Showing posts with label Via Montenapoleone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Via Montenapoleone. Show all posts

18 October 2018

Cristoforo Benigno Crespi - entrepreneur

Textile boss created industrial village of Crespi d’Adda

Cristoforo Benigno Crespi built a community from scratch around his textile factory
Cristoforo Benigno Crespi built a community
from scratch around his textile factory
The entrepreneur Cristoforo Benigno Crespi, who became famous for creating a company-owned village around his textile factory in Lombardy, was born on this day in 1833 in Busto Arsizio, about 34km (21 miles) northwest of Milan.

A textile manufacturer, in 1869 Crespi bought an area of land close to where the Brembo and Adda rivers converge, about 40km (25 miles) northeast of Milan, with the intention of building a cotton mill on the banks of the Adda.

The factory he built was substantial, with room for 10,000 spindles, but as well the capacity to produce textiles on a large scale, Crespi recognised that it was essential to his plans to have a contented workforce. Consequently, following the lead of other manufacturers in the textile industry outside Italy, he set about providing on site everything to meet the daily needs of his employees.

In addition to the factory premises, he built homes for his workers, a school, a wash-house, a hospital, a church and a grocery store.

Houses were built in English-style parallel rows, with gardens and vegetable plots, and the streets were the first in Italy to have modern electric lighting. The church was a replica of the shrine of Santa Maria di Piazza in Crespi’s home town of Busto Arsizio. The school was fully equipped with every requirement for the education of the children of the village; the Crespi family even paid the salaries of the teachers.

Crespi d'Adda had houses for the workers, a school, a church and a hospital in addition to a large factory
Crespi d'Adda had houses for the workers, a school, a church
and a hospital in addition to a large factory
Crespi built a large castle-like house for himself and was very much lord of the manor. But his benign governance of the town meant that the factory was able to avoid the strikes and social unrest that affected other parts of Italy.

Today, Crespi d’Adda, as the village became known, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognised as one of the best-preserved workers’ villages in Europe.  The factory is still intact, although largely unused, and the houses are occupied for the most part by the descendants of the workers’ families for whom they were originally built.

Cristoforo Crespi was from the third generation of the family to be involved with the textile industry, starting with his grandfather, Benigno, in the early 1800s.

His initial ambition was to become a priest but he began to help his father, Antonio, in the family business from an early age and eventually abandoned his spiritual leanings to study law at the University of Pavia.

Crespi d'Adda had its own school, built for the children of the workers in Cristoforo Crespi's factory
Crespi d'Adda had its own school, built for the children
of the workers in Cristoforo Crespi's factory
The death of Benigno, the family patriarch, combined with difficult trading conditions in the mid-19th century, brought another change of direction. In order to help support the family and the business, Cristoforo took a job in a bank and then in the offices of a cotton manufacturer in Busto Arsizio, while at the same time taking lessons in book-keeping

He left his job there after asking for a pay rise, hoping to save enough money to marry his girlfriend, Pia Travelli, the daughter of a lawyer, and for a time his future was uncertain.

But he made some money from speculating on the raw cotton market, persuaded his father to move from trading in textiles to producing them and a factory they leased at Vaprio d’Adda quickly became profitable.

Cristoforo arrived at Crespi d’Adda through a series of events, which ended with him deciding to break from his family and go it alone. The factory at Vaprio was lost after the owners decided to sell it at auction, and though the disappointment was eased when another at Vigevano brought more success, Cristoforo fell out with his brother, Giuseppe, over plans for expansion and left.

Crespi and his family lives in a castellated villa built for him by the architect Angelo Colla
Crespi and his family lives in a castellated villa built
for him by the architect Angelo Colla
His next step was to buy a paper mill in conjunction with two other brothers, Carlo and Pasquale, at Ghemme in the province of Novara. Again, as Italy enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth from the 1870s onwards, the venture was highly profitable. Yet ultimately Cristoforo decided he would rather be in sole charge.

It was at that stage that he found his plot by the Adda and Brembo rivers, about 20km (12 miles) southwest of Bergamo, built a canal to generate hydraulic energy and set about creating his dream.

In addition to his home at Crespi d’Adda, where the cemetery also housed the family mausoleum, Crespi engaged the architect Angelo Colla, who built most of the industrial village, to restore a mansion in Via Borgonuovo in the centre of Milan and build a villa on the shore of Lake Orta in Piedmont.  He began an art collection that included works by Titian, Canaletto and Rubens.

