Known for its architectural prowess in design and appreciable quality in materials, Italian luxury leather goods and accessories brand Valextra has maintained an unparalleled image in the fashion luxury market since its inception in 1937. Over the past eighty years, Valextra has put forth several top-selling designs, opened new stores in Europe, Asia, and the U.S., and has most recently renovated the store’s flagship interior on Madison Avenue, and designed an all-new bag, the Passepartout, as well.
And just over three years ago, in 2014, the brand welcomed in Sara Ferrero, who joined as a partner at Investment Partners—a private equity that has a large stake in Valextra. She said of that time, “I was following the portfolio, and after we had to substitute a CEO, in that moment, I agreed with my partner and founder of the fund that until we found someone, I would go in for interim.” During that time, she explained that she developed very clear idea of what the brand was, especially building off her childhood, where she knew Valextra well. Just a year later, she began as CEO.
While she was in town, Ferrero sat down with Whitewall to talk about her start at Valextra, the brand’s evolution, and its new designs.
WHITEWALL: You recently mentioned that when you started at Valextra, you wanted to tell the story of the brand, which had distinctive elements that were different from others. How did you begin telling that story?
SARA FERRERO: For me, the brand had an element that was really distinctive and relevant in a quite saturated in a fashion luxury market. I tried to crystallize it, and start a type of storytelling for the beautiful brand, and this beautiful product, where most of the narrative before was really toward the product, heritage, and craftsmanship—which was absolutely the center of the brand, but it still can become a little bit similar and non-distinctive to other brands.
For me, the pillars of the brand were really the aesthetics and way of conceiving the product as design and architecture, and how the founder started. Giovanni Fontana’s way of seeing the handbag business, and business in general, was very much “This is a design piece. I’m going to do something that is aesthetically beautiful, yet incredibly functional. It has to last.”
We started this incredibly enriching experience with friends of the brand, and people that had that eye and loved the brand like Martino Gamper, Peter Saville, Bernard Dubois, and Nina Yashar from Nilufar GAllery They participated with an involvement that was really enriching—so that allowed us to think. The stores shouldn’t be stores, they should be like townhouses in the top cities in the world. So why should they be all the same?
WW: Tell us a bit about the new Passepartout collection, which is available in two sizes, a wide range of colors, and materials like felt, wool, Mongolian fur, cashmere, beaver, fox, and mink.
SF: To celebrate its 80th anniversary for fall/winter 2017, Valextra launches Passepartout. It’s a new versatile bag that can change its shape according to each person’s needs and preferences. Passepartout can be used in three different ways. It can be worn as a top-handle, with the oversized flap falling on the front, offering a feminine, informal look. As a tote, with the sides peeking out and the flap closed onto the second zipper, to maximize the bag’s capacity. And finally as a classic duffle bag, with the zipper fully closed to keep the bag compact and discreet. The casual look of the Passepartout combines a soft silhouette with the feminine touches given by functional double zippers and its practical, removable pocket on the front, which can be used as a separate clutch.
WW: The brand’s Madison Avenue store also got a makeover. Can you tell us what is different about the new space?
SF: The store was done two years ago, but it wasn’t very minimalistic, and we wanted an environment that reflected the minimal and modern spirit. So we, more or less, applied the Bernard Dubois concept (from our Milan store) to Madison Avenue. Now, it is quite interesting. It’s yellow, which is quite bonkers, but it gives the store modernity, and an energy that I feel is quite powerful. Also, having a magnetic wall gives us flexibility in how we display product, and having a magnetic element is something that Martino introduced. Some elements and concepts over time have really stuck, as you can see…
We’ve also recently commissioned a light piece from Michael Anastassiades that I absolutely love and adore—one of my favorites. I fell in love with it a year ago, and since then, I’ve been trying to put it in the Madison Avenue store. We’re always trying to find something unique for each store. That’s incredibly important to me.
The language follows some rules. It has to follow some rules, and has to have something Milanese. The ceppo di grè stone is also there. It recalls a bit of Milan and adds a bit of a brutalist element. The panels are padded material—also very Milanese in the way that you treat your reception walls to make it warmer—in Kvadrat’s “Steelcut 2” material. Very modern in its texture, and vibrant in color. The island in the middle of the store is also in the ceppo di grè, which again, is quite solid. We also opened the back to give a sense of free space, and we will be using the back patio to give a sense of Italy and the nature. And on the top floor, for the men, we upholstered it with Dada material—the brand’s “Funky Stripe,” which is a graphic material with nice stitching.
This article appears in Whitewall’s Summer 2017 Design issue, out in September.