Reinventing the Heel
A local shoe startup brings Italian luxury to Boston.
I practically live in a pair of black Fiorentini + Baker motorcycle boots. Made in Italy—as all the best leather shoes are—my boots were a splurge, but quality always comes at a cost. Or so I thought.
Actually, says serial entrepreneur Ben Fischman (founder of Lids and Rue La La), Italian shoes don’t have to be outrageously pricey. The Boston native’s latest venture, e-commerce shoe boutique M.Gemi, commissions handmade Italian shoes and sells them online directly to the consumer, cutting out the various middlemen that typically jack up the price.
This spring, I sat down with Fischman and Sicily-born chief merchant Maria Gangemi (the inspiration for the company’s name) at M.Gemi’s Fenway headquarters to talk all things Italy and footwear. “Country of origin defines the product,” Fischman said. “Think of German sports cars, Swiss watches…women know that Italian leather shoes are the best shoes.” That’s why every M.Gemi shoe is designed by Gangemi, then made at one of several partner factories in Italy, built on proprietary forms to ensure consistent fit from style to style.
Fischman described the M.Gemi model customer as if she were an actual person: “She loves shoes, and when she gets the box in the mail, she opens it and smells the leather. She now calls them her M.Gemis”—just as some refer to their shoes as Louboutins or Manolos.
Meanwhile, Gangemi described the painstaking work required to make a pair of M.Gemis. She’d recently visited one of the family-owned factories in Italy where several generations hand-cut and stitch the leather, with the family cat perched on a nearby stool for quality assurance, no doubt. “It was so beautiful to me,” she said. “They’re so proud of what they do, so passionate.”
Such an intoxicating visual (“Specialty retail is theatrical,” Fischman said), though it was difficult not to be distracted by the protoype for a seductive pair of black beaded patent-leather stilettos on the coffee table.
While I love my motorcycle boots, I couldn’t help but feel shoe envy as Gangemi gave me a tour of the line, pointing out M.Gemi’s craftsmanship: Priced from just $128 to $298, most pairs are made with buttery leather, and all have visibly expert stitching. “There was white space in the shoe business,” Fischman said. “We’re redefining luxury.”