RETAIL REPORT | BARBARA KATE REPA
Claudia Volpi throws down a friendly ultimatum: “I challenge you to find an Italian who doesn’t own a pair of Superga shoes.”
And she’s hoping the sporty “People’s Shoes of Italy” will soon become common footfare for Fillmore residents as well, now that the doors to her new boutique are open at 2326 Fillmore Street.
The shoes — slip-ons, tie classics and hi-tops for women, men and children — look fresh and modern. But in fact, their origins hark back to 1911, when an entrepreneur in Torino, Italy, Walter Martiny, had the idea of using vulcanized rubber to make waterproof boots, revolutionizing footwear for the agricultural workers there. In later years, the shoes evolved to become tennis wear with carefully crafted cushioning and support — and then fashion statements when leather, wool and silk and thicker soles and wedge heels were incorporated into the designs.
Volpi says she has worn and loved Superga shoes since she was a little girl, and she has the evidence to prove it: a picture of a slightly tattered red pair she wore back in the day, later worn by each of her three children.
“They’re comfortable, stylish and affordable, so you can easily own more than one pair,” she says. Children’s shoes range from $40 to $55; adult sizes from $65 for the classic tie version in a single color to $200 for those in special collections, such as last year’s collaboration with Rodarte.
Volpi moved here grudgingly from New York City five years ago for her Italian-born husband’s work. There she had a flourishing career as a marketing and banking executive — and the dream of making her favorite Superga shoes more easily available in America.
“Whenever I wore them in New York,” she says, “people would stop me and ask: ‘Where did you get those shoes?’ ”
But first she joined the board of her son’s Italian school, with the goal of expanding it beyond a small preschool. That goal is accomplished, with San Francisco’s Italian International School now boasting 220 elementary students.
“Working on that school project really allowed me to put my roots down here,” she says. “And now I know I’m in a place I want to be for the rest of my life.”
Now that her youngest is 5, Volpi felt ready to pursue her dream of opening a Superga boutique, offering year-round footwear she says is a perfect fit for San Francisco’s “casually elegant” fashion vibe.
Then she found the perfect spot — vacated last year by clothes purveyor Peruvian Connection, which had lovingly restored the inside and brought it up to code. She and her family had rented a house nearby when they first relocated to San Francisco, and Volpi fell in love with the neighborhood.
“I always wanted to be on Fillmore, because it’s a place where locals shop — and live,” she says. “I always loved that within a few blocks I could get lunch, have my nails done, shop, make copies and do my banking. I could have gone to Union Square, but those are not the customers I want to serve.”
There is only one other Superga boutique in the U.S., in New York City.
“As we’ve been preparing the store, one thing that’s already been so incredibly uplifting is that so many people have stopped by the window every day, some just signaling their support, some pointing to their feet, showing they already wear Supergas,” says Volpi.
“My concept is that this will be a family store where folks will just want to come in and see what’s new, or to stop by and talk on their way to or from school,” she says. To that end, she plans to set up a children’s play space equipped with coloring books and toys and a station equipped with an espresso maker and biscotti for the more mature shoppers.
“We’re Italian,” she says. “We feed people.”
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