Italy is an exceptional country with many secrets to discover - artisans, design, art and craftsmanship
Italy is probably one of the world’s most famous countries, mostly known for its food, climate, art, and architecture. Many people tend to see it as an incredibly unique country, and ‘made in Italy’ label carry a lot of weight worldwide. But why is that?
This is due to three many reasons. First, Italy is dotted with many small, family owned workshops which are very good at making artisan quality products. Second, it has a veil of romance, passion and mystery formed by movies, songs and travel. And lastly, people in Italy put their pride on the line when they attach that ‘made in Italy’ label to their produce. It better be the best thing you wear or use in your life.
I hope that this guide will help you to find your own hidden Italian gem.
Colourful and easily recognisable Venetian glass was invented in… (surprise, surprise) Venice. Craftsmanship and innovation go back to when Byzantine craftsmen escaped Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.
These days, the making process can be copied by anyone, aiming for the following three brands: Pauly, Seguso (since 1397) and Barovier & Toso (since 1295). Their Venetian glass is not only made in Italy but even at the same historical workshops in the city of Murano, Venice.
Glassmaking skills apply to the making of the eyewear too. Luxottica, located in Veneto makes eyeglasses and sunglasses for most of the world’s luxury brands like Ray Band, Chanel, Valentino, Versace, Tiffany & Co and etc. Made in Italy does play well with the luxury brand image, no doubt.
Interestingly, at some point, Luxottica was even making Google Glass too.
In Italy, it is generally true that each region is specialising in one type of products. For example, in the centre of Italy, the region of Marche, is all about leather products. Ninety per cent of Italian made shoes are coming from this region.
It is dotted with thousands of small, family-owned artisan workshops that make exceptional quality leather products, which are most often sourced by globally recognised brands. Some of these family businesses started creating their own brands too – check Bagatto, Nicola Benson and Cappelletti.
If you are after a leather jacket, a belt or other leather accessories head to cities of Ascoli and Macerata. It is mind-blowing to see all those workshops and the things they make. For example, I am a big of Il Bussetto colourful leather accessories. For shoes, check out Tod’s suede shoes made for Ferrari.
After producing ceramic products for millennia, Castelli’s small town in Abruzzo, is well known for its output of ceramic plates. It all started with Benedictine monks who began to produce plates in the 11th century.
A most famous and easily recognisable is undoubtedly Maiolica – a colourful tin-plated ceramic, produced since the 15th century. Its ceramics painting techniques set it apart from other mainstream approaches.
Colour in Maiolica tin-glazed earthenware is applied to the under-fired glaze, which absorbs the pigment like a fresco. This technique makes it impossible to correct any mistakes but is ideal for preserving brilliant colours. Interestingly, the most popular Maiolica product is a ceramic biscuit box (pictured).
Contrary to popular belief, jeans were ‘invented’ in Italy and not America.
Name ‘jeans’ originate from around 400 years ago, when harbour workers in the Italian city of Genoa, wore clothes made from sturdy Arabic cotton and called it ‘Geanes fustian’.
You might also hear some people argue that Levi’s started making jeans in the US. It is true, but he brought this Italian clothing to the US when he emigrated from Europe. Those sturdy clothes were handy for the miners of 1850s. And then, teenage rebels of the 1950s, who finally made it mainstream.
These days most of the Italian jeans are sourced by global fashion labels. But they change their suppliers depending on the seasons and fashion trends.
If you are looking for a genuinely Italian jeans brand, think Candiani. It is a 75-year family-run business from Milan, that is also now known for its green credentials.
Wood inlay technique originated from the Naples region in XVI century. It is used to create patterns and pictures on the furniture, wall pictures and jewellery boxes. Hence it is not surprising that you can still find such makers in this region today.
Recently, while travelling along the coast of Italy, I discovered a maker of special wooden musical boxes in the city of Sorrento. Among his designs, you can see classic designs dating back centuries, but I personally enjoyed seeing his take on the more contemporary design.
Each pattern and shape, you see in the picture, is hand-cut and inlaid on a wooden surface. This very creative and labour intensive design is now used to make jewellery boxes on a small scale.
As we all known Italians have an exceptional coffee culture and hence it is not surprising that they are making their own coffee making tools. In addition to state of the art coffee machines, a true hero is a Moka pot. According to all Italians I know that is the best way to make espresso.
But for those like me, who are more into a tea experience there companies like Ottoni Fabrica who makes interesting and unique looking kettles. I like wide range of colours available and a classical stove kettle shape, but as in electric option.
There are other small manufacturers who make stainless kitchenware for global brands, who then use it as a more upscale “made in Italy” range.
Discover more in our The Best Kettles guide.
Panerai is undoubtedly the most famous Italian watchmaker. It is known for making diving watches for the Italian navy for over 50 years. But there are other, less-known secrets to be uncovered too.
When Panerai moved its manufacturing to Switzerland after Richemont’s take over in 1997, its facilities and staff were taken over by Anonimo. Now they are making around 4000 of handmade waterproof watches per year.
There are also quite a few small boutique watchmakers with a true made in Italy certification to discover. Here are few to start with: U-Boat from Lucca for flight enthusiasts, with some of the designs following trends from the 1940s.
Or Meccaniche Veloci with their Quattro Valvole (Four Pistons) collection. It was developed in partnership with Bremo, where they use supercar parts and materials to achieve this unique look.
Every biking fan will tell you, Italy is cult and a legend for its cycling history connections. So no wonder that there are so many bicycle brands born here.
However, it is becoming harder to distinguish between an Italian brand (which can be made anywhere) and an Italian bicycle maker who truly makes bicycles in Italy.
To mention a few genuine Italian bike manufacturers:
Tommasini is one of the boutique bicycle brands that kept their manufacturing at its original Italian base in Grosseto since 1957.
While Velorapida is known for makes electric bikes with vintage look, and they are capable of achieving speeds up to 25 km/h for 60 kilometres.
To discover more, visit my dedicated page listing European Bike Manufacturers.
Most of the cultural imaginary of Italy depends on luxury cars. It is true, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati are made in Italy. Part of the cars’ huge costs is due to the manual process used instead of the automated process most carmakers are currently using.
They are all based in Northern Italy, specifically in Emilia Romagna. Ferrari 812 Superfast is the latest Ferrari model. As expected, it is not easily affordable with a price tag of €291,642 Euros. Hence you might want to consider Maserati, who’s latest Levante SUV, costs ‘only’ €73.417.
Much of Ferrari’s fame is due to the Formula 1 team and merchandising, which are more profitable to the company than cars themselves. Moreover, there is even a Ferrari themed park in Dubai, and a themed land in Port Aventura, near Barcelona.
It might sound peculiar but Italy has built some of the safest and largest cruise ships in the world.
Fincantieri, a state-owned company, based in Trieste has been one of the industrial powerhouses of the country in the last 60 years. Since the beginning of the 80s, the company envisaged a new trend in the tourism industry and began to build Cruise ships and large yachts.
Most of Costa Crociere and MSC ships, two of the leading Italian cruises companies, have been built in Trieste. As well as the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, the first two ships of the Disney Cruise Line. A total of 80 cruise ships have now been built here.
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