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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

See Manhattan On Your Feet Exclusive Interview With Anthony Marinelli, Legendary Shoe Mogul! Sponsored by Cosmopolitan Dental, Official Dentist of Whom You Know

Tony drinking The Peachy Deegan with his friends, owners of "The Bellport" in Bellport. Long Island-this was by special order it is not officially served there at the time of press.  Of course you must drink The Peachy in the right shoes and we are proud to have converted Tony to Star Vodka.

This See Manhattan On Your Feet interview is sponsored by Cosmopolitan Dental, official dentist of Whom You Know!  Dr. Garo Nazarian is responsible for Peachy's pearly whites: 

Anthony “Tony” Marinelli was born in Manhattan at the Wickersham Hospital off of Lexington Ave in Manhattan. His Father Anthony senior was a third generation American with roots in Arezzo, Italy (Tuscany). His mother Mercedes was born in a small town outside of Havana. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all in the wholesale diamond business. Tony spent his early years in New York at the the Parc Vendome and the Essex house. The family moved to Bronxville, New York in the late 40’s where Tony grew up on Avon road. His parents still loved the city and its night life and enjoyed the night spots like the Stork Club, Copacabana and El Morocco sometimes dragging young Anthony with them. The city was a super exciting post-war place then with entertainers like Judy Garland performing and the Hollywood Crowd Gable, Bogart, Ava Gardner and Sinatra frequenting their favorite spots. Tony went on to school at St. Josephs and Iona Grammar and graduated from Farley Military Academy with top marks and the rank of Battalion Commander.

He went on to attend Georgetown University spending his free time earning his spending money at DC watering holes like Clydes and Apple Pie.  In the late 60's he was encouraged by his classmates to spend his summers in Europe and Marbella Spain in particular. Spain was run by Generalissimo Franco and both glamorous and inexpensive. The Marbella club was owned and run by Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe and his right hand man Count Rudi Von Schonburg Tony found himself able to spend a great summer without a whole lot of money. Like any one lucky enough to spend the late 60”s and early 70’s in Marbella... he was hooked. When asked If he had an interest in selling real estate in the place he had grown to love.. he jumped at it.

When Franco died it appeared that for a short while the real estate business was over with... little did he realize it was just beginning. He and a fellow Georgetown student, however, moved on and began to import espadrilles to the USA from the worlds premier espadrille manafacturer the Castaner Family of Banyoles Spain. The Castaners made espadrilles for Hermes, Lanvin and Yves St. Laurent The name of the new import company was Unisa. Tony remained co-founder and partner at Unisa for the next 25 years helping to build the company with an initial investment of $5000 in to a $300,000,000 a year business. 15 years ago he sold his interest in Unsisa and started A Marinelli a small independent shoe company focused on the better independent and e commerce clientele. He has made shoes in Italy, Spain, Morocco, Brazil Portugal and China.

Recently he and his mangagement team led by Barry Schwartz created the Anna Capri label and designed the shoes from Italy priced to sell under $100.00!!!!

This past June A Marinelli launched the Au Naturel label focused on super comfortable fashion footwear featuring Natural components of bamboo,wicker, raffia, cane, linen, vacetta leathers and yes real authentic rustic jute espadrilles!  The line is influenced by the French Mediterranean in the spring and summer and the French Pyrenees in the fall and winter.  From Fabuloso to Ooh la la in one great shoe career. He didn’t do it all by himself and is the first to admit that it all worked because he was lucky to surround himself with dedicated, constructive people and his wife of 25 years Cynthia.  Ah Cynthia..... now that’s a whole other great story.  Peachy Deegan interviwed Anthony Marinelli for Whom You Know while wearing these shoes:

Peachy Deegan: What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?

Anthony Marinelli: It may sound hokey to most but my Mother and the Christian Brothers at Military School

What are you proudest of and why? 

I am proud of several choices and achievements but none prouder than whom I chose to be surrounded by and my 25 year marriage is the best example of that

How has the shoe business changed over your career and what have you learned most from these changes? 

The shoe business has changed immensely in the last 25 years. When I first started very little money was required and department stores were willing to work with small suppliers like ourselves if you had a unique product and proved fashion right. A small innovative company could do business with a small innovative specialty store like Henri Bendel’s or Bonwit Teller and use that achievement to catapult themselves into Bloomingdales. Big merchants at the time were more like “gardeners.” They would strike up a relationship with a young company bring them along, water them, baby them and if they retailed well they expanded their business to additional doors. This way the buyer took pride in discovering someone new and acquired a sense of ownership in a new brand. Its what used to make stores like Bloomingdales unique. Today, sadly, its all about numbers. Federated has bought all the great local independents like Filenes and Woodward and Lothrop or Garfinkles. Big Federated will only do business with Big vendors like 9 West ...they don’t want to “garden” they just want their profit margins guaranteed by big suppliers
and consequently all the unique independent stores who need new ideas to compete are replaced by a “large grey mass of sameness” a blob of mediocrity.

Tell us the story of Unisa please. 

