Uncovering Italy’s Superlatives in people, places and things

The Arts and Crafts of Borsalino

The millinery heritage brand transcends the century with style

Borsalino, just whispering the name conjures up images of alluring Italian style and craft, and  insatiable sophistication. For more than a century and a half, Borsalino has capped the heads of icons like Marcello Mastroainni, Alain Delon, Jeanpaul Belmondo, Humphrey Bogart and Madonna. The oldest luxury hat manufacturer in Italy, Borsalino long ago set the bar on millinery savoir-faire and continues to transcend the decades in its iconic style.

Introducing creative curator Giacomo Santuccci

Enter Giacomo Santucci, Borsalino’s ever creative curator, whose passion for art history led him to the serendipitous overlap between Borsalino and the Arts and Crafts movement. 

In 1970 Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo starred in a film by Jacques Deray called “Borsalino”. The film owes its title to the name of the Borsalino company, producer and supplier of the hats worn by the actors.

“Borsalino gave me the chance to really re-study the territory of the brand. Because when you look at the brand, [it was] founded in 1857. Obviously to me, as a historian of art as well, that means a lot because I could envisage the way Mr. Borsalino was looking at the world at that moment in time,” Santucci explains.

Santucci researched the 160+ year history down to the company’s inception.  From the tiny town of Alessandria, Piemonte, Giuseppe Borsalino traveled the world with curiosity, spending time in France, and finally to England, where he visited the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first of design fairs that brought together culture and industry.  Borsalino was front row to the very next generation of designers and artists who would transform the decades and herald a new aesthetic into the 20th century – the Arts and Crafts movement.

Borsalino defines “lifestyle”

“The end of the 19th century was the beginning of industrialisation and people were becoming a little bit richer, the middle class was booming, and people were in need of furnishing houses. That was the moment where “lifestyle” started,” says Santucci. 

People were looking outward, reevaluating how things were made, and what they looked like.  Artists and writers like William Morris, John Ruskin, Augustus Pugin, Charles Rennie Macintosh, and Aubrey Beardsley translated that curiosity and passion into a new and vibrant aesthetic in design – furniture, glass, wallpaper, illustration, giving rise to a romantic trend in decoration that was aimed at improving the quality of design and manufacturing, while making it available to all.  And Borsalino was watching it all.

Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.

John Ruskin, ‘The Cestus of Aglaia, the Queen of the Air’, 1870

Each hat is a work of art and craft

Craftsmanship, the beauty of nature, utility, simplicity and beauty were the ideals that Borsalino brought back to his hometown in Piemonte, and with which he founded his eponymous company in 1857. From the very beginning, the Borsalino was a work of art, entirely handcrafted out of quality-sourced materials and assembled in the Borsalino factory in Alessandria.  In 1900, Borsalino gained international recognition at the Paris Exposition Universelle winning the Grand Prix. By the mid 20th century, the Borsalino became a Hollywood legend.

Ever since Borsalino’s first creation, the company has been steeped in tradition and craft. Each hat is meticulously handcrafted in an assemblage that requires 80 artisans, 52 steps and seven weeks to create. It is lifestyle by its very definition, and thus the epitome of Arts and Crafts.

Self-expression in a chapeau

“I try to recreate the elements of that [history] in a way because, as you know, Borsalino is a classic. The DNA of the brand is quality craftsmanship,” says Santucci, who used the fanciful decoration and joie de vivre of the Belle Epoque years as inspiration for the 2020 and 2021 collections. Playful and chromatic, with curlicues, decorations – from feathers to silver pins, new materials and new textures, the hats are wearable celebrations to Morris and Beardsley and the Arts and Crafts movement, as well the mid-20th century optical art of Bridget Louise Riley and Victor Vasarely.

A Borsalino hat has always been a sign of self-expression away and a symbol of identity, whether playing homage to the classic icons or looking at the past to push the hat into the future, but no matter what, a Borsalino hat is always Borsalino hat.

Interview by Erica Firpo.

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