Antonia Nicoletti is not only the founder of AEN69 – Creazioni Artigianali in pelle, but she is also a stylist herself, committed to the continuous search for a simple elegance, to be worn every day and in every situation, as you can read on her website. Her passion is vegetable tanned leather with tannin, which she skilfully declines in bags, jackets and shoes in order to combine casual elegance and comfort.

“Aesthetics is important, but it’s not everything. I am answering to a real need for convenience and comfort,” she explains, “which does not come from my perception but from the result of a real study conducted to understand, before setting up the company, what was really missing on the market. Let’s take the footwear sector: on the shelves, the price of shoes ranges from 9 to 1,000 euro a pair. What is missing? Comfort! This is necessary, because a large part of our lives takes place outside, in our stressful and frenzied world. This leads us to look for a more comfortable shoe, even if it is a heeled one. Comfort is an essential criterion for truly satisfying wearability. Of course, it is also possible to go beyond this concept and create entirely tailor-made products, even starting from a design suggested by the customer.”

The concept of ‘comfort’, however, can be random and subjective: Nicoletti, therefore, consults a team of orthopaedists to find out what makes a shoe really comfortable from an anatomical point of view. They promptly recommend using natural materials, avoiding synthetic ones. A suggestion that Nicoletti always keeps in mind for all her creations. “Vegetable-tanned leather with tannin is a completely natural and chemical-free material.

Besides comfort, breathability is a key feature of vegetable tanned leather with tannin: “This leather is able to absorb sweet and to release it in the environment.”

The same concept of ‘comfort first’ is also applied to bags: “Comfortable bags, to better balance the weight, favouring backpacks, which are naturally more balanced than bags. The concept of well-being is a common thread running through all my product lines.”

But what is the secret that drives so many people, even today, to look for objects made according to tradition?

“Leather is a completely natural material, so it is possible to find micro-imperfections (even if we select it carefully), but as it gets older, it takes on a lived-in effect that makes it even more beautiful. It is a bond between us and the object which grows old with us and becomes a witness to our life. Vegetable-tanned leather accessories are objects you become emotionally attached to. And the colour is always special. Black is never black, it is made from chestnut tannins, so it looks different from chemical black, it is warmer and cosier. Reds, made from quebracho tannins, are always Indian reds, never bright ones. Moreover, the colours will never stay the same because the tannin oxidises over time: it’s not just the sun’s fault. But that’s the beauty of it!”

Nicoletti is happy to share her enthusiasm with customers. And fortunately, they too are aware of how important it is to use vegetable-tanned leather according to ancient methods: “Those who are looking for accessories in vegetable-tanned leather with tannin know the difference between faux leather and real leather. Faux leather, also known as synthetic leather, derives from a fabric base such as polyester, which is then given a leather life finish with wax, dye, PVC; so it is not eco-sustainable. The exact opposite of real leather!”

The Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community (COTANCE) has made available its technicians to investigate the issue: their research has observed that none of the new materials compares with leather in terms of environmental impact. We are using leather that is normally discarded, we are recycling and valorising a waste product. People who come into my shop are already aware of this reality and when they look at our creations they want to be sure that it is not artificial leather.

Our target? “I started out with a rather wide target audience, from 25 to 50 years old: I ended up with a prevalence of people 50+ who already knew and appreciated leather in their youth. Today’s millennials are more influenced by fashion, but when they try vegetable-tanned leather they realise the difference and then come back to look for other products. Of course, it’s more expensive because everything is handmade. But it’s a matter of quality that lasts.

According to Nicoletti, over the years the big brands have disappointed the public’s expectations. “Too many false promises! Today, brands are no longer synonymous with quality. On the contrary, marketing expenses are rising, to the detriment of materials, especially leather, and manufacturing. Everything leads to low-quality products. Finally, someone has become aware of this and is trying to reverse the trend, but without reaching the quality level of traditional craftsmanship. Especially abroad, short supply chains are being revalued, mainly among the middle classes, who, thanks to the crisis, have rediscovered the ability to focus on substance rather than appearance. Those who feel ‘rich’ buy a specific brand as a status symbol, while, paradoxically, those who have less spending power are willing to pay more for a quality product able to win the challenge of time.”

Nicoletti concludes: “At last we’re getting back to basics: perhaps we’ve started to understand that it’s better to buy just one good bag than ten poor quality ones, made to be consumed in order to get others. It’s time to change the fashion mentality. Fast fashion has been an own goal for the industry, let’s hope that Covid has been reset. Let’s get back to the way we used to work, let’s stop this restless running! I don’t create one collection a year and our shoes are suitable for all seasons. Let’s hope this is the right time for a change!”

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