His son, Silvio - one of four children he had with Pia, to whom he was married in 1866  - became an important figure in his own right.  After taking over the running of Crespi d’Adda from his father, he invested in building Italy’s first motorways as well as in the race track at Monza.  He came to be regarded as such a significant figure in Italy that he was asked to be a signatory at the Treaty of Versailles following the end of the First World War.

Cristoforo, whose faculties were badly impaired after a stroke in 1906, died in 1920 at the age of 86. After the Great Depression took its toll on the Italian economy, Crespi d’Adda was sold in 1929.

Crespi had his Villa Pia, on the shore of Lake Orta, built in a Moorish style
Crespi had his Villa Pia, on the shore of
Lake Orta, built in a Moorish style
Travel tip:

Crespi’s Moorish-style summer residence on Lake Orta, the smaller lake to the west of Lake Maggiore, was named Villa Pia in honour of his wife. Nowadays, renamed Villa Crespi, it is an exclusive hotel owned by the chef and TV presenter Antonino Cannavacciuolo, and includes a restaurant with two Michelin stars.  It attracted poets, industrialists and even members of the aristocracy, including King Umberto I of Savoy, to live there during the 1930s after the Crespi family sold it. The architect Angelo Colla included features admired by Cristoforo Crespi in Middle Eastern architecture, including stuccoed walls and ceilings, while the building is topped by an immense minaret.  Colla also incorporated columns made from precious marble imported from a number of places in Italy and beyond.

The Museum of the Risorgimento is in the Palazzo Moriggia in Via Borgonuovo
The Museum of the Risorgimento is in the
Palazzo Moriggia in Via Borgonuovo
Travel tip:

Crespi’s mansion in Milan at No 18 Via Borgonuova, a stone’s throw from the high fashion stores on the Via Montenapoleone, is almost opposite the Palazzo Moriggia, which houses Milan’s Museum of the Risorgimento, a collection of objects and artworks which illustrate the history of Italian unification from Napoleon's first Italian campaign of 1796 to the annexation of Rome in 1870. The city of Milan played a key role in the unification process, most notably through the 1848 uprising against the Austrians known as the Five Days of Milan. The exhibits follow the chronological order of events of the Risorgimento, leading the visitor through 15 rooms. For more information, visit

(Photo credits: View over Crespi d'Adda by Dario Crespi; Crespi School and Castellated Villa in Crespi d'Adda by blackcat; Villa Crespi by Torsade de Pointes; Museum of the Risorgimento by G.dallorto)

More reading:

How Karl Zuegg turned his family farm into a major business enterprise

The biscuit manufacturer who created Italy's Autogrill motorway services

Humble beginnings of the Ferrero chocolate empire

Also on this day:

La Festa di San Luca

1634: The birth of artist Luca Giordano


25 September 2018

Nino Cerruti - fashion designer

Turn of fate led to a life in haute couture 

Nino Cerruti ran the family business for more than 50 years
Nino Cerruti ran the family business
for more than 50 years
The fashion designer Nino Cerruti, who used the family textile business as the platform on which to build one of the most famous names in haute couture, was born on this day in 1930 in Biella in northern Piedmont.

At its peak, the Cerruti became synonymous with Hollywood glitz and the movie industry, both as the favourite label of many top stars and the supplier of clothing ranges for a string of box office hits

Yet Cerruti might have lived a very different life had fate not intervened. Although Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti - the textile mills set up by his grandfather, Antonio, and his great uncles, Stefano and Quintino - had been the family firm since 1881, Nino wanted to be a journalist.

But when his father, Silvio, who had taken over the running of the business from Antonio, died prematurely, Nino was almost obligated to take over, even though he was only 20 years old.

However, despite the sacrifice of his ambitions and his studies, Cerruti threw himself into developing the business. He saw the potential in repositioning Cerruti as a fashion label and invested in a modernisation plan for the family weaving workshops in Biella as wells as acquiring two further factories in Milan.

Giorgio Armani learned his trade working for Cerruti
Giorgio Armani learned his trade
working for Cerruti
He launched his first men’s collection, which he called Hitman,  in 1957, the range putting him at the cutting edge of modern design.  Giorgio Armani, still to launch his own fashion range, worked for Cerruti on the Hitman collection between 1964 and 1970.

