"It's a beautiful sight" Fort Belvedere, Florence Italy, where Belvedere Shoes got its start
“They call me the Gator Man,” he says with a laugh. “I don't know why ... they just do.” He shakes his head and chuckles again.
Stefano Giovacchini has a thick Italian accent, courtesy of growing up in Florence, Italy. But it’s not just the language and a charming grin that he picked up from home. His passion for luxury footwear blossomed early on, nestled between the tanneries and shoe factories of his youth.
Belvedere's story began in 1986 when Stefano moved to California to carve out his career in the shoe industry. He started as many entrepreneurs do: in the back of a garage with a phone extension cord stretching from the kitchen. "Between you and me," he says with amusement. “I hear that's how Google started too, so it's okay.”
Stefano Giovacchini, "Gator Man"
Gaining customers across the Bay Area was tough. At first Stefano's clientele consisted of small shoe stores and boutiques. "They started to buy, some in Burlingame, some on Union Street. Then I showed the shoes to a buyer for Nordstrom in San Mateo. This guy here gave me the chance. He ordered maybe two or three hundred pairs ... for me it was three million pairs. And then they started selling! He talked with the other buyers; John Licata in downtown San Francisco, one in South San Francisco, another in San Jose." Eventually Stefano had hundreds of shoes selling in the Bay Area Nordstrom's stores.
With fresh success Stefano decided to take his show on the road. As a young man he was traveling to places like New York, Florida, and Chicago for the first time in his life to attend trade shows. Stores across the nation took notice, and orders started rolling in.
That wasn't enough. Stefano no longer wanted to carry the responsibility of the Italian factory he represented or be at the mercy of what they charged. He decided that designing was the next challenge to tackle. "I searched for other factories in Italy, and I started to design my shoes. I designed shoes the way I wanted."
Business was booming, and his company needed a fresh name to honor the new aesthetic. Stefano looked to his home for inspiration. "Florence, you know, it's in the valley and there are hills all around. On one of the hills there is an old fort of the Medici family called Fort Belvedere. Belvedere means a beautiful sight. So, when I was thinking of changing the name to something more personal, I thought about this fort. You go there, and you see all of Florence at your feet. It's so beautiful there. I said, 'Belvedere. That’s a perfect name." He laughs.
It's a great name, one that many are proud to wear. Growing from a garage to global growth, from selling to designing, and from classic cuts to urban sneakers, has been a long path. One that Stefano has enjoyed and still has big plans for.
The newest line came out in the first half of August, leading with the Prestige. But that’s not all. Stefano also plans to continue growing a line from Brazil, extending the collection of urban shoes made from calf leather. The focus is a more casual feel, with a rubber or gel sole, and a soft cushion insole. A third upcoming line hails from a new Italian factory, back to the roots that have provided inspiration since the company's beginning.
Stay tuned to see Belvedere's upcoming collections, where classic elegance has a contemporary bite.