Product Reviews

The New Campomaggi Fall/Winter 2015 Collection – Part 1

I have to hand it to Marco. Getting a new collection to explore every six months is very exciting and stimulating. Talking to our customers, you are also very excited about the new arrivals. What we have found over the years is that our initial impressions favor bags and accessories that our customers are only going to discover later on–meaning that we tend to pick the wrong products. There are exceptions of course. Sometimes we bet on a bag and it proves popular: so popular, in fact, that we quickly run out and then have to scramble to reorder.

While we will continue to refine our forecasting skills forever, this fall Campomaggi’s new products have been met with considerable success. The most popular and most awaited products have been the new leather or canvas backpacks, which have greatly expanded our offering. Before this season, we had the Zavatti, the Perotto and little else. They were nice options but the new bags show that they try to improve on many little details.

DE AGOSTINI Camo Leather Asymmetrical Backpack
One of The New Campomaggi Leather Backpack for Fall 2015.

The new backpacks are either in leather, or canvas, or both (canvas with big leather pockets). Each model seems to answer at least a specific question. If you need a spacious backpack: there is one that is really spacious; if you are looking for more comfortable straps: multiple bags have very wide straps that are less likely to cut into your shoulders after a while; if you are looking for more pockets where to quickly store stuff: he has you covered. One of my favorite features is the zippered pocket that fills toward the back and is accessible from the side (see the Verrazano).

VOLTA Distressed Canvas backpack with lots of pockets.
VOLTA Distressed Canvas backpack with lots of pockets and padded, large straps.

In our recent newsletter, we offered $75 off orders of $500 or more (offer code: MP500). The offer expires this week, so hurry!

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Marcopoloni, the Tiny Business Product Reviews

A Stronger Dollar Means Lower Prices from Japan

In yesterday’s newsletter Emi announced: “Thanks to the sustained, favorable Dollar-to-Yen exchange rates, we were able to lower the prices of all products from our Japanese artisans. What this means to you is a savings of up to 25%!”

Over the last year or so the Yen lost 38% of its value going right back to the exchange rate that we were used to about a decade ago of 120 Yen to a Dollar. When the Yen reached its peak near 75 Yen to a Dollar, it was impossible for us to buy from our Japanese artisans. This was disheartening but we could no longer keep on raising prices as sales were plummeting. Now the Dollar looks stronger and with an interest rate hike on the horizon we are somewhat confident that it is not going to dive again. That’s why we felt it was time to take out the ax and slash prices.

Japanese Yunomi Tea Cup Set
Wonderful detail of the Hagi noren tapestry by Yoshioka-san.

Which product saw the biggest price drop? It was the HAGI Noren Curtain that went from $375 to $280.

On Dai’s side the FUUFU Japanese Yunomi Tea Cup Set price dropped 24% from $145 to $110.

Japanese Yunomi Tea Cup Set
Yunomi Tea Cup set in irabo glaze by Dai.

With the lower prices at hand, welcoming new Japanese crafts into your world will help you take more time to appreciate the moment.

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Marcopoloni, the Tiny Business Our Artisans and Their Products True Artisanship

Watching A Skilled Artisan Create

How do you explain skilled artisanship to people who have never seen a skilled artisan at work, let alone a group of artisans cooperate seamlessly in perfect synchronization? I found that it is really tough and in most cases better to leave the word handmade out of the discussion.

Sabatino e Catia Craftsmanship
A moment in the creation process. Skilled artisans go from nothing to completed product quickly.

I do what I do because I grew up frequently admiring skilled artisans at work all around Italy. Because of that experience, I have witnessed what can happen before a product reaches the store shelves and in some cases that is close to magic. To get the point across we have redesigned our home page to show a video of Imperio Rossi, Mario Costantini, and a serventino (Mauro) work together to produce a tumbler. The way they can work on multiple products at the same time and separate the task of performing different aspects of the production process is like clock work–clearly the result of years of experience. Not too surprising if you consider that Imperio got started at age 13 in 1964. Fifty-one years of experience must mean something!

Antartidee Craftsmanship
Even the smallest detail matters when you strive for perfection.

