“We want Barbanera shoes to be worn by both the bastard and the gentleman,” says Sergio Guardi of the Tuscan shoe brand he and his brother Sebastiano founded in 2011 along with fellow brother duo, Alessandro and Filippo Pagliacci. “A truly stylish man today is versatile and varies his look, but always with his own personality. One day he may wear a suit with a tie, the day after might be boots, a t-shirt, and a leather jacket to ride his Harley Davidson.”
This idea of juxtapositions is at the core of Barbanera, a brand whose focus is on merging the traditions of artisanal, handmade Italian shoes with both a distinct sense of style and a comfort and ease of wear. Sounds simple enough, but this is a rare and delicate balance—one that was achieved only by working closely with fellow Italians at every step along the way.
“Since the beginning, our goal was to make the most beautiful shoes in the world with no compromises,” Guardi continued as we caught up with him, his brother Sebastiano, and Alessandro—Filippo now focuses on other projects—at Sebastiano’s home in Florence. “We wanted to celebrate Italian artisanal traditions and craftsmanship, but with our taste, which is a mix of different things, places, and experiences—not just Italian. We don’t make ‘Italian shoes;’ we make Barbanera shoes in Italy with Italian people. It’s different.”
That mix of influences—Sergio sites references as wide-ranging as his background as a rock musician, Russian literature, American Western movies, Ernest Hemingway, and Miles Davis—brings an unexpected flair to the brand, perfect for a client that Guardi also calls a “gentleman pirate.” (Barbanera means “Blackbeard” in Italian.) That client is kept front-of-mind as each style is conceived.
“If you are real, if you are genuine and open-minded, you can design something that is true and that remains fresh even when it’s not driven by what someone else dictates as a trend,” he tells us. “It’s all about the truth of your background. We are in the Instagram era where people can pretend to be something or someone, just by showing off something they have. But style is not what you own—style is what you know. With the three of us, it’s different styles, same soul.”
Scroll on for a closer look as Sergio and his partners show off the Tuscan countryside and the personal style that they’ve injected into the brand.
SHOP ALL BARBANERA
Alessandro Pagliacci, Sebastiano Guardi, and Sergio Guardi at Sebastiano’s home in Florence.
“The Barbanera man has his own strong personality, and he expresses it every chance he gets,” Guardi says of the men that the brand designs for, though it seems he could just as easily be talking about himself or his partners in the business. “He’s a badass and a gentleman at the same time. He’s at a fancy dinner today, at a rockabilly concert tomorrow. He wears a suit with loafers, but loves rugged jeans and rock ‘n roll boots, too.”
The similarities between Barbanera’s customers and its founders doesn’t stop there, according to Guardi. “We like to think of our customers as people with great passion in everything they do, hard workers, dreamers, lovers, people that go deep in things. We hope our customers can understand that, for us, this is a matter of passion and that we always try to put all of our passion into everything we do.”
When great style meets great views.
“Working with family is very good, but not very easy,” Guardi says of the fact that the brand was started by two sets of brothers. “You can completely trust them, but you also have to be patient, calm, and diplomatic because when your business partner is also your best friend or your brother, it’s easy to cross the line and have truly epic fights!”
An artisan applies the hand-tooled details that have become a signature of Barbara shoes.
“The biggest challenge is to make a beautiful shoe that is comfortable, but doing that is also the most interesting aspect and something you never stop learning about and refining,” Sergio says. “You have to find the right balance, and that’s where great Italian craftsmanship comes in. In Italy, we have this culture of making things with good style that are functional at the same time. It’s very easy to make a comfortable shoe if it is chunky. It’s less easy making a great-looking shoe that fits perfectly.”
A key element in many Barbara styles is the contrast of materials, such as canvas and leather, as seen here. That contrast echoes the brand’s commitment to fusing the sometimes desperate ideas of comfort, quality, and style.
As Guardi tells us, “Usually, there is a distinction between good classic shoes made by old shoemakers and ‘cool’ shoes made by fashion brands. The first are not necessarily ‘fancy,’ but made with very high quality. The second are captivating, but not always so good in terms of quality. With Barbanera, this distinction doesn’t exist. Every model—classic, dandy, rock ’n roll—is made with the same high quality, so every shoe is not only good looking but also durable. Great design, with a great quality. That epitomizes the philosophy of the brand.”
No detail is too small to be considered. Here, the angle of the corner on a heel is ground down by a craftsman.