Cerruti as a high-end name was born in 1967, when Nino opened a boutique in Paris and launched the Cerruti 1881 fashion house.  His arrival in Paris was greeted as a sea change in men’s couture, one newspaper article speaking of “the year in which Italian style dethroned English fashion.”

Again, men’s clothing was his speciality, although by 1976 he had designed his first ready-to-wear women’s wear line.

The house launched Nino Cerruti pour Homme in 1978, marking the first of a long line of fragrances and Cerruti 1881 Sport launched in 1980, making clothes for tennis, skiing and running with an haute couture style.

It was in the 1980s that Cerruti became inextricably linked with Hollywood and the movie business.

After being heavily involved with dressing Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in Miami Vice, the company provided clothing for films including Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Wall Street (1987), Pretty Woman (1990) and Basic Instinct (1992).

Cerruti still works even in his 80s
Cerruti still works even in his 80s
The decade also saw the company start to dress cinema stars including Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, Julia Roberts, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford.

In October 2000, Nino Cerruti sold 51 per cent of the company to investors, who less than a year later bought the remainder of the company.  Cerruti, by then 71 years old, stepped down in rather unfortunate circumstances, citing a “perpetual conflict of interest", although he is on good enough terms with the latest owners of the brand to attend every Cerruti fashion show, with a seat on the front row.

The Spring Summer 2002 collection, however, was the last he designed himself.

Since his departure, he has concentrated on the original family textile mill business in Biella, which still operates as Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti and now owns the Italian furniture design company Baleri. He remains involved even at the age of 88.

A view of Biella, the town where Cerruti was born, which lies in the foothills of the Piedmontese Alps
A view of Biella, the town where Cerruti was born, which
lies in the foothills of the Piedmontese Alps
Travel tip:

Biella is a well-established town of almost 45,000 inhabitants in the foothill of the Alps, about 85km (53 miles) northeast of Turin and slightly more than 100m (62 miles) west of Milan. Its attractions include a Roman baptistery from early 1000s and the church and convent of San Sebastian. Wool and textiles have been associated with the town since the 13th century and although the best years of the industry have now passed, with many mills and factories closed, in addition to Cerruti, brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Vitale Barberis Canonico and Fila still have a presence.

The Via Monte Napoleone is Milan's most famous street for big-name fashion houses
The Via Monte Napoleone is Milan's most famous
street for big-name fashion houses
Travel tip:

Milan’s fashion district is known as the Quadrilatero della Moda, sometimes the Quad d’Oro. It can be found a 10-minute walk away from the Duomo in the centre of the city. The area centres on Via Monte Napoleone, a long street is lined with designer fashion boutiques, antiques shops and neoclassical mansions. Most of the major fashion houses - such as Armani, Gucci, Hermès, La Perla, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Ralph Lauren and Versace - Nearby, the Palazzo Morando museum displays period costumes.

More reading:

The hotel lift boy who became a giant of the fashion world

Salvatore Ferragamo - shoemaker to the stars

Ottavio Missoni - war prisoner, Olympic athlete, fashion king

Also on this day:

1773: The birth of Agostino Bassi, the scientist who rescued Italy's silk industry

1955: The birth of singer-songwriter Zucchero


30 June 2017

Allegra Versace – heiress

‘Favourite niece’ who inherited Gianni fortune

Allegra Versace at a show in Milan with her mother, Donatella
Allegra Versace at a show in Milan
with her mother, Donatella
The heiress Allegra Versace, owner of half the Versace fashion empire, was born on this day in 1986 in Milan.

The daughter of Donatella Versace, the company’s chief designer and vice-president, she was the favourite niece of Gianni Versace, who founded the fashion house in 1978.

When Gianni was shot dead outside his mansion in Miami in July 1997, Allegra was just 11 years old but could look forward to becoming immensely rich after it was announced that her uncle had willed his share of the business, amounting to 50 per cent, when she reached her 18th birthday.

By the most recent valuation of the Versace group, this means Allegra – now 30 – has a personal fortune worth $800 million. The remainder of the empire is owned by her mother, who has 20 per cent, and Gianni’s older brother, Santo Versace, who has 30 per cent.