The Unisa story could require a small book to do the subject justice. I will try to keep it as short as possible. Unisa began as a small real estate company in Marbella Spain by Carlos Musso a good friend of mine I met in Georgetown. He was one of the two friends I had who encouraged me to come to Marbella for the fun of it in the early 70’s.  We both did pretty well in that business but it slowed down a lot when Generalissimo Franco died. Carlos (who was exclusive owner then ) was baffled about what to do next as we had to support a small office in Marbella and another one off Madison avenue above a bank on 72nd st. He got the idea of importing espadrilles to the U.S. And met the premiere European espadrille maker the Castaner Family in a small town of Banyoles in the Catalan province of Spain. They made (and still do) all the espadrilles for the haute couture labels Hermes, Lanvin, Chanel, St. Laurent etc etc Isabel Castaner is a great lady with a great family and has extraordinary good taste and style. Not only that she believed in us and gave us credit. This was extremely important because without it we would have had to seek outside financing ..not easy anytime but especially in the 70’s with interest rates of 17%!!!! Carlos and I made a deal and I became his only partner in the deal with responsibility for sales. I later moved on to be head of product development but I am jumping a head a bit. What we didn’t and couldn’t have been aware of was that every magazine in both America and Europe was crazy about was like tulip mania!!!! At least half the footwear in every issue of Vogue or Harpers Bazaar was espadrilles. So as Carlos use to like to say “We caught a Wave”. We moved out of our 600 sq foot office and in to a bigger one. We started going to European shows to see what we could sell when espadrilles cooled down .We found an idea for a little sandal made with crystal beads from Murano and that became the next “Wave.”  That type of sandal and the espadrilles (made in Spain and Italy) got us through the 70’s and into the early 80’s where we started designing and importing huaraches from Brazil...literally tons of them.  Then we discovered mocs and ballerinas.  Another big wave. We never did conventional shoes like pumps
and ladies styles... always less serious unconstructed footwear.  We took the road less traveled. We were the “boys of summer” making money and having fun. Big Corporate got involved in the late 80’s and I sort of lost my enthusiasm for the company I helped start. We had accomplished a lot in a short 20 years. From a five thousand dollar investment to a $300,000,000 a year business. I sold my interest in Unisa and moved on in 1995.  Unisa has licensed its name to Mark Fisher son of 9 West Cofounder Jack Fisher but still does a bang up business in Europe.

Tell us the story of A. Marinelli please. 

After Unisa I formed A. Marinelli with a number of wonderful partners one of which was Barry Schwartz the former sales manager of Unisa. He had also been exec VP of Burdines. We couldn’t very well do the same things we did at Unisa so we yet again took a different road designing a line of feminine embellished shoes initially made in Spain and Italy. I always thought that my father, grandfather and great-grandfather's interest in precious stones led me to our phase with bejeweled footwear. A. Marinelli has been in business now for 15 years and sells the finest independents in America and the dot coms Zappos Amazon Endless shoes etc etc We recently started a line with Italian Shoemakers where we came up with the branding and packaging, designed the styles and sold the line called Anna Capri all meant to retail under $100. The Euro gained strength and our strategy for our customers to sell fine extremely comfortable yet stylish footwear out of Italy for under $100 became impossible to achieve. So we moved our styles, our comfort and our packaging and label talent to a new line that we own 100% ourselves...Au Naturel. This line has had an even more explosive response than Anna Capri because it is every bit as comfortable and with even more “bells and whistles” than the Anna Capri Line. It also includes a fabulous line of espadrilles and when you put it all together you get what Unisa use to represent in the market place albeit with whole new modern approach! It's made for those that love style first, comfort a very very close second and not a lot of froufrou where your shoes don't fight for attention with you or your clothing. What we strive for is to avoid complicated “bondage” hard to fit footwear Mies Van der Rohe “less is more” rules! What I would add to the architects famous comment is Less is definitely More but comfort and quality trump everything! Au Naturel features cane, wicker, stone-washed linen from Italy, sun-bleached canvas, natural bamboo, natural vaccetta Italian leathers, Italian technicians and designers comfort with style.

What would you like the world to know about your wife Cynthia? 
My wife Cynthia is from a wonderful small town in Pennsylvania called Blooming Glen (bet you don’t believe towns like that exist.) She was an absolutely (and still is) fabulous looking model who worked for Wilhelmina and was “The Almay Girl” amongst other things. She was dating a friend of mine and though I never admitted it then I fell in love with her at first sight. My friend and Cynthia stopped dating and a couple of years later I was walking up Madison Ave with my partner Carlos Musso and saw this stunning girl wearing a knock out pair of shoes. Being the gentleman that I am I always looked at a girl from the bottom and worked my way up to the top rather than the reverse. When I got to her insanely beautiful eyes a voice sang out, Tony Marinelli don’t you know who I am? Its Cynthia, I met you with your friend Larry Loughlin a couple of years ago. I was totally flummoxed! Didn’t know what to say. I was so clumsy I gave her my card and asked HER to call ME sometime. Carlos said later what are you crazy or something why didn’t you ask her for HER number rather than give her yours. He was absolutely right of course so I called my old friend Larry and “asked him permission” to date Cynthia. Larry was sort (and still is) of a man about town and said nonchalantly “be my guest”!!  Well I took him up on it and we got married after a toooo long engagement. What I thought I married was a beautiful and funny girl and all that is true but what I hadn’t counted on is someone with that much perseverance, loyalty, honesty and values.

