Mike Silverstein's Lesson on Success

The Nina Shoes co-founder opens up about his passion for design and the glory days of footwear.

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Mike Silverstein

Photo By George Chinsee

Mike Silverstein’s Florida retreat is not your typical retirement home.

The Nina co-founder, now 83, has been enjoying his one-of-a-kind Modernist mansion on the barrier island of Casey Key, near Sarasota, since 1996.

“The house was done by architect Toshiko Mori,” says Silverstein in his New York office, as he turns the pages of a design magazine featuring his abode. While flipping through the interior shots, he points out favorite items. “This is a Jean Royere lamp, this is a Maria Pergay, and this a Philippe Starck from the first hotel that he built.” Twentieth century design has long been a passion for Silverstein and his wife, Renee, who both travel the world searching for unique pieces to add to their collection.

Silverstein estimates that he owns 400 to 500 pieces of art, with a particular emphasis on Mid-Century modern furnishings. “Over time you refine your taste, and you learn,” he says of collecting. “It’s funny. My wife and I do not agree on anything, but when it comes to buying a home or buying a piece of art, she will turn to me or I will turn to her and we will say ‘yes.’ It’s automatic.”

Some of that collection is on display in Nina’s New York headquarters. Though he has been retired for 15 years, Silverstein still maintains an office there, just down the hall from his son Scott, who is now CEO. The elder Silverstein’s office is part gallery, with several commissioned artworks adorning the walls and tabletops.

“This piece here,” he says, gesturing to a sculptural shoe collage, “gives you the whole story of what the shoe business was like in the late 1950s and early ’60s. That clog became a classic in the business. A shoe that everyone’s trying to revive is that Oxford there. That boot was called the Jester, and this boot was the first lace-up boot we made, called the Dazzle.”

Silverstein co-founded Nina in 1953 with his brother Stanley, and together the two built a footwear empire. Mike served as the business and sales head, while Stanley helmed design and manufacturing.

“We were born in the shoe business,” says Silverstein. “My father was a shoemaker in Poland, and his father before him made leather uppers. He was a leather artisan.”

Like many European Jews, the Silversteins emigrated in the 1920s to Cuba, where Mike was born. Eventually, his father, Max, moved the family to New York, where he opened a small shoe factory on the Lower East Side.

As young adults, Mike and Stanley teamed up to revive their father’s clog-style platforms, which had been popular in Cuba. They named their enterprise Nina Footwear, after Stanley’s first daughter. “Most of our early business was young casuals. The evening shoes came later,” says Silverstein.

The brothers spent the next four decades growing the business and tapping into emerging sourcing areas.

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