MADE IN ITALY
How Luxury Handbags are Made in Italy
The craft of luxury accessories is a combination of patience, artistry and labor from the head, heart and hands - Marco, master craftsman
- Inspiration: The first step is crucial, involves months of observing and researching to find the “aha idea” and enables a designer to create something new and innovative.
- Drawing: The old-fashioned way — sketching with pencil and paper. The design drawings are the blueprints for what is to come.
- Factory: Choosing the right manufacturer to produce the drawings is a key step. Ten years ago, there were 300 family-owned factories in Italy that produced handcrafted leather goods. Today, fewer than 20% of the factories remain.
- Pattern Making: Traditional patterns are drawn by hand and cut from paper, as it truly unites head, heart, and hands in the artistic process.
- Prototype: The first prototype is made with Salpa - a soft white fiber material that is similar in application as leather. Although some factories have invested in technology and 3D printing for ease, the traditional process entails laying the paper pattern on the salpa, cutting and constructing the bag with glue and traditional tools.
- Leather and Color: Choosing the quality of leather, the texture, and type of skin are all careful considerations. There are several tanneries in the north and south of Italy; the most famous is Santa Croce, a few hours from Pisa. The next step is deciding the colors of the handbag collection through visiting the tanneries or choosing from swatch cards.
- Fine Details: The smallest decisions can have the biggest impact. Selecting the decorative pieces, handles, and zippers for each handbag are time-consuming tasks. The inside material of each handbag is as important as the outside. A detail as simple as choosing the appropriate thread color for zipper seams can make the difference between a utilitarian handbag and a work of art.
- Production: Once the big and little decisions have been made, the first leather sample is created; this is the moment the bag is born. The leather and structural materials are cut using the original paper pattern. Sewing is next, and straight stitching is a must. The last steps are painting the edges, sanding, repainting, cutting loose threads, adding the hardware, and embossing the logo on the handbag. Once the designer gives their blessing to the first leather sample, the process is repeated, again and again.
- Packaging: In the factory, each bag passes thru an air machine to remove dust. Special attention is given to wrapping chain handles to protect them from scratches, and paper is individually inserted in each bag to hold its shape. One by one, the bags are placed in a branded box, again in a larger box, on a palette for shipping. All material used is recycled. No-waste is a trademark of Italians.
- Delivery: The most complicated step is the last one – importing luxury goods across the ocean. Multiple phone calls between Italy and the USA result in a coordinated plan. A box truck picks up the palettes from the factory in Florence, then taken to a receiving station, loaded onto a larger truck and driven to Milan to be processed through customs. The goods are then taken to a port in Genoa for transportation by water, which typically takes 21 days. Once in the USA, and thru customs again, the items are stored in a warehouse and pass thru many more hands before being delivered to the customer.
- Start to Finish: Usually takes 6 months, although inspiration and design can add significant time to the process, as the designer strives for perfection.
Pre-pandemic, I split my time between the addictive and ambitious energy of New York City and the calm tranquility of the Italian countryside. These two diverse cultures taught me the value of simple luxuries, to seek beauty in nature and the importance of time. I believe when we pause and appreciate our surroundings, whether calm or chaotic, we can channel the energy, create the unexpected and feel fulfilled doing something we love — like designing luxury accessories.