Posted on 24 August 2018
The Italians as purveyors of fashion is no accident. From the forward, boundary-pushing designs of Italian houses to the stylish denizens seen on the streets of Milan to Rome, fashion is undeniably a part of Italian culture.
By most accounts, modern Italian fashion took its first steps when Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini organised the first commercial fashion show in Florence in 1951. Attended by select buyers from Canada and the US, the show was a runaway success. Further iterations saw the participation of more Italian designers and brands in a more prestigious setting – the Sala Bianca at Palazzo Pitti. However, these Italian brands only cemented their now iconic status as Hollywood celebrities and style icons were seen dressed in Ferragamo to Gucci. Aided by the conspicuous lack of privacy afforded by paparazzi, the plethora of photos literally documented their daily style choices which the world then sought to emulate.
It would be rather difficult to dispute the notion that the Italians take the utmost pride in their appearance. Yet, one cannot talk about fashion in Italy without mentioning their long tradition of craftsmanship, which could be traced back to the (Italian) Renaissance – the height of artistic and cultural expression – with Florence as the epicentre.
The elites then, invested a lot into their clothing because appearance was bound to their identity. Many of these elites were also typically part of the arti maggiori (major or 'greater' guilds) which controlled trade and craft, essentially the backbone of the economy then. Notably, several arti maggiori were involved in textile import, production and refinement.
The Medicis, the city's leading – and ruling – family around the 15th to 17th century were said to have rose to prominence due to their links with the Arte della Lana – the wool guild. Perhaps due to those links, or otherwise, the Medicis were responsible for creating an environment where arts, humanism, trade and craft, flourished. Under the auspices of the Medicis and these guilds, it set the backdrop for the golden age of the Italian Renaissance.
Safe to say, the 'Made in Italy' label is oft-regarded as a stamp of quality – ranging from silk garments and accessories to leather products. Their tradition and expertise could date as far back as centuries ago. Whether a particular method of weaving silk or crafting leather was truly passed down from 500 years ago is irrelevant; what remains paramount is the fastidious and unrelenting commitment of Italians to their craft and therein lies the story of Anderson's.
With an extensive heritage dating back more than half a century, Italian makers Anderson's have certainly been around for a while. Navigating the constant changes in the fashion landscape is no mean feat and this is rooted in founder Carlo Valenti's unwavering commitment to tradition and craft, which remains the company's ethos under second generation CEO Riccardo Valenti. In fact, the renowned Italian brand has remained at the forefront and continues to flourish. From their roots as a small family business in 1967, they are now stocked globally in more than 80 countries.
Having started out as a leather worker in his hometown of Parma, Carlo set out to start a factory of his own in – where else but – Parma. An Anglophile, he named the new business after his favourite English tailors Anderson and Sheppard. From its small beginnings, they quickly established a reputation for quality and craftsmanship.
“If we are not makers, we are nothing.”
Mixing old-fashioned handcraft with modern techniques and tooling, complementing new technology with the experienced eye, the artisans take the utmost pride in crafting beautiful men's belts that reflect the brand's heritage. In an age where many brands yield to the bottomline and manufacturing efficiencies, Anderson's remains a bastion of craft and character. As Riccardo says, "If we are not makers, we are nothing." Perhaps it's more than just pride when he says that, it is simply a matter of fact.
Hand-polishing belts with natural hard wax and hand-painting belt edges are only two steps amongst more than 100 steps necessary to complete a belt but it is a microcosm of the Anderson’s way. When you hear Riccardo talk about rejecting more than 90% of the hides because it’s just not up to mark or how anyone at the factory can stop production of a new design if they feel the process is not good enough or could be improved, it is clear that Anderson’s is craftsmanship. It is a shared value, it is a conviction to create the best belt possible.
Most would be surprised upon hearing Anderson’s has over a 100 different combinations for its iconic multi-colour belts, but that’s merely the personality and character of the brand imbued in a myriad of combinations, limited only by one’s imagination. In the same way that one belt can actually come with more than 10 different buckles – all solid brass that’s made in Italy – and using full grain leather that is vegetable-tanned for up to 6 months, it is astonishing how much can go into a simple device used to cinch one’s pants.
Just as trade and craft flourished under the auspices of the Medicis and guilds, the Anderson's way will remain steadfast and probably flourish under the Valentis – borrowing on past techniques and heritage, and always improving for tomorrow. Although some might say it's just making a belt, but to them, that’s simply the way to make the best of anything.