Home Sweet Handbag
It has conquered women the world over with its whimsical creations. Now the Braccialini group returns to the hands of its founding family, which relaunches it with crash helmets and girls’ apparel.
By Costanza Rizzacasa
While out for a walk in downtown Florence one evening in 2003, Carla Braccialini, founder and creative soul of the eponymous brand of leather goods founded in the mid-Fifties, was mugged, and her purse was stolen. The misadventure shocked her deeply because, in addition to her money and documents, the bag also contained photographs of her three children and a pebble given to her by the youngest, Lorenzo. The next day she had an idea and hurried to her office. «I want to make a handbag in the shape of a house. Because your purse, like your home, is where you keep your whole life!». It was a success, of course, and that is how the Braccialini theme bags came to be (among the others, a taxi, a snowman, a clown and a rocking horse). One of the most dynamic companies in the sector, with 250 employees, targeted partnerships with fashion houses like Vivienne Westwood, boutiques from Dubai to South Korea, and has a new establishment-garden inspired by the principles of feng shui. It is a sound business, with a turnover in 2010 of 55 million euro (+10%) plus an additional 17 million euro from its subsidiary, Dado Rosa, licensee worldwide for the Gherardini brand, which merged last year with Braccialini. The merger means that sales in 2011 will jump by more than 45%. Its florid economic conditions prompted the family to undertake an ambitious development plan. The first step was to buy back the brand, with new financial partners. It is a complicated story, entangled with the Burani bankruptcy. Lorenzo Braccialini, 41, in charge of marketing and communication, explains it to Panorama Economy «After Antichi Pellettieri (a company in the Mariella Burani Fashion Group, in receivership for several years now, ed.note) became one of our partners, the family retained 20% and the management, with my brothers, Riccardo and Massimo, respectively chairman and managing director. In view of our strong sales and steady growth over the years, a few months ago we presented an offer to purchase the remaining 80%, in partnership with Sici (the company for the management of savings created to support Tuscan enterprises, in which both Monte dei Paschi and Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze hold equity investments, ed.note) and other Italian investors.
The recently signed buyback will cost 20 million euros, and will also include acquisition of the Francesco Biasia trademark, already managed on license by Braccialini. The goal is to separate the company from the Burani Group and regain financial independence, so as to press forward with new projects for growth. «This will restore value to a healthy company, detaching it from a troubled group and enabling it to start working on new investments. But the buyback also means bringing back to Tuscany a company that provides work, directly and indirectly, for over 500 people and that, due to the adverse circumstances of Burani risked ending up in the hands of some foreign funds, with uncertain fallout on the region».
It all began long ago in 1954, when Carla and Roberto Braccialini, still very young, started a business that combined two great Florentine traditions of the time: leather handbags and straw baskets. «My husband, who came from a family of wool merchants and had a strong business instinct, learned the ropes in the most important shirt store in Florence, founded by his mother» says Carla Braccialini. «Then he went into ties and finally leather goods». The first bags, in straw finished in leather, were ordered from small local craftsmen, but already by the end of the Fifties Braccialini had started his own workshop. Everything went well until 1966, the year of the flood in Florence. «We had just moved to a new location along the Arno. The water and mud destroyed everything: our machinery, prototypes and all our stock. We had to start all over again. Those were dark days, but we gritted our teeth and moved to Coverciano, where Braccialini stayed until 1986, the year of its first big leap».
In the Seventies, the brand was launched in the United States and, in 1972, a chubby little toddler, Lorenzo Braccialini, became its testimonial in magazines all over the world, cheerfully peeking out of one of the handbags of the spring-summer collection designed by his mom. Later, in the Eighties, Braccialini bags were already being sold in all the luxury department stores of the U.S., from Saks Fifth Avenue to Neiman Marcus. «The German and Japanese markets were equally important, continues Braccialini Jr. «Soon exports exceeded the Italian market».
In the meantime, the bags produced by the Tuscan group evolved. «Forty years ago, we were the first to launch the leather flower fad, then came patchwork». For a more and more diversified target. «Now even more mature women carry our little handbags with cartoons on them. We want to satisfy the narcissism of all women: the desire to possess an original object and one that will make people notice them. It is no coincidence that, in the Seventies, our slogan sounded like 'Braccialini, bags with an imagination'». After the minimalist trend of the Nineties, «that suffocated our creativity, forcing us to adapt to the idea of more sober, linear models», in 2000, with the return of colors, flowers and embroidery to fashion, and the boom in accessories, Braccialini turned the corner and started to grow once again.
The management changed as well. «After my father died in 1976, Mother took charge of the company and is still its guiding light» continues Lorenzo Braccialini. «Then in 1980 my brothers entered the business». Now Riccardo is in charge of sales, especially as regards strategic development, while Massimo inherited the creative Dna from his mother Carla. «When there is a lack of strong supervision of production by the family, interest flags. We were lucky». One of the company's latest successes is a line of apparel for little girls that debuted at the last Pitti Bimbo, inspired by the collections of bags by Braccialini, Tua by Braccialini and I Temini. It is all part of a winning policy of brand extension parallel to brand development.
The company's latest venture is motorcycle helmets, in the colorful designs typical of the Florentine brand. «This is a new, unexplored market - Lorenzo informs us - and what makes us particularly hopeful is that all the forecasts (but let's not say it too loud!) predict sure success»