there are no more until the next year. Anna showed us beautiful jackets and gloves galore, each seeming more beautiful than the last. There were solid colors, two tone, detail trim in contrast colors, cashmere lined, shearling lined, fur lined, driving gloves, elbow length. Each time we thought there couldn't possibly be any more, Anna would say, "Oh, I didn't show you these yet." In addition to the current lines, we got to dig through bins of discontinued lines and final pairs, and as we searched and scoured, the air was filled with our "oohs" and "aahs" and cries of, "Look at these!" Ma came to Italy with some birthday money to buy herself a present, and gLOVEsim provided exactly what she wanted - and she got to see the hands that made her gifts. But none of us walked away empty handed, of course - that would have been impossible! Thank you, gLOVEsim, for opening your factory up to us and continuing a business handed down through the generations, and THANK YOU, Anna, for your time, patience, and passion.