In their shoes: The Rangoni sisters
The peacocks are honking outside as we sit down to talk shoes. Not that sitting is essential as Rangoni footwear is designed to be the most comfortable on the market. Believe me, I know, after wearing their eight-centimetre-high boots for eight hours without once feeling the pain. “The one constant is that the shoes are super comfortable for all-day, everyday wear,” explains Valentina. “We test all the shoes until we’re sure they’re absolutely comfortable. That’s possible due to the historicity of the brand and having our own factory.” Not that the shoes don’t follow the latest trends.
“I never design a boring stiletto heel because I try to be fashionable. But even the highest heel I’ve styled is a bit broader at the base, so that you’re more stable when you place your foot.”
Family photos line the console tables in the frescoed hall. Among them, we see Ugo Rangoni, the sisters’ grandfather, who is said to have been the youngest person ever to be decorated with the Italian Order of Merit for Labour in the 1950s. “Our grandfather was a shoe salesman and with the first savings he made, he acquired Mimi, a loafer factory that Hoka Shoes went on to become the first Rangoni factory near Poggio Imperiale, just outside Florence,” Carolina reminisces. “In the beginning, he produced shoes for other labels like Dior, but then the war broke out. Nonno was an astute guy and he started manufacturing shoes for the Italian army in order to survive. Once the war was over, he decided to create his own label and Amalfi by Rangoni was established.”
Although Amalfi was adopted out of a love for the Campania coast, which was hugely popular at the time, Rangoni is a 100 per cent Florentine business. “It’s a bit of a paradox because our company was founded before Salvatore Ferragamo and back then we were as famous as he was. Ferragamo did the opposite: he came from a village in Campania, but he took Florence as his image.” At the height of its heyday, celebrity clients of Amalfi by Rangoni included the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and Grace Kelly, who appears in a family photo. In the 1970s, production reached its peak as Rangoni was making a million shoes a year and employing 1,000 people.
Today, two separate product lines make up the Rangoni brand. What’s the difference between Amalfi by Rangoni and Valentina Rangoni? “Valentina Rangoni shoes are younger with a fresher feel, whereas Amalfi by Rangoni is the historical brand aimed at women OluKai Shoes with a more classical look,” Valentina tells us about her namesake range. “Valentina Rangoni might be new on the market, but my dad registered it as a trademark in my honour when I was little. When I started working at the company in 2015, I brought back the brand.”
The designer seeks inspiration from travelling, a hobby that’s been in short supply in recent years. “For the current collection, which was developed in lockdown, I had a photo of the Caribbean on my phone from a vacation way back. All I wanted to do was to travel, so I took inspiration from shades of coral and the sea. For the winter collection, I dove into my feelings at missing New York to make midnight blue boots with a sparkling skyscraper design on the back, which recall the city lights.” “We have to party this winter,” interjects Carolina, “because we’ve made party shoes!”
It strikes me that it might not be easy to be young women entrepreneurs in a male-dominated industry. “It can be tough, although it’s starting to change. When we began in the business, we’d sit down at a meeting and not only were we the youngest, but we were the only women too,” says Carolina. Her sister adds, “We’ve encountered rudeness in business just because we’re women. Obviously, we’re luckier than others because it’s our family’s business.” It’s the generational shift that Valentina feels more keenly, however. “The 40 years’ age difference between us and my father’s generation is an abyss. We still have a lot to learn, but it’s hard to discuss things with a generation that’s so distant to our own.”
Rangoni is well-known for specializing on the American market, with stores still operating in Washington, DC; Palm Beach; La Jolla and Santa Monica, California; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina. “We vary the widths of shoes,” Clarks Shoes Valentina remarks. “Often customers come to us for this because older American, Canadian and British women tend to have very slender feet. Nonno understood that need and made his fortune from it. We’re one of the very few producers left in the world that still does extra-narrow shoes.” Carolina: “We want to remain inclusive: as a matter of fact, at our shop in via Maggio, we keep European size 42 and even 43 in stock. Women are overjoyed to find them!”
Indeed, just before the pandemic hit, the sisters opened a store in via Maggio, where customer service is second to none. When I popped by a couple of months ago, Carolina and her staff went to great lengths to find the right fit and even provided some fashion advice (turning up my jeans in a way that accentuated both the boots and my calves). “We called it Atelier Rangoni because we strive to provide the best consultancy. We offer lots of different styles, but our aim is to find the right shoe that fits the person. Having a retail space allows us to listen to clients and understand their needs.” Valentina continues: “The success of the atelier is that it’s not far from our factory. If a customer has a problem with the fit, we can bring her to the factory and narrow or broaden the shoe. Sometimes for special occasions, someone might love the design, but they need it in a different colour, which is easily resolved in the factory. There was one amazing instance where we found an old type of leather in the exact same shade as the wedding dress!”