Design. Functionality. Technology. After drooling over several lovely leather handbags—among the most fashionable in the world—at a shop in Rome, I can see why these three words are Piquadro’s mantra. Each softly sensuous bag has a specific main purpose (briefcase, purse, messenger, etc.), and each comes with pockets perfectly sized for the latest electronic device. Intrigued, I went behind the scenes to find out more.
It all started with a daring 22-year-old engineering student and a belt. Marco Palmieri left University of Bologna in 1987 during his second year, wanting to start his own pellettiere business. During the next 10 years, he studied the industry while producing goods for other companies.
By 1998, savvy Palmieri had recognized the need for a new type of leather product, at a time when sales of personal electronic devices were just beginning to take off—laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, etc. Store shelves held cheap rubbery computer cases, but they weren’t attractive; there were handsome, expensive briefcases, but they were large, bulky, and didn’t offer much protection for electronics. Palmieri knew he could sell elegant, affordable, functional bags.
So was born Piquadro—Italian for P² (“Palmieri” x “pellettiere”).
By 2000, the first boutique opened in Milan; to date, 108 Piquadro stores have sprung up, from Toronto to Shanghai. But the conception of each bag, briefcase and trolley takes place in Silla, near the border of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna.
The building is a vision of streamlined modernity—all white and windows, the glass curved just so, to reflect the distant Apennines. Inside, the calm, contemporary décor belies the undercurrent of energy—you can feel it as you step into the spacious lobby. Large workspaces are filled with design, product, quality control and marketing staff, while the warehouse behind smoothly operates in a continuous flow of order processing.
70% of production is for the “ongoing” collections—products successful enough to be produced year after year. The signature Blue Square, for example, with its stunning sky-blue piping, dates from the company’s genesis. Seasonal lines—five to seven new collections each spring and fall—make up the remainder. And with multiple pieces in each collection, Piquadro designers are continually looking for new inspiration. Designer Irene Gubellini does internet searches and pays attention to her surroundings, always thinking about designs for the future. “We’re already starting to look at fall 2013/14”, she says. “We keep ourselves updated as to what’s going on in fashion.” When Gubellini is out on the street, she keeps an eye open for interesting architecture, art and other sources of inspiration, often pulling out her notebook to capture an idea. “My favorite thing”, she says, smiling, “is sketching.” The company watches for emerging talent, meanwhile, by partnering with design schools; this year’s workshops will be with the Hong Kong branch of the Savannah College of Art and Design.
In fact, with creations inspired not only by today’s world, but by yesterday’s beauty (the seasonal collection for fall is named for Renaissance artists and scientists), each piece is a work of art, beginning with the raw materials. “All our leathers come from Tuscany”, says public relations manager Paolo Di Giuseppe. “They are certainly the best leathers in the world.” Of course fine leather isn’t inexpensive, but Piquadro isn’t in the luxury league with the likes of Prada and Gucci—rather it’s known as a premium brand, with, says Di Giuseppe, a good balance between quality and price. Creative design and high quality raw materials are only part of the story, however; product managers keep abreast of customer needs, in addition to analysing designs to make sure they’re viable for manufacturing. Most items are produced in a Piquadro-owned factory in China, but then they’re carefully inspected at headquarters for perfection—zippers working, pockets sized appropriately, stitching flawless. Leather must not stretch or fade, wheels are put through rigorous exercises, and there’s even a luggage tumbler and conveyor belt to simulate airport handling. All that attention to detail is working…every year since the beginning, sales have increased, even after the economic downturn.
The real key to the company’s success, though, is the same thing that put them on the Italian fashion map: innovation. “We were the first ones in Italy to design briefcases for women”, says Di Giuseppe. Function for emerging technology remains a focus, with products tailored to fit specific phones, notebooks and other personal devices. “And we are the only ones”, Di Giuseppe continues, “to have an app for personalizing your bag”. She’s talking about the Sartoria collection, a high-end series of products launched last June, that can be completely customized by you, the customer, in a store, or—better yet—on your cell, in the comfort of your own home…or at work, you naughty thing. Want red leather? Click. Gold buckle? Click. Don’t like the way the gold looks? Click and try silver. You select the stitching, the handle, even the color of the inside fabric. Best of all, you end up with a product that no one else has.
Amazingly, 75% of the product is sold to Italians. But expansion into other Euro countries and Asia is occurring on a grand scale, and the future looks bright for Piquadro. This fall collections include Leonardo, a classy line of bags with the brand-new Piquadro logo (“p” combined with an “e” to symbolize electronic communication) stamped into the leather. This September, a 480 sq. meter showroom splashes onto the scene in Milan, and negotiations are underway for shops in Paris and London. Asia, meanwhile, is hotter than ever, with stores in Shanghai, Taipei and Beijing, and a sales office in Hong Kong.
If you’re still wondering what Piquadro’s three words mean, you don’t have to go all the way to Silla to find out. You can find their fine design, functionality and technology right at the leather goods store.
After all, it’s in the bag.