When Imperio started working on something more complicated, like a carafe, I could not believe the motions that he had mastered and memorized to attach a handle in the perfect shape. The awe grew when they had me try to pick out a blob of glass from the furnace for them. I tried but I got too little and it immediately fell off my canna because I wasn’t spinning it fast enough.

Peroni Craftsmanship
When your shop is the only one that is able to produce something you are a really skilled artisan.

All of our artisans know something that sets them apart from everybody else. This is the value of know-how and to you it means that their products are unique and the best expression of their kind in the world. To me, that’s a creation worth having.

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Product Reviews

Carousel Music Boxes Fondly Stir Up Your Past

As they were completing their university studies, Sabatino and Catia, decided to spend time creating something they were passionate about: carousel music boxes. The passion grew and after they graduated they continued pursuing it–for life.

Thirty years later Sabatino and Catia have lived through many stages in life and those experiences are reflected in their creations. Today we have music boxes that capture moments with infinite sweetness. The way the baby hugs the goose, for example, reminds me exactly of how our baby Marco (at about the age of one) used to hug our old dog Rigatoni.

small baby hugging a goose rotating music box
Small baby hugging a goose rotating music box.

Similarly, our other music boxes tell the story of our discoveries, fantasies, and happy moments. For us older folks, there are plenty of memories like that. Memories that we cherish revisiting. For babies and young children those memories are fast being created. We gave our daughter Chiara a Horsey Carousel (she is very fond of horses to say the least) and she loves playing with it from time to time and when she does our little Marco is immediately drawn to it. Sometimes, when we play it around bed-time, he lays down on his bed, puts his head on his pillow and listens intently.

We have started giving these to celebrate new births and Chiara gave one to her close friend. I wonder if that carousel will become as dear as a music box that my wife received from her best friend when she was a child. When Chiara was two she discovered it and from time to time asked us to wind it. She was not the only one to love it. Now that I have been thinking about it, I know that, next time I open the display case that houses it, I will give it a spin.

What is particularly special about these rotating music boxes is that they are completely handmade and painted, thus each item is pretty unique. Just like us.

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Product Reviews

Work Harder, Not Smarter, with This Antartidee Desk Clock

When I was a teenager I found that the most effective way to get my homework done was to set a definitive time slot within which to get it done. Having deadlines of this kind of frees up a lot of space on your schedule because you do not allow time for distractions or entertainment.

The technology in smartphones and computers is great, but there is no need to set alarms or use reminders when you know that right now you have to work on the task at hand and that you only have until 10:38 to get it done. You just need to keep an eye on the clock.

So you must have a clock. My computer of course has one, but I prefer using a desk clock, one whose time is subjective and that forces me to say: “when the minute hand gets to somewhere around 35 I have to be done.”

I use a Slipping Time desk clock. Telling time is a bit approximate and the hand with time slipping through it does tend to make me philosophize. Here is the kicker: because I work so hard telling time, I work even harder on my project. It totally builds character.

Slipping Time Desk Clock
One of my favorite things: the Slipping Time which, apparently, makes me work harder, not smarter.

Ok, my humor-attempt is lame, but the clock is beautiful and incredibly unique. I love the way the clock melts through the fingers and even begins to collect on the table. There are a ton of beautiful and intricate details that also show how the clock was very carefully hand-painted.

I feel that a little bit of beauty on my desk elevates my work-environment and injects a little bit of fun. And that is something I appreciate a lot.

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Today’s Catch: Volkswagen!

Volkswagen was recently exposed for having its cake and eating it too.

In Italy we say: “occhio non vede, cuore non duole”, which, loosely translated, means: “what you don’t know won’t hurt your feelings”.

It often seems to me that this is the road-map that business follows to profits. Some say: “that is the way the world works,” but I believe that there are plenty of people in business who do not sell their soul to profits and are still able to “make” it. In some cases, they do extremely well because they have figured out how to provide something that people really want.

Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware) said the Romans, so this must have been a problem for some time. With globalization came an opportunity to operate under a cloak of mystery. So how is the buyer going to be able to beware? How do we know whether the label is true or not? Should I not buy the $3 t-shirt because it was probably made by kids who sleep on the factory floor? Does the Mazda in my garage that gets good gas mileage have software installed that achieves good gas mileage by blowing past emissions standards? The answer is common: “we don’t know! And we can’t possibly know.”

