Sunday, July 2, 2017

meet Michael Tonello of respoke



The age of the internet has changed all of our lives in ways we never imagined. A case in point is one Michael Tonello who stumbled upon an, idea, a trend and a fact that had a life altering effect on him and a life all of its own. He did in fact become one of the largest purveyors of all things Hermès; first on eBay and then craftily and entrepreneurially via an assembled preferred customer list that indeed opened doors hitherto... let’s say... locked or unopened and probably in many ways unforeseeable.
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Having just read  his wildly amusing , witty and informative book, Bringing Home the Birkin, insights and observations about Michael cleared my thought processes to the point of fully understanding how and why respoke was born. Amazingly, we share a common friend who played an important role during our respective “reinventions!” What becomes apparent is that there are parts of us that take a leading role in our lives that we cannot suppress no matter the path we have chosen for our lives.
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In the words of the greatest doyenne of fashion, Diana Vreeland “give them what they never knew they wanted” and that’s exactly what this brand achieves!

All that said, respoke is just this amazing idea/concept hatched by 2 friends (I am not one of them) who combined their loves for all things Hermès and possessed a collective creative spirit. Indeed in many ways, if you read the book which I urge you to do, you will come to understand that when one door closes another one does indeed swing open so widely as to be unfathomable in terms of possibilities of what lay behind that door!
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So here in his own words is a founder of respoke who offers his insights on an Hermès life amongst the many adventures that laid behind those unopened doors ….
Jeffrey Felner: Can you give us a brief summary of your career leading up to the present situation?
Michael Tonello: For nearly twenty years I did makeup for photography for the advertising industry. My big clients were TJMaxx, Marshall's, Reebok, Dunkin Donuts, IBM...lots of corporations based in and around Boston. In September of 1999 I moved to Barcelona and later that year I got involved in reselling Hermès scarves ... which eventually lead to reselling Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags. In 2008 I wrote a memoir, Bringing Home the Birkin, which is about all of that Hermès business (the book became a bestseller and is now published in 13 languages).
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JF: How did the concept of respoke become reality? And what drove you to it?
MT: Living in Spain, it's common practice to buy a pair or two of espadrilles every spring and wear them throughout the summer. A couple of years ago I got to thinking how boring, year after year, the espadrilles were … Mostly cotton canvas, solid colors ...the occasional stripe …Yawn. I had thought of covering a pair with a vintage cotton bandana and over the course of a week began expanding on my own idea. An Hermès silk scarf? In the spring of 2015 I reached out to several espadrille workshops in Spain (where the finest espadrilles in the world are made) to see if I could get custom espadrilles made to my specifications. Most of those inquiries went unanswered. About six months later I stumbled upon a workshop in La Rioja (Spain) that understood my vision and was willing to make some prototypes/samples for me. There was considerable back and forth and lots of issues to work through. I was somewhat obsessive and a bit of a perfectionist, but the director of operations understood my vision, my dream. In October of 2016 I received the very first pair of Respoke espadrilles.
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JF: What are your expectations in terms of brand extensions and distribution channels?
MT: I know it sounds cliché but every single pair is unique and a labor of love. The fact is that the entire espadrille is entirely made by hand and hand stitched. Each pair is a process that takes about a month. We have lots of ideas but must go slow. It's great when we have buyers who understand the process (Bergdorf's is a good example) and will work with us. Eventually we will do wedges, mules, and various embellishments. We have some brand extensions in the works for years two and three but want to keep that as a surprise.
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JF: If you could choose any collaboration with any other brand or designer, who or what would it be and why?
MT: I just adore the stuff that Takashi Murakami has done for Louis Vuitton. It's full of whimsy and he has the ability to nail the perfect mix of high-art and commercialism. I'd love for him to design a silk or cotton fabric for us...it would be a great limited edition!  I'd want two pair for myself; one to wear and one to keep as a collector's item.
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JF: You have a very specific target audience so let’s speak to that topic ... why? Do you plan on expanding that base audience … why or why not?
MT: It's a niche product and we're not for everyone. Due to the nature of our components: rare iconic silk scarves and hand craftsmanship, our costs are high and we will always only be able to produce limited quantities. To give you an example, I was recently in Venice Italy and there's a store next to the Gritti Palace Hotel that sells luxury vintage (i.e. $10K Kelly bags and $5K Chanel jackets). They had a mint/pristine 1970's Pucci dressing gown for $1100. I bought the gown and made it into espadrilles. That's it...end of story...we can't make more since there's no way of procuring more of that fabric. Those espadrilles are already collectible.