Actually, no. Travel the world, and you realise such a concentration of craft excellence is a rarity – one we have long thanked our lucky stars for. Without the rapport it has cultivated over decades with some of Italy’s most skilled ceramicists, carpenters, metalworkers, textile weavers, gilders and glassmakers, Le Sirenuse would not be what it is today.
And without the chance to work with what he refers to as “probably the best shoemakers in the world”, in the Italian region of Le Marche, Johannes Quodt admits that he would never even have launched New-York-based footwear and fashion brand Koio with business partner Chris Wichert. “It was Italian leather expertise or nothing”, Quodt states.
Growing up in Germany as what he calls “an avid consumer of nice shoes”, he liked to save up for the kind of upscale, well-designed sneakers that showcase Italian leather tanning and craftsmanship. But when he went to the States to do an MBA, he was surprised to that “there were almost no sneakers like that available in the American market – and the few you could find were crazy expensive”. For a budding fashion entrepreneur, it was the perfect market niche. The result, launched in 2016, is Koio – a name that riffs on the Italian name for leather, cuoio.
The company has been on Le Sirenuse’s radar for a while, and vice-versa, and finally, after a short but intense mutual courtship, a collaboration called Koio X Le Sirenuse is about to see the light of day in a limited-edition capsule collection inspired by a shared love of Italian style, artisanship and attention to detail. Two models will be available for purchase on 19 May, a white sneaker with red leather accent inspired by Le Sirenuse’s famous Pompeii-red facade and curved architectural lines, and a pool slide that jauntily references the neon artwork Don’t Worry created by British artist Martin Creed for Le Sirenuse’s old-school hotel bar.
Effortless style is rarely effortless to achieve. For Johannes and Chris, the effort might have stifled the company in its infancy, had a stroke of luck – or fate? – not intervened. Determined to find the very best factory for their shoes, the duo travelled to Le Marche, famous for its leatherworking traditions, in the summer between the first and second year of their MBA course. They were looking for one small factory in particular, one that made shoes for a famous French fashion brand whose quality and workmanship they both admired.
But the world of small-scale Italian manufacturing is tightly closed, all the more so as fashion brands are extremely reluctant to reveal who actually makes their stuff, for fear that competitors will steal their suppliers. Chris and Johannes knocked on doors, asked around, but ended up drawing a frustrating blank. It was only on the last evening but one before they were due to fly back to the States that Johannes, combing frame by frame through an online video on the French brand’s website, came across a clue: a leather cutting machine with the word ‘Teseo’ on it – the name of the manufacturer.
While driving, Johannes spotted a billboard advertising Teseo’s wares. He stopped the car, Googled the company, and realized their HQ was just a couple of miles away. “So I was like, okay, we’ve got nothing to lose”, Johannes recounts. “I'm just gonna go there”.
It turned out to be a huge steel-gated manufacturing facility. Plucking up courage, Johannes rang the buzzer and eventually found himself explained his ‘random’ request to the receptionist. She led him into a conference room and summoned a company salesman who, it turned out, couldn’t help Johannes track down the leather factory he was looking for. But a colleague of his, he said, might just be able to help. The colleague was soon located. Not only did he recognize the company in question, but he thanked Johannes for reminding him about them. “They still owe us money for one of the machines we supplied”, he told the astonished young entrepreneur. “If you want to drive over there with me, I’ll chase up the debt and you can ask them if they’ll make your shoes”.
The rest, as they say, is history. Next time you feel the quality in a pair of Koio sneakers – perhaps those classy Koio X Le Sirenuse numbers, with their striking red accents and insoles – reflect on the fact that, without the sign from heaven of a billboard by the side of a road in Le Marche, they may never have seen the light of day.
The Koio x Le Sirenuse sneaker and Koio x Le Sirenuse pool slide each come in a specially designed shoe box which also contains the signature coloring book that Le Sirenuse guests receive in their hotel rooms.
Photos © Roberto Salomone
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