Thankfully someone exposed Volkswagen.

In my line of business cheaper imitations abound. We try to warn and educate customers by posting on our web site about cheaper imitations:

  • Hidden cost resulting from lack of durability not included.
  • Hidden cost of using lower quality materials not included.
  • Hidden cost of poorer craftsmanship not included.
  • Hidden cost of using underpaid workers not included.
  • Hidden cost of the environmental impact of manufacturing products in less-regulated countries not included.
  • Hidden cost of using production methods that are harmful to humans and the environment not included.
  • Hidden cost of losing generations-old traditions in craftsmanship not included.
  • Hidden cost of contributing to the use-and-dispose culture not included.

We really try to vet our artisans. I found that the best method is to ask the right questions and let time verify the answers. There is a lot you can learn from people over the years. That’s why we now take a long time before adding a new artisan. There has been a situation where we later realized that what appeared authentic actually was not, and we dropped those products. So we learn from our mistakes.

My question to you is: where do you stand on this issue? Are we crazy to want to tell our customers exactly who it is that made what we offer and how?

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Authenticity Product Reviews

Comparing Gianni’s Classic Italian Leather Keychains

As the years go by and we realize that Gianni has been making his leather keychains for 30 years by now, it is not surprising to see them in shops everywhere around the world. It is also not surprising that they invariably seem to be better than the “other” key chains, especially the blatant imitations.

Classic Italian Leather Keychains
Gianni’s three most classic Italian leather key chains are the Snaplink, the Giamaicano, and the Classico.

That long experience coupled with Gianni’s love for the products is what makes the difference and ultimately sets them apart. The Tuscan vacchetta leather he uses has become really expensive and Gianni’s keychains, although not dirt cheap, are priced low for the quality. I see keychains by Bottega Veneta advertised for $300 and I scratch my head because those keychains are really boring compared to Gianni’s. Clearly there are people willing to pay for a brand name. What we offer is the highest quality for the right price: a value proposition that appeals to me a lot.

There are three keychains that I would describe as classic: the Snaplink, the Giamaicano, and the Classico. Each has compelling features, what they share in common is that they all can clip onto either your belt or belt buckle.

The Snaplink is the most popular and also my favorite. I clip it to my belt buckle, it is designed to look like a belt with buckle and the buckle actually works–making it easy to add and remove rings. So it is very convenient at a valet or when dropping your car off for service. I had to replace mine after exactly 10 years because the clip slipped off. The leather was still in great shape.

The Giamaicano is what I consider the most stylish because the braid is awesome to the touch. It might be nicer than the Snaplink but it doesn’t have the valet feature. The clip is the easiest to use inside a bag with a keychain d-ring.

The Classico comes in a wider array of colors including my favorite, blue. It is the only one that can clip around a belt. This is great when your pockets and belt buckles are not in close proximity. Because you are able to choose exactly where the Classico will hang you usually can tuck your keys away.

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Product Reviews

Peroni Leather Is Unlike Any Other

We just added a couple of Peroni products to our catalog in 2015 after drooling over their wonderful products for years. Their products are so unique that we are not sure if our customers will notice them, yet they are so unique that they are a perfect fit for Marcopoloni: Peroni is a family in Florence that has taken the Florentine leather crafting tradition to new heights–exactly what we want to tell the world about.

Leather Eyeglasses Case
Peroni leather embodies the most luxurious construction we have ever seen.

What I like the most about Peroni is how their exceptional skill to make hardened leather products out of a single cut of leather–thus requiring no stitching–results in products that are a cut (or two) above the rest. It is quite possible that we carry the OTTICA because I needed an eyeglasses case for my reading glasses. It is hard for me to pass up on an opportunity to get something that I need from one of our artisans. So now I can tell you how it has worked out. First of all: function. The OTTICA provided the much needed protection for my eyeglasses, which I was carrying around unprotected. Besides the peace of mind that it provided, the OTTICA became a perfect extension of my style and a reliable helper. It has a place in my briefcase (the SANTARELLI), it sits nicely on my desk, it provides a reminder to pack it at the end of the day with my glasses inside (otherwise I seem to invariably forget about my glasses every few days).

