No more than 25 pairs of Di Bianco shoes are made every day. That’s because good things take time, and the many steps that the brand’s Italian artisans perform to create each pair—hand-selecting and cutting the leathers, stretching, tacking, and stitching the upper, hand-beveling the outer sole, and a meticulous process of coloring, dying, and finishing the completed shoes—are all done the traditional way. But founder William White—the brand’s name comes from ‘bianco,’ White’s last name in Italian—is quick to point out that the end result is anything but old fashioned.
“The brand grew out of a passion for beautiful footwear, but also the aim to offer a modern update,” White recently told us. “The combination of timeless models with contemporary colors, and updated styling with traditional details, leads to decidedly current models.”
We recently chatted with White about his decision to launch his own line, the fusion of tradition and modernity, combining style with comfort, and what’s up next from this cutting-edge brand. Read on, then head to Barneys to try a pair on for yourself.
The Window: You describe Di Bianco as “classic footwear with a modern twist.” Can you tell us about that duality?
William White: I learned the art of shoe making by working for Sutor Mantellassi, a venerable, 100-year-old brand from Bologna, Italy. I loved their adherence to generations-old practices and traditions. When I started Di Bianco, I felt that there were quite a few classic footwear brands—both Italian and English—that did a wonderful job producing high-quality, traditional footwear, as well as many designer brands producing fashion footwear. There was an opportunity, though, to produce high-quality men’s shoes based on classic models, but with modern updates. Those modern updates could be in the design—like simplifying the brogue-ing on a wingtip, or in the coloration and patinas that we do by hand—or with technology, like a flex sole or gel innersole for comfort. I am a huge fan of taking iconic products and modernizing them, because frankly we live in the present day.
In bringing that modernization, which of comes first—the look or the feel?
I agree with the old adage that we “eat with our eyes first,” so the coloration and hand patinas are extremely important to me. The product has to attract the customer to pick it up. When the shoes are worn, I want the coloration to be notable and subtly draw attention, because shoes are the starting place for a man’s wardrobe and not a simple accessory. The styling of the shoes is also critical, because it’s important that shoes be versatile, in that we can wear the same shoe with a sport coat or with jeans.
Can you tell us a bit about the hand-finishing process you mentioned? We hear that there’s champagne involved…
We burnish our shoes by hand using combinations of polishes and creams to arrive at complex colors, with high- and low-lights. This is one of the most precious pieces in the puzzle, as there are literally only a handful of workshops in Italy that are capable of doing this level of hand coloring. During the process champagne—economical champagne, not Veuve Cliquot!—is used because the alcohol content helps to produce a wonderful smoky finish.
You mentioned infusing modern technology—what led to the development of your new SPQR line?
I used to live in Miami and drove a convertible sports car. My son was still a toddler, so had I installed his car seat in the tiny “backseat.” One day, I was stopped at a light and a gentleman crossed in front of me, looked over, and he said, “Hmmm, I guess you can have it all!” That idea led me to develop SPQR because historically, very comfortable shoes were rather unattractive. Why not make beautiful shoes that are high quality and feel great? The name SPQR is pronounced “Sport”—reflecting the fact that the collection incorporates a flexible rubber sole and techno-gel innersole—the mantra being that this is a shoe that every man can enjoy and incorporate into their daily routines whether they dress casually or formally.
Another point of differentiation is the way your leathers are selected. Can you tell us why that’s so important?
New tanneries have begun opening in Asia and other parts of the world, and that, along with the reduction in consumption of red meat in Europe, has reduced our access to high-quality skins, raising the prices of premium leather. More than ever, it’s crucial to select the highest quality skins possible, since leather is the primary building block for footwear. Once the skins are received from the tanneries, it’s important to cut from the optimal parts of the skin—a labor-intensive process called “tricking”—to avoid any defects that will eventually be borne out in the finished product.
Is there a muse or man you have in mind when creating your styles? Who is the “Di Bianco man?”
When I first began designing Di Bianco shoes, I didn’t have a specific reference point; I simply made shoes that I would want to wear myself. As time progressed, I had the opportunity to get to know our customers, and by listening to them, I have been able to evolve and refine the styling of the different collections. The Di Bianco man isn’t focused on trends or designer names, but rather is looking for quality products with authenticity. He is looking for a story, a history, and a point of difference. I believe that he enjoys “discovering” a relatively unknown brand like Di Bianco because it offers something outside the mainstream.
It’s inspiring how the brand’s roots are in tradition while its vision is still forward-looking. Can you tell us a bit about what lies down the road?
I am very optimistic about the next few years because, as the market begins moving away from sneakers, our SPQR line will provide men with options that combine a dressier aspect with the comfort that they have been accustomed to, wearing sneakers. Additionally, Barneys is going to be one of our main partners in the Spring 2018 launch of the Di Bianco Gallo Flex line, a collection of leather-soled shoes that are made in a Bologna construction, making them extremely flexible. The shoes can be bent almost in two. With its very soft leather and an extra-thick padded innersole, Gallo Flex will be an excellent option for customers looking for extreme comfort and an elegant appearance, but with a leather sole instead of rubber.