How do you like Florida compared to New York? 

Once a New Yorker always a New Yorker . My father thought of it as the “center of the universe”! The planet Earth is not even the center of our Galaxy! Its a great place if you're single with a bit of money and your feet don’t have to touch the ground but it can be tough even brutal. What it has over Florida is soul. When you lived in New York you don’t live in a big town so much as your neighborhood. Mine was the Volney Hotel between 5th and Madison on 74th st. The best part (in my view) of Central Park is there painted by all the greats ,half a block from The Whitney 2 blocks from The Carlyle and Bobby Short ,Clyde Chemist The Rhinelander Florist, a short walk to the Met, the Frick my favorite JG Melons and Mortimers (at the time.) The barber Paul Mole. In summer we had a place in Bellport and Brookhaven Hamlet; that was my world. Coral Gables is wonderful and we have had several wonderful homes there but it doesn’t and never will have...soul. Things and place burn out quickly there. People move in and out and not much really “sticks” there . NO TRADITION. But we have a great life no kids to fret about and a great little longhaired Doxie named “Strudle the Nosey Noodle”! So Coral Gables is an uncomplicated place to come back to after a long trip. A place to chill . Short sleeves no ties linen everything La Piaggio, Zuma the mid Keys Palm Beach( just once and a while) and a big big moon.

Please tell us some good stories about nightlife in New York that you experienced as a kid. 

I used to go to the “fights “ with my dad (saw Marciano fight) rooted for the Giants (football) and the Yankees. My Aunt on my mothers side was a singer actress named Estelita. She had worked for Republic Studios and made 57 movies with Roy Rogers and several with John Wayne (the Duke was the best man at one of her 5 marriages) She even made a movie with Ronald Regan ... She would come to New York and perform at the Waldorf covered in white Ermine and dripping with diamonds! As a 7 year old I was excited to the max when she took me to the circus to meet Roy and Dale and their horse Trigger! Didn’t care too much for the German Shepard Bullet who tried unsuccessfully to bite me!!!! Estelita was one of a kind but like many of the Hollywood Crowd died way too young..... 38...... Too much life spent in too little time.

Georgetown University is a fabulous school-how did you enjoy your experience there? 

After military high school I went bonkers at Georgetown I was there when Bill Clinton was there. He was in the foreign service school and I was in business. Let me tell you what kind of business. Cooped up for 4 years in Rhinecliff New York I received an impossible .01 QPI my first year at Georgetown! I was too busy drinking $.39 cent martinis at Mr Henrys on M street. Girls were about 8 to one in that town at the time and I think I made it my mission to meet every one of them! I worked at bars as a waiter, bartender and a bouncer. I was in fights all the time. It took me 7 years to complete only 3 years at Georgetown !!! I opened up a bikini shop on M street called Le Sportif with Bunker Hoover and some friends and we sold ski equipment in the winter. I know I shouldn’t be proud of my wasted time in DC and I don’t know how many young people will read this and be badly influenced but I had fun and really don’t regret a bit of it!

Why did you start with espadrilles and what about espadrilles makes them timeless in your opinion? 

Espadrilles like huaraches were worn by very poor people they were everywhere cheap to make cheap to buy you could even make them yourself if you had to. They were part of the root culture of French and Spanish blue collar working class and gypsys . Starting as Fishermen's shoes, later they were worn by the Kings and Queens of Spain to express how real and chic they were.  Picasso and Dali wore them. The great bullfighters like Dominguin wore them.  Hemingway and Ava Gardner wore them! They are no longer cheap but they are natural, comfortable but most of all they are .....real.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? Nothing.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 

Rockefeller Center a little tipsy with my friends on Tuba Sunday just before Christmas

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party? 

Nothing funny has ever happened to me at a cocktail party!

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 

I cant name one!!! The Water Club , Jg Melons and Elios because the food is great and the drinks generous but most of all because Buzzy ,Jack and Elio are friends of mine.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 

A small park for dogs because canines are our favorite people

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world? 

Invest in bio tech firms they save lives what else we do I wont say

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here? 

A slice of NYC pizza and a Sabrett’s hot dog

Other than See Manhattan on Your Feet of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?

Patriotic Peachy because it covers a subject that really needs covering and she does it very very well

Have you drank The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? (please send us your picture drinking it!)

Yes and the photo will be from Bellport’s best restaurant “The Bellport” owned by my very very good friends Patricia Trainor and Taylor Alonzo

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 

Nothing they know too much already!

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? 

With flowers, letters and money! to my personal email address

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