An interview with Luigi Limberti by Francesca Joppolo of Wall Street Journal.

When he was a boy, Luigi Limberti earned some money from the leather goods manufacturer Poggesi who worked for Gucci. Florence, 1950s: Guccio Gucci, founder of one of the most successful brands of all time, had a laboratory on the Lungarno and shops in via della Vigna.


Limberti went to deliver the bags and they chatted, neither of them cared about the difference in age. "We need to work with passion and remember that there is someone better than us," Guccio told him. Aldo, Guccio's son, a gentleman who according to Limberti had a fine brain and saw future scenarios ten years in advance, observed this young man chatting with his father, he had it in mind.


One day more than sixty years ago, an aesthetically revolutionary detail appeared on the catwalk in the history of fashion that would become the seal of the Gucci house. Thanks to a boy named Luigi, great-grandson of the bishop of Florence Giovacchino Limberti.


That day Aldo Gucci phoned from London and Poggesi wasn't there. Limberti replied, now 86 years old and in business. Not in honorary roles, in business with the hands that caress and shape precious leathers. “I'm in London and on Thursday I'm going back to Florence - Aldo said - I need a bag, but different from the others. Instead of the usual leather handle I want bamboo. Go to Paoli [a traditional Florentine basket and straw shop, now closed, editor's note] you choose one and apply it to this bag ". Limberti did not even have the fifty lire needed for the purchase, he asked Guccio who gave him a hundred.

"I arose from Paoli - Limberti says - and on the door I saw a basket with all small pieces of bamboo. I liked them, I thought about making key rings with them and took them. Then in a sprint to make the model of the bag for Aldo, I was midnight. The flap was a bit round ... I took the carpenter's glue and attached the bamboo pawl ".


At the sight of the unprecedented closing Aldo exclaimed: "What have you done?". Limberti, ready to be reproached, but convinced of that choice, replied: “I saw it like this”. “It's a masterpiece” Aldo ruled, blessing the birth of the Bamboo bag which since then, over the decades, has been declined in hundreds of versions.


Since that moment of happy inventiveness Limberti has produced millions of bags, including some models for Queen Elizabeth, who in the 1960s was not yet a slave to Made in Great Britain, for Sofia of Spain, for Paola of Liège.


Bags for Gucci, of course, Fendi, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany, Manolo Blahnik, Ballantyne, Loro Piana, Paloma Picasso, Vionnet, Mark Cross, Versace, Bulgari, Céline, Tom Ford, Barry Kieselstein, Lancel, Ferragamo, Versace, Tod's, Marni , Kate Spade. For Clemente and Ottino, the two most reputed luxury leather goods shops in Florence.


“One of the characteristics of his father - explains his daughter Gianna, in the company with a linguistic maturity, who took the age-old taste of Florentine artisans from his father, to which he adds an independent personality - is that they all looked out. He has never looked for anyone ”.


Limberti, the Limbe for intimate friends, set up on his own in November 1959, in a peasant house in the Coverciano neighborhood where, among the scratching chickens, he prepared the first sample collection. Sixteen years had passed since he had begun to handle the tools of leather goods, as a boy, in times of war, at Redi and Rossi who made bags and suitcases in via Aretina.


In October 1944 he participated in the production of ten thousand crocodile wallets for the eighth army: a way of thanking the American soldiers. He has been familiar with fine leathers since childhood, how could he tolerate mediocre ones? He makes fire and flames when offered them to him.


How was it in the beginning, alone?

I started with a sample for the Rossi di Bologna, which would later become Borbonese. I brought him twelve models, crossing the Apennines with the seventeenth century. He chose eight, ordering 480 bags! I asked myself: and now how do I do it? I didn't even have the money to buy leather. I went to Fosco Tamburini of the Meucci and Tamburini company and told him that I had to make the bags, I only had 130 thousand lire, I lacked leather, metals, everything. He replied: you came sincere, take what you want.


One would have to comment on glorious stories from another time. But perhaps it is better to avoid them, certain comments ... They appear dusty. Then what happened?

Vogini in Venice, a prestigious shop in Piazza San Marco, sent me a telegram. I didn't have a phone. And he explained to me that Rossi from Bologna had told him about me, that tourism was beginning and that he would have wanted my creations for Easter. I always worked, Saturday, Sunday, my daughter Gianna's mother, a shirt maker, sewed bags.


Ten days later a telegram from Ceresa arrived, symbol of the Dolce Vita of Rome. So small, you have the big name, they told me from Ceresa. They ordered three hundred bags per model. I took two workers, one to skin, a machinist

Unstoppable. In the meantime, what about the relationship with Gucci?

I met Paolo, Aldo's son, who told me: Father has been looking for you for a while, I'll install the phone for you. Aldo told me: you are a bastard, you work for the competition. From now on you have to work only for us. You can't work for just one, I replied. It was in '62 that Aldo made the bags for the Queen of England. They sent us hats to make matching bags. In those years I met the mother of the Fendi, Casagrande, who wanted to compete with Ceresa. Céline insisted that I stop working for Gucci and work only for them.


Let's talk a bit about the designers with whom he collaborated. Anna Fendi?

Very pretty, loving. With loving daughters.


Paloma Picasso?

A very intelligent and nice woman. He would come, take off his shoes and sit on the table.


Tom Ford?

He is a clothing designer. Once he asked me to make a bag that I think was wrong proportions. I made two: one as he had said and one my way. I sent him mine first and he said: he had criticized me a lot, but it's perfect. When he later discovered the truth he admitted: he took me for a ride, but he was right.


Her daughter Gianna told me they call her teacher

I have a sense of proportion, this is my luck. The bag is a container, the evening bag has one meaning, the day bag has another but, in any case, it must be proportionate, 'lively' and attention to detail. Seams, for example, are very important. I immediately notice if a bag is hand-sewn.


His enthusiasm doesn't fade, does it?

I make plans even when I am five years old [he makes me laugh ed.]. I just made gigantic bags for the 50th anniversary of Ralph Lauren: for the windows of Madison Avenue, in Paris: they are one and a half meters high and one and a half meters wide. And I'm preparing others. There will be about ten in all. Look at the photo of the Giannina inside the bag!


And I would love to become a Knight of Labor.

The daughter thinks it would be a fitting crowning: “Father has taught everyone, really. From the tanneries they come to ask for opinions on leathers. In Korea there is a school dedicated to him. Colossal French fashion houses question him when they are grappling with insurmountable problems, for example with crocodile models. And, above all, he taught respect for others and honesty "