by Karen Alberg Grossman

The pandemic has been a learning experience for independent menswear stores, many of whom are now convinced that they don’t want a store filled with overly distributed designer names. Instead, exclusive niche brands featuring comfort, style, value, artisan craftsmanship, and sustainable sourcing are what today’s customers clearly crave.

Enter Donatello, a brand recently launched by footwear veterans Scott Prentice and Joseph Molinaro. The two connected years ago when Scott became president of Bruno Magli Americas, charged with building a men’s collection. Says Prentice, “I discovered Joe when he worked at Bally. Joe, like myself, is from the Midwest. He went to the University of Minnesota, won a Fulbright scholarship to research the history of footwear in Europe including La Scala in Milan, and the Vatican. Prior to that, he handcrafted shoes for Prince’s Purple Rain. Joe is a Rock God of Design, not just for men’s shoes but for all leather accessories.”

Prentice explains how Donatello’s trump card is comfort via construction. “Rather than relying on black elastic or synthetic footbeds, we use only Sacchetto, Bologna, California, and Reverse Goodyear construction. This, plus top-quality leathers, means exceptional comfort. We produce our men’s footwear in our original men’s factory that crafted Bally and Magli nappa shoes. Our women’s production is in the original Taryn Rose factory that can execute these constructions: few footwear companies are willing to invest in the extra costs.”

Adds Molinaro, who’s been based in Italy since 1995, “Italy has always been a leader in design, innovation, and quality. But many of the grassroots artisanal factories have been taken over by big brands now focused on quarterly results. Few luxury footwear brands today are investing in constructions, which can add $20 first cost per pair. But comfort is at least as important as style: once customers try shoes that both look and feel fabulous, they don’t go back…”

Donatello men’s shoe offerings run the gamut from basic tassel loafers with flex construction to totally bendable (without creases) Belgium mocs to comfy drivers, very cool boots, and a totally handmade sport casual grouping using no glues or synthetic materials. In a single procedure, the upper, leather insole, and latex outer sole are attached by a special hand-guided machine; the upper and sole are then slip-lasted for molding and finishing.

All materials throughout the Donatello collection are sustainable and eco-friendly; leather is of the highest quality, better than used by many luxury brands, including Chanel. Suggested retails range from the mid $400’s down to $375.

An interesting sidebar: History buffs and art aficionados will surely recognize the name Donatello, a great Italian innovator, and artist who bridged the gap between the Old World and the New. Together with Brunelleschi, they were the Steve Jobs, Elon Musks, and Andy Warhols of their day, paving the way for the great renaissance thinkers and master artists of the modern world.

So how comfortable is Donatello footwear really? Says Prentice, “We once had a professional ballerina come to a FFANY show: she put on a pair of our 90 mm pumps with Sacchetto construction and spent the afternoon dancing around our showroom!”

For more info or to view the collection: