“Always keep your eyes open when you’re in motion.” That’s Valextra design director Álvaro González’s motto, and it’s evident in everything he creates. From the architectural curves of a travel case to the bold colors that make the brand’s bags pop, Álvaro infuses his everyday experiences into the line while keeping its heritage firmly intact.

After 16 years in the industry designing for the likes of Valentino and Narciso Rodriguez, the Spanish designer came to Valextra just in time to show for Spring 2014. He studied the archives, reviewing the house’s 75-year legacy, and took cues from Valextra’s signature pieces to create a collection with a soft, feminine feel.

It’s no secret that Valextra is a fan favorite here in the BNY offices, so we were overjoyed when we received an invitation to visit the storied factory in Milan. SVP Sarah Blair and buyer Yun Jung Venning packed their bags, hopped a flight to Italy and spent a day wandering around the prestigious grounds.

Read on for our chat with Álvaro and browse our photo gallery for a look at our exclusive tour.

Álvaro González

You’ve worked for many iconic brands. What excites you about your position as design director of Valextra?
I fell in love with Valextra on my first visit to Milan. It was 1993, and I ran into the store in San Babila Square. The windows were filled with pieces made of exotic skins, and I was immediately attracted to the  iconic pieces. I’m  still using the wallet I bought during my first visit to the boutique! To me, being the design director is an important opportunity to get in touch with a company that has made a mark on the design arena.

What does Valextra’s heritage mean to you?
Valextra’s heritage is always the source of inspiration for  my creations. I draw from the past and with a modern approach, I create contemporary products that fit the needs of our customers. Giovanni Fontana, Valextra’s founder, had the gift of designing for the times. He perceived, observed, listened and had the capacity to transform a vision into a creative idea while maintaining functionality.

What makes Valextra standout?
The ‘costa’ piping technique is one of our most recognizable features. The edges of a bag are finished by hand using sandpaper and then painted with three coats of lacquer in contrasting or tonal shades depending on the colour of the leather.

What is unique about your factory?
Our finely skilled craftsmen—they’re able to modernize a piece while maintaining a respect for tradition. The master artisans teach their young apprentices the ancient art of saddlery ensuring the spirit and style of Valextra lives on.

Photo credit: Nicole Comeau, The I On Fashion

What fresh and new perspectives do you plan to bring to Valextra?
My plan is to continue to create pieces that can reach the magical alchemy between aesthetic perfection and seduction whilst remaining faithful to Valextra’s values: quality, creativity, tradition and ingenious innovation.

What are your favorite spots in Milan?
I love the Milanese district of Brera—I could spend hours here. I often visit the Pinacoteca di Brera to see artwork by Caravaggio, Piero della Francesca and Mantegna. Not far from there in Piazza del Duomo, you can find the Museo del Novecento. I love having afternoon tea at Giacomo Arengario, the museum’s exquisite restaurant. It has the most spectacular view of the city!