I also bought some Santoni Classico spectators on e-bay this summer and was not impressed; not in the same league with AE or Aden, even.
No, they're not. In terms of quality of design, quality of leather, quality of finishing, and attention to detail, even lowly Santoni Classico shoes are usually demonstrably superior to Alden or Allen-Edmonds. That's not intended to be a slur towards Alden or Allen-Edmonds; it's just that they don't make a product of equivalent quality to Santoni.
However, I do not know how to deal with a defense of the Italian stuff based on arguments that they only send their most bizarre shoes, etc., because of the weird tastes of most Americans and you can find the good ones in Italy or get the good stuff made for you there. I have been to Italy 6-7 times, but never long to go through the fittings, etc., to have anything made.
That's a caricature of the argument that I was making, and not a very good caricature at that. The argument that I was making was that it's ridiculous for someone to say that Lattanzi shoes, for example, are inferior to Edward Green shoes because he saw some outlandish-looking Lattanzi shoe the last time he was in Bergdorf Goodman. The good stuff in Italian shoes is available if you're willing to seek it out and if you're willing to wait for it
I think we have to judge Italian stuff based on what is available here. Although I live in a city of 4 Â½ million, only the brands mentioned previously are available here. We do not even have shoes like Santoni, Gravati, Latazini here. The Italian shoes that I see at our Neiman's and Saks are 99% dreadful.
Neiman Marcus and Saks mostly carry Gucci, Prada, and Ferragamo. The classic Gucci bit loafer is a decent product, but most of the seasonal Gucci shoes are indeed not particularly appealing. Prada is almost exclusively horrible. Ferragamo is hit or miss. The Tramezza shoes are very good. Ferragamo Studio shoes generally aren't worth the time it takes to look at them. Lavarazione Originale shoes are decent enough, if overpriced. Still, the Atlanta Neiman Marcus and Saks need not be the extent of your horizons. If you're willing to seek them out, it's easy enough to get exactly what you want from Gravati, Santoni, Martegani, Mantellassi, or Borgioli, all of whom are very good makers. And all of them are available in the United States -- the only shoes that I've ever had shipped from overseas are English shoes.
In contrast, I like nearly all Alden models and about 1/2 of the AE. Several trips to Bennie's, and studying the pictures of the Grensons on its website, made me believe that I and 90% of the more conservative readers of this forum liked nearly all of those shoes. None are off the chart in weirdness.
Frankly, I'd rather see it all and hate half of it than to be presented only with what the maker knows I won't hate. The shoe designs that Alden uses are thoroughly inoffensive because Alden takes absolutely no chances. The only truly interesting shoes that I've seen from Alden have been the Alden Fan shoes from Alden of Carmel. The reason that the Paul Stuart Grenson shoes and Edward Green shoes are interesting is that they actually take some chances and don't feel the need only to put out the "classics."
These true-life experiences have to count for something. Saying that "the best stuff" exists, but that for most of us in the USA, it is unavailable is not making a real world argument.
It's not unavailable if you're willing to look for it.