Nettleton Shoes: An interview with VP Jim Tognoni

We are very pleased to introduce you to Nettleton Footwear. The American Heritage brand has roots stretching back to 1879, and, though dormant as of late, they are stomping back into the footwear scene. We caught up with Nettleton Vice President Jim Tognoni to talk about Nettleton’s story and classically constructed product. Come see the shoes yourself as part of Wingtip’s Wingtip Suit launch, this Friday and Saturday. [Ed: This post was originally published 6/12/2013, but we are revisiting it in anticipation of Nettleton’s return to Wingtip.]

Wingtip: Are today’s Nettleton shoes based on the original designs, or brand new designs?

Jim Tognoni: The current line is largely made up of classic Nettleton styles, some of which are still talked about and worn by our legacy customers. We have done some tweaking to keep the look relevant for today’s gentleman, but the designs still retain the original elegance of the product. Some of the styles, such as our Savannah loafer, date back to the 1930s–this shoe, in fact, was the original loafer. Nettleton trademarked that name, “loafer,” in 1934, though the use of the term has become ubiquitous. Our Madison style has the classic Algonquin toe seam, which too is a Nettleton original, and another name that we had trademarked years ago.

Which shoes will be available to see during the trunk show?

Customers and your staff will see our Wingtip, Algonquin toe, Savannah loafer, tassel loafers, and our Cap Toe–everyone needs a pair of these in their wardrobe [image at left]. We will likely show a few pieces that we will introduce this fall. We want the classics but want it to remain fresh and relevant for today’s savvy gentleman. As we say in our tag line “We Make The Classic Shoe For The Modern Gentleman”.

Where are Nettleton shoes made today? Are they designed in St. Louis?

Design of the shoe is a collaborative effort. I would say the lion’s share of the effort and details are done in our Coral Gables, Florida, corporate headquarters. Ed Tognoni is the lead on all design and updates, along with close communications with our factory team. The shoes are hand-crafted in Belgium. We have found old world craftsmen that have the leathers, equipment, and know-how to produce what we feel is among the finest gentleman’s shoes in the world. 

Where do you source your alligator?

We will actually be using belly skins of the Crocodile, which makes for the softest and most beautiful hide. Our factory procures them from South America. We are licensed for import and export by the U.S. fish and wildlife service. We always go by the book. 

What are the different lasts to consider when shopping Nettleton footwear?

Lasts are always an interesting topic. The ones that we have at our factory are made from original Nettleton specifications. We conferred with the original last-maker to Nettleton and verified that all was as it should be. We did tweak them slightly to accommodate the changes in the modern gentleman’s foot. As you know, people around the world are bigger than they used to be so that has to be considered and applied to the last for a very good fit. Note that we are still using US standards for the last as we are an American brand. 

Do you have any information on the designs used in your vintage ads (particularly the “Mr. Net” character)?

One of my favorite topics… Mr. Net was the creation by Bert Stern as commissioned by Nettleton back in the 50s (Stern is still a practicing ad artist working out of NYC). Many pieces were done by Louis Francher in the early 1900s up to the 1930s. He, too, was a well known advertising artist in that era. Some of our other favorites, like the portrait-looking images, were done by another advertising maven of the 30s and 40s–a Don Gardner. We actually have about 10 of his original oil paintings, which he produced the ad artwork from.

Any other notable discoveries in the Nettleton archives?

There are a few interesting pieces correspondence that we have from former U.S. presidents that were fans and customers of Nettleton. Teddy Roosevelt and Coolidge, to name two. 

Why is 2013 the right time to re-launch Nettleton?

The internet has given us an opportunity to reach a global audience with our message, sell product and keep in close communications with customers, dealers and prospects. We notice that on various blog sites and newspaper and magazine articles that there is a broad interest in Nettleton shoes. We saw too that certain websites were and are actually selling vintage Nettleton shoes for a significant amount of money. We examined all this information and determined that it is the right time to bring a solid, extremely well made line of footwear to the global market. Our history is quite unique, inspiring, and most enjoyable to work with. 

Anything else to add about the trunk show tour?

We are very enthused about partnering with Wingtip for this effort. We are overwhelmed by the uniqueness and the tremendous use of an iconic space. With Wingtip’s class and elegance we feel Nettleton is the right partner for such a classy company. Other than that we have been around since 1879 and can talk enthusiastically for hours about the fabulous advertising materials in our archives–and of course the quality of the footwear we produce. We truly are passionate about the whole of the Nettleton product story.

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David is Wingtip's storyteller. In addition to editing the Modern Gentleman's Blog, he has written for Wax Poetics, The Source, SF Weekly, and the East Bay Express, and others. His inspirations include Rumble Fish, Paul's Boutique, and Balzac. He studied English at the City University of New York at Hunter College and journalism at the University of Southern California. He lives in Berzerkeley with his wife and daughter.

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