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June 14, 2013

Inspired by ancestors, two hip Nashville businesses now inspire customers

by Leslie Long

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Imogene + Willie

Carrie and Matt Eddmenson own this incredibly well edited and very cool store in Nashville’s 12 South district— a laid back neighborhood of coffee shops, new and vintage clothing and home decor shops and bungalows you’d probably want to live in. The couple, now married, met when they were ten years old and first worked together developing denim brands for Carrie’s family business. Eventually, they decided to strike out on their own, moving from their hometown of Henderson, Kentucky to set up shop in Nashville.

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The store is called Imogene + Willie after Carrie’s maternal grandparents. She explains that the name honors the relationships she and her husband were privileged to have with all eight of their grandparents including Leo and Sally, Anthony and Hazel and James and Gladys, too.

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It all happens in a refurbished 1959s gas station on 12th Avenue South between the Islamic Cultural Center of Nashville and a coffee hangout called Portland Brew. Part store and part factory, customers shop alongside skilled patternmakers and sewers who not only make jeans, but alter them to fit like gloves. They mentioned the sewing operation would be moving out of the premises sometime in the near future, but for now it’s all happening side by side, which adds a lot of energy to the shopping experience.

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The jeans that made the business famous are shelved to the left of the front door, along with choice vintage pieces and more — shirts and silky nightwear for women, tees, plaid shirts and jeans for men. Scattered artfully about are small home goods like soaps, brushes, hand-dyed scarves, deep dark pottery pieces and a pumice stone shaped like a fish.

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The house-made jeans run around $225 for women, $250 for men and if you order online, you can choose the length of your inseam. The denim is sturdy and takes some breaking in, but over time, they should fit like nothing else in your closet. And as the website instructs, “Wear often. Wash not so often.”

Imogene + Willie holds backyard barbecues and other events, so if you’re in town, check out the store — and see if you can also scope out their other events.

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Peter Nappi

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Another impressive Nashville business that evolved out of a fascination with the owner’s grandfather’s trade is Peter Nappi.

Owner Philip Nappi set out to make old-world style boots in Italy before even knowing that his father’s father — a grandfather he’d never met — had been a shoemaker. With this knowledge as added inspiration, Philip learned that his grandfather brought his boot making expertise to the U.S. from Italy over a century ago. In honor of him, Philip now heads an operation that makes a line of handcrafted boots and shoes that would have made his ancestor proud. As one of his Italian craftsmen says, “He wanted to revive his grandfather’s spirit.”

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Artisans in Italy make the footwear in small, limited editions. The vegetable-tanned leathers are crafted in Tuscany while the kudu leathers are tanned in Leeds — both are among the finest leathers in the world. The shoes and boots are made using the Blake technique, utilizing a single row of stitching to attach the upper, the insole and the outsole. The integrity continues inside with linings made of the same leather used in the shoe uppers. The fine leather soles bear the Vero Cuoio seal of authenticity for Italian leather.

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With names like Bartolomeo, Stefano, Romeo and Lucano, each design has its own persona. Eleanna, Laura and Gabrielle are among the women’s styles. They’re an investment, but well worth it. Peter Nappi footwear only improves with time, becoming more distinctive with age.

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The Peter Nappi Studio in Nashville is a spectacular, repurposed space in a former meat packing plant. Built in 1906, it’s six blocks from downtown Nashville and overlooks the Cumberland River.

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What’s inside? Besides the full selection of footwear, there are bags and other carefully curated items like jewelry, vintage leather jackets, handmade soaps, colorful socks and whatever else strikes their discerning fancy. Soaring ceilings and vintage leather furniture atop oriental rugs invite you to stay awhile, which you’ll surely want to do. There’s even a stage where they hold events, musical and otherwise. To find out what and, when, check their Facebook page.

Thinking of visiting Nashville? Find out more.

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posted by: Leslie Long
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