Yet the promise of wealth and privilege did not bring her happiness as a young woman.  The daughter of Paul Beck, a former Versace model to whom Donatella was briefly married, Allegra enjoyed a contented childhood in which she read books and played the piano given to her as a gift by Sir Elton John, a family friend, but her world was shattered when her uncle was killed.

A regular visitor to his home in Miami, she reportedly found out about his death watching a television news bulletin before her mother had a chance to break the news to her.  She is said to have been inconsolable at the funeral and though her mother sought counselling for her it did not stop Allegra sliding towards depression.

Donatella Versace 
By the time she reached adulthood and the riches she had been promised became real, she had become almost reclusive, rejecting the family name and, after studying French and art history at the University of California in Los Angeles, attempting to live in anonymity in New York, where she worked as a theatre dresser.

She developed anorexia nervosa, telling friends that she wished she were not a Versace, that she wanted to be no one, but that she could not escape.

It took until 2011 for Donatella to persuade her daughter to return to Italy and take up the role her uncle wanted her to fulfil, as a Versace director, although she still shuns the spotlight and has spent time working with a designer friend from outside the company, helping to organise shows and publicity without ever taking centre stage herself.

The Villa Fontanelle on Lake Como
Travel tip:

Gianni Versace’s homes included the Villa Le Fontanelle, a stunning waterfront property on Lake Como, where Allegra often visited him while he was in Italy. The grounds were designed by the art historian and landscape architect Sir Roy Strong and inside were a collection of 18th century paintings, red marble baths and a crystal chandelier that once hung in the Russian imperial palace in St Petersburg.  As well as 50 per cent of the company, the house was bequeathed to Allegra in Gianni’s will.

Travel tip:

The headquarters of the Versace empire in Milan is the Palazzo Versace in Via Gesù, which adjoins the five-star Four Seasons Hotel and stretches from the main entrance at No 10 towards Via della Spiga.  Via Gesù is off Via Montenapoleone, which is generally recognised as the centre of the Italian high fashion district of Milan, with virtually every top name having a presence there.  The Versace shop is at No 11.

11 July 2016

Giorgio Armani – designer

Former army medic forged brilliant career in fashion

Fashion designer Giorgio Armani, who is 82 today
Giorgio Armani
Giorgio Armani, who is considered by many to be Italy's greatest fashion designer, was born on this day in 1934 in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.

Known for his menswear and the clean, tailored lines of his collections for women, Armani, who celebrates his 82nd birthday today, has become a multi-billionaire.

His original career plan was to become a doctor and he enrolled in the Department of Medicine at the University of Milan but after three years left to join the army. Due to his medical background he was assigned to the military hospital in Verona.

After he left the army, Armani decided to have a complete career change and got a job as a window dresser for La Rinascente, a Milan department store.

He progressed to become a sales assistant in the menswear department and then moved on to work for Nino Cerruti as a menswear designer.

In 1973 Armani opened a design office in Milan from where he worked as a freelance designer for fashion houses. He founded his own company, Giorgio Armani, in Milan in 1975.

La Rinascente in Milan, with its rooftop garden, as seen from the roof of the neighbouring Duomo
La Rinascente in Milan, with its rooftop garden,
as seen from the roof of the neighbouring Duomo
He began producing designs specifically for the United States and his label soon became one of the leading names in international fashion. He also designed costumes for the film industry and suits for many sports teams, including the England football team.

Armani has built up a network of hundreds of boutiques and stores across nearly 40 countries.

He was also the first designer to ban models who had a BMI of less than 18, following the death of a model from anorexia.

Travel tip:

La Rinascente in Milan, where Giorgio Armani once worked, is right in the centre of the city in Piazza Duomo, close to the entrance to the Duomo metro stop. The store, which sells clothes and cosmetics as well as house wares, was nominated the Best Department Store in the World at a Global Department Store Summit in 2016.

Milan's Via Montenapoleone, home of the original Armani store
Milan's Via Montenapoleone
Travel tip:

The original Giorgio Armani store in Milan is in Via Montenapoleone in the centre of the city. It reopened in April 2015 after Armani and his team of architects had completely redesigned the store to bring out the original architecture of the building. This was part of the 40th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the company.

(Photo of Giorgio Armani by GianAngelo Pistoia CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Via Montenapoleone by Geobia CC BY-SA 4.0)

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