But the OTTICA does a lot more. Its quality makes me feel that it will last me well over ten years and that I might pass it on to the next person in need of eye-help in my family. It looks good, or should I say fabulous? So when it sits next to my SLIPPING TIME clock and my GOTO SBRUFFO Murano glass tumbler it is right at home. When I pick it up it feels different from Campomaggi or Dionigi leather, but just as luxurious. Opening it and closing it reminds me of the attention to detail by the craftsman: let’s not forget that this is leather without hinges, not hard, manufactured plastic.

Leather Eyeglasses Case
The OTTICA at rest, still protecting my glasses.

I haven’t tried the rest of the vast Peroni catalog, but as I seek order and peace in my life I am sure that many of them will call to me in the future. I encourage you to try them out. At present, we also carry the FERRO coin purse.

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Product Reviews

The One Campomaggi Briefcase I Couldn’t Live Without

We have been carrying Campomaggi for over six years now. The decision to add Campomaggi to the Marcopoloni catalog was very easy for Emi and I: how could we pass on bags that were so unique and that represented the value of quality craftsmanship like the best of them?  I still remember when I first saw the Santarelli in the Campomaggi warehouse before the offices were renovated: my impression was that it was dripping with personality.

Daniele's favorite Campomaggi briefcase
My Santarelli in broad daylight shows how different pieces of leather absorbed the dye differently

Yet, even in those days, the Santarelli was expensive and I figured that I wouldn’t have the patience to use the real buckles that function as closures (since then Campomaggi has been using magnetic buttons behind the buckles to greatly speed up the process of opening and closing). When we got our first shipment back in 2009, I looked carefully, but soon shelved the idea of getting a Santarelli.

Over the years I kept on looking at Campomaggi briefcases. Many of them are superb and we carry them, but none could take the place that the Santarelli had carved out in my heart. I frequently discussed this with a few of my customers and I am sure that they became convinced that I would never pull the trigger. Instead, last month, the opportunity to work at a local company arose and I needed to carry my laptop home. By then I was ready and I never looked back.

If I had to use just one word to define the Santarelli, that word would be “deliberate”. Because it forces you to take your time opening it and closing it (and it is not that much time once you get used to it) I feel that it makes you sit back and asks: “why are you always in a hurry? Plan better and take pleasure in every moment.” As I do that I rejoice in the leather quality because it feels so alive and ready to handle the world and those are certainly qualities I appreciate in my work companion.

I also feel that the bag is perfectly designed for what I do, but I will have to discuss that in a later post.

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Product Reviews

Maledetti Toscani Shoes A Year Later

Last year I got not one but two pairs of Maledetti Toscani shoes: the STUPENDO and the TOSTA. What happened as a result? My other shoes got almost no action over the last twelve months. Sorry.

STUPENDO Italian Leather Ankle Boots zipper
The STUPENDO Handmade Leather Ankle Boot with zipper open

Maledetti Toscani shoes are simply a few notches above regular shoes and once you get them you and your feet will only want to wear them. It is hard to explain why. I think two factors come together that produce a wonderful combination: style and quality. The STUPENDO are stunning: when I wear them, or see them on my friends who also got them, my thought invariable is: “wow, those are some good looking shoes”. The beautiful distressed leather exudes an understated elegance that is very captivating. The TOSTA, instead, are much flashier and noticeable because of the color, but because of their color they need to be more carefully matched with clothes that get along. I have a pair a gray jeans from Scotch and Soda and they make a match made in heaven.

The quality appears to be really high. After a year the construction is still like new. The leather on the STUPENDO is more beautiful than ever, while the silver on the TOSTA has worn off a bit giving it a little bit of a worn-in look and definitely not a worn-out look yet. Both shoes look like they will be with me for a while.

TOSTA Silver Sneakers
The TOSTA Silver Sneakers Looking Good!

If I had to choose just one pair, I would go with the STUPENDO because they are timeless. If you know me you would know that I prefer timeless over stylish, though not by such a landslide that I don’t touch anything stylish… In general, the STUPENDO are more versatile and they embody traditional Italian shoe craftsmanship in such a way that I am confident that they will last me a long time. I look forward to writing many blog posts about them over the next ten years. :-).

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