There are no visible signs advertising Ars Nova on the corner of Via Raffaello and Via San Margherita, just a line of multi-colored leather sandals leading up the stairs from the cobblestone street.
Owner Donato Colombo’s advertising philosophy mirrors the inspiration behind his original leather designs. “My products haven’t got a mark; my mark is the quality. People should buy my products because a friend has told them about the quality, not because they know the mark,” Colombo said. “I prefer to be precise in fabrication of production, instead of spending time in engraving or decorating.”
Upon entering the store, shoppers are invited to witness the manufacturing process. Behind the large counter, a large stitching machine whirrs under Colombo’s hands as he attaches the leather soles of a sandal. Colombo makes leather goods of all sorts — bracelets, belts, bags, wallets, CD cases and notebooks. However, his favorite to make and most popular item are sandals.
“Sometimes we have people who have problems with their feet. I like to solve their problems because I can make special shoes just for the person,” Colombo said, “I like the contact with people in my shop and the fact I make a unique product. People can choose the product, we can work together and collaborate, and in the end it is unique.”
Colombo has been making leather goods for 55 years and relocated to Urbino from Milan eight years ago. The rural aesthetic suits his environmentally friendly work practices, something Milan could not offer the artisan.
“Urbino is a wonderful place from both an architectural and natural point of view,” Colombo said, “I like the contact with nature, the fact people look for quality in local products.”
The tiny shop can fit no more than three people at a time, ensuring Colombo provides each of his clients with personal service rarely found in large departments stores or stuffy boutiques. As customers enter the store, Colombo greets them with a pleasant “Ciao” no matter how busy he is sanding away the soles of new shoes. He immediately recognizes three customers who walk in and provides them with their orders – if there is any trouble with a repair or new product, Colombo takes the time to explain why a metal reinforcement was needed or how he can make the shoe fit more precisely.
The townspeople of Urbino also greatly appreciate the quality and craftsmanship of Colombo’s leather goods. Although his sandals and bags lack a specific mark, they are distinctive. Spend a few weeks in Urbino and you’ll notice many inhabitants have similar looking sandals.
Stefania Paolucci, a volunteer worker in Colombo’s shop, swears by her leather sandals after being questioned about their durability.
“My first pair is seven years old and I still have them, these will last you much, much more than a year,” she said.
Colombo not only handcrafts his goods, he selects the leather with utmost care and environmental consciousness. Colombo travels to Perra Azurra, in between Florence and Pisa, to buy leather treated with vegetable oils instead of chrome, which is responsible for polluting Arno Fiume.
Colombo’s shoes cost 43 to 49 euro and are available in 11 different colors and 20 models. A trip to Urbino will be necessary to acquire an original pair. Colombo points to a pair of sandals going back to Ireland with a visiting couple and takes pride in the fact his shoes will travel the world through the simple act of discovery.