More than just words on a label, it’s a way of life—and a law—whose cachet is rooted in uncompromising Florentine craftsmanship.
Just across the river from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, is the Oltrarno, the city’s traditional artisan quarter. Step off the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge barnacled with tiny goldsmith shops, and you’ll see a pocket-size boutique called Madova, opened in 1919 by Amedeo Donnini. Inside, surrounded by inventory stacked almost to the ceiling, Donnini’s grandchildren carry on the family practice of crafting some of the finest leather gloves in the world. One pair looks like sober black dress gloves, until you move your hand and bright colors flash from swatches hidden between the fingers—elegant yet playful.
This is what “Made in Italy” means in the fashion world: thorough mastery of a craft, including attention to the smallest details; the impression that everything is perfectly made to measure; discipline steeped in generations of cherished tradition but unafraid to be modern and fun. Thousands of miles away, Wynn guests likely recognize the same spirit of uncompromising detail and luxury married to a sense of whimsy that draws the best Italian fashion designers to Wynn’s locations—in Las Vegas, Macau, and soon Cotai. Because even as tiny Madova’s Florentine neighbors have become titans of 20th-century fashion around the globe, the “Made in Italy” label remains as precisely defined and prized as it always has been—representing the best in craftsmanship just as Wynn represents the highest in luxury standards.
Florence, Italy, birthplace of the Renaissance and home to luxury brands such as Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Emilio Pucci.
As a liftboy at London’s Savoy Hotel in the early 1900s, teenager Guccio Gucci admired the guests’ elegant and sturdy bags. When he returned to his native Florence in 1921, he opened an English-style luggage store. Gucci’s goods soon became fashionable among moneyed horsemen. This—and a family legend that the Guccis had been saddlers during the Renaissance— inspired the brand’s equine symbols: the horse-bit spangle, the green-and-red-striped ribbon resembling a cinch strap.
By the 1960s, Gucci bags had become stars, seen on the arms of everyone from Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy to Peter Sellers and Samuel Beckett. Despite its fame and fortune, however, the Gucci firm has remained committed to its core ideals, declaring that “100 percent of its leather goods, shoes, and ready-to-wear are still produced in its Florentine workshops, employing over 45,000 people in Italy alone.” This is in part because “Made in Italy” is not just a label. It’s a law.
In 2009, Italy passed one of the world’s strictest labeling regulations for domestically produced goods. The full rules for “Made in Italy” certification are available on their website, but they boil down to this: The product must be manufactured entirely within Italy to the company’s exclusive designs, using Italian workers, traditional methods, and grade-A natural materials, and in hygienic and safe working conditions. This devotion to quality and custom has paid off: A 2013 survey of 10,000 luxury consumers in 10 countries by the Boston Consulting Group found that knowing an item was made in Italy generated the highest level of consumer confidence in the categories of clothing, accessories, and jewelry, and the second-highest in watches (after Switzerland) and cars (after Germany).
Jay Lipe, a senior lecturer at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, who teaches an advanced course in Rome and Florence called “Made in Italy” Brand Management, says the label conjures in the consumer’s mind “this idea of a certain quality of the raw materials, of an element of craftsmanship, and of a skilled artisan who is involved in the final processing.” It’s no wonder that Italian brands celebrate their Italianness.
In 2011, Gucci even opened a museum and café in a stately palazzo that had been, appropriately enough, the seat of Florence’s medieval merchant guilds. Overlooking the Palazzo Vecchio on bustling Piazza della Signoria— “the living room of Florence”—this was where the city’s powerful cloth importers, wool manufacturers, furriers, and silk weavers once held sway. The guilds’ timeworn stone crests are now on display in the bookshop, replaced on the building’s façade by a new crest, featuring a suit of armor carrying Gucci handbags.
In 2015, Gucci promoted a relatively unknown 43-year-old associate designer named Alessandro Michele to creative director, and he has embraced the sense of elegance-meets-fun that defines Florentine fashion. Michele has brought back the floral prints and swishy fabrics once beloved by Princess Grace. His exciting new designs mix Art Nouveau details, 1920s flapper style, hippie peasant dresses, and the smart lines of mid-20th-century fashion. And he has returned the brand’s famous interlocking G’s to pride of place in its roster of pattern and clasp designs.
Vara shoes, by Salvatore Ferragamo SpA, on display at the company’s museum in Florence.
While the Gucci Museo also has—naturally—a small shop on-site, the company’s primary Florence boutique is on Via de’ Tornabuoni, the main artery of the city’s shopping district. Anchoring the base of this boulevard, a block south of Gucci, is the mighty 13th-century Palazzo Spini Feroni, its castle-like battlements profiled against the sky. A luxurious hotel in the 19th century, the palazzo became the seat of the municipality of Florence during its brief 1860s reign as capital of the new Kingdom of Italy. In the 1930s, a cobbler named Salvatore Ferragamo purchased the building, filling its frescoed halls with craft workshops, fashion ateliers, and offices for what was by then already a footwear empire.
Ferragamo had made his first shoes—for his sisters’ confirmations—at the age of 9. He was apprenticed to a cobbler in Naples at 11, and by 13 he had opened his first shoe shop. Three years later, in 1914, he emigrated to America to join his brother on a shoe and boot assembly line outside Boston. Impressed by the industrial techniques he saw but devoted to old-world craftsmanship, Ferragamo soon decamped to Southern California to forge his own alchemy of modern methods and the traditional cobbler’s art. By 1923, LA newspapers were calling him the “shoemaker to the stars” for a client list that included nearly every screen goddess of the early 20th century: Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Mary Pickford, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn.
Ferragamo succeeded not just because he crafted flawlessly elegant, occasionally outrageous confections and slipped them onto famous feet to grace Hollywood’s red carpets. He emphasized comfort as much as style, taking anatomy and mathematics classes at the University of Southern California to puzzle out how to distribute body weight over the arch of the human foot. His research allowed his artisans to mass-produce shoes that retained the elements of a made-to-measure fit. Today the brand still offers more than 70 fit and size combinations.
Ferragamo returned to Italy in 1926, settling in the emerging fashion capital of Florence, where he eventually turned the Palazzo Spini Feroni into not only his brand’s global headquarters, but also a museum displaying shoes made for his celebrated clients. (His firm continues its Hollywood association, especially in period films, providing footwear for Madonna in Evita and Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, for example.)
Like his Florence neighbors Gucci and Pucci, Ferragamo and the house he founded gained worldwide fame without losing sight of the important role that Italian artisanal traditions played in his success. He likely could not have anticipated that he and his contemporaries would come to epitomize the luxury that people flock to Las Vegas and Macau to experience at Wynn. He wrote in his autobiography, “All over Italy— even today, and in the cities as well as the poor villages—you will see cobblers sitting in their tiny stone rooms, surrounded by heaps of shoes all higgledy-piggledy, working crouched over their lasts under the beam from a naked electric-light bulb.” That was written half a century ago, but wander the side streets of the Oltrarno neighborhood today and you can still glimpse that very scene through the open windows of 21st century Florentine craftsmen. Wander the Esplanades of Wynn and Encore and you’ll understand how this painstaking, time-honored craftsmanship has become the ultimate in contemporary luxury.
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