Using the scraps he scrounged from an artisan workshop, Italian leather-goods maker Stefano Serapian began his namesake company in Milan in 1945, alongside his future wife Gina Flori. Thanks to the originality of his designs and the quality of his workmanship, it wasn’t long before the who’s-who of Milanese society was clamoring for their wares. That legacy of quality and innovation carried the brand through Stefano’s passing in the 1970s, when his son Adravast took the helm of the bustling company as CEO, and continues today as the brand continues to turn out some of the most in-demand leathergoods coming out of Italy. Serapian recently gave The Window a tour of the factory that has thrived from the seed his father planted and showed us what has made these bags true Italian classics.
The Window: The DNA of the brand is in your blood. What would you say the heritage of the brand means to you?
Ardavast Serapian: Our brand is over 70-years old, as it had been around before 1945 when my father Stefano first discovered the quality of Italian leather goods, but it was when he met my mother, Gina Flori, that Serapian really took on a life of its own. Together, they took it from a small workshop to a modern factory, and now major fashion brands request we produce their leather collections. Serapian, ultimately, is a very long and special love story, starting from the creative spirit of two extraordinary people. Over the course of our history, the company has given birth to a tradition of handmade craftsmanship rooted in passion, elegance, and real talent.
How would you say brand has evolved or changed from your father’s initial vision? The quality seems to be just as important, but how does Serapian stay modern?
Quality is the real reason for everything we do. Serapian has always been a supporter of the “Made in Italy” concept, and the value this implies, together with the care and attention we continuously apply to our manufacturing, has been the greatest strength of the company.
Everything we produce is strictly made in Italy. From our choice of tanneries to the cutting of the leathers, from design to production of our collections, quality comes first. Keeping our story and tradition in mind, our eyes are nonetheless directed to the future and to innovation. Since I began leading the company at the end of 1970, new products and materials have constantly been added. Being contemporary nowadays means being able to produce bags that match the hectic life we are living.
Tell us more about the quality of craftsmanship of the brand. It’s something that seems to have driven the company from the very beginning…
Again, the starting point is always quality. We’re constantly researching and sourcing the best raw materials, which are selected mainly from Tuscany and Veneto here in Italy. Every piece is entirely made between our headquarters here on via Jommelli in Milan and our factory in Varese, which is extremely modern and advanced as far as technology. Our creative offices here in Milan are constantly in contact with our chief artisans, who are the real soul of the brand. This relationship between creativity and artisanship allows us to offer our customers the highest expression of luxury.
How are the leathers reflective of the focus on workmanship?
We have several different collections within the line, each of which uses a different leather. For example, each piece in the Evolution collection is crafted from calfskin that has been treated to make it waterproof and scratchproof, and all feature a distinctively high degree of attention to functionality and durability. Then there’s Stepan, a collection that was introduced in 1972 consisting of innovative products in line with the spirit of the times. The defining material of Stepan is a spread cotton that was patented in the mid-’70s and that has remained exclusive to the brand. This extremely resistant, waterproof material became the emblem of the company.
Newest to the brand is the leather used in the Cachemire collection, which was introduced in 2013. This line further cemented Serapian as a brand devoted to excellence, not only in terms of our strictly handcrafted products, but in our search for innovative materials. Cachemire is characterized by an exclusive, naturally tumbled calfskin, which is extremely soft to the touch, like the finest cashmere, from which the line gets its name. Tumbling is an elaborate process that enables a quality product to get even better with age, as well as acquiring a “lived-in” look. Leather is put into large wooden drums that are turned to make it soft and eliminate any creases or impurities.
In terms of the factory itself, is there anything that you’d say is special about it?
We can say our factory is unique in that it melds together ancient tools and techniques with the most modern and innovative machinery available today for the craftsmanship of leather goods. Our craftsmen are also used to working with the best of both traditional ways of manufacturing and the latest processes of production.
How has the factory grown as the brand has grown?
We’ve constantly transformed over the years according to the development of our business and our brand. If you visit our premises in Milano, you’ll notice right away the original old section, which dates to the end of the 1940s, as well as the newer parts and sections that have been added later on. We’ve gradually enlarged and transformed our space according to the various needs we’ve had to face during all these years. The factory in Varese is a result of this need to increase our production capacity, as it was established in the ’90s to keep up with demand. But even this newer factory, which is very modern and innovative, is beginning to show the signs of this slow and gradual transformation. I would say that visiting both our factories, exploring their spaces and installments, watching carefully their equipment and machinery, tells you immediately the story of our company and the process of growth we’ve faced. Every single step of our company and our brand is perfectly reflected in our factories.
How would you say the factory reflects Serapian’s brand ethos?
The factory not only reflects our history, but it also represents the real soul of our brand and business. Ours is mainly a family business, born from the meeting of two talents, my parents, and developed bit by bit into what it is today. For this reason, we’ve never completely lost the feeling of a real family, studying strategies and taking final decisions more like a family than an industry. We have always kept the same flexibility and way of quickly adapting to various situations that we had at the very beginning. Even if at times it might seem a bit disorganized, it has always been a very positive point for us, as it has allowed us to immediately adapt ourselves to the needs of the market. The factory has had the same exact evolution. It’s a lot of people who feel like a family, who work together, cooperate with each other, and continuously exchanging opinions about better ways to do things, always bearing in mind the values of quality, reliability, and the success of our brand. This spirit, which I hope we will never lose, is our real richness
What sets Serapian apart?
Even though there’s a consistent quality associated with “Made In Italy,” not all stories are comparable. What has always set Serapian apart has been our ability to be true to ourselves while at the same time interpreting and adapting to what our customers need. We have that spirit of family that we’ve maintained from our founding through to the present day, generation after generation, never forgetting the role played by our craftsmen. We’re consistently focused on our product and materials old and new, experimenting every day and striving to be better. Above all, we’re listening to the demands from the market and from customers, all while working within a tradition that never tires of seeking out new ideas. But we never allow our course to be dictated by fleeting trends or by any misplaced intransigent respect for our own history, the kind that reiterates the mantra, “But that’s how we have always done things!”