Michele and Paolo Massa are the third generation owners of an old Milanese company that successfully navigated through the last century whilst continuing to grow, and now in this period of deep global crisis the company continues to invest in its human capital by valuing the fine and precious craftsmanship that has always represented the real added value of the Made in Italy trademark.
Turning difficulty into opportunity as is typical of the family, Fontana has adapted to the economic crisis in Italy and the world and is anticipating the long-awaited recovery with a new line of products that will certainly serve as a solid foundation for future growth in an increasingly global market where only the creativity and artisanship of master craftsmen can overcome the global challenges facing all Italian companies involved in fashion.
During the darkest moments of the economic crisis, Michele and Paolo Massa have been able to guarantee
Full employment by instilling in what they refer to as their “extended family” the spirit of belonging which helps sustain them through hard times and overcome the most difficult challenges in the knowledge that no-one will be left behind. Over 250 workers and craftsmen employed directly by the company, and almost triple that number if you count the suppliers, have shared these difficult times confident that they will find a way to overcome them. The pride that you can see in the eyes of these two young entrepreneurs is crystallized by the growing number of people employed by their company at a time when just keeping jobs is already considered a huge achievement.
The first world war had just broken out in 1915 when the sharp entrepreneur Guido Pieracci, born in 1896
and the maternal grandfather of Michele and Paolo Massa founded his handcrafted leather goods firm Fontana in via Porta Rossa 5 in the historic centre of Florence. It was here where the strong sense of family took root within the company, which consisted of a workshop with 30 master craftsmen, a retail shop and the Pieracci family residence next door. This Italian way of setting up a company most surely gave rise to the popular expression “Casa e Bottega”(Living over the shop).
A multi-talented figure with a forceful personality, Pieracci was an artist, painter and journalist, and used
the raw material of leather to give free rein to his creativity. Creating the first Fontana collection, he introduced a new concept of coordinated gift items and small leather goods that were innovatively designed and handcrafted from the best quality materials. The symbiotic relationship between creativity and quality raw materials resulted in the concept of refined luxury, exclusivity and customisation which quickly allowed the company to capture the market in Italy and beyond, and in the United States in particular.
Marking the end of the second world war, 1945 was also a very important year for Fontana and Pieracci, whose intuition and farsightedness saw the huge potential of Milan which later became the economic hub of the entire country.
Making a decision which was rather unusual at that time, he transferred the whole company
(including the craftsmen) to Milan, and from this nucleus rooted in Florence he built the company into what
it is today. The company immediately started its upward climb and the craftsmen became masters who passed on the secrets of their trade to the new generations entering the firm. Fontana successfully introduced its collections to a city that was at the crossroads of art, culture and social events. Initially establishing operations in Viale Lazio, the company remained true to its original spirit and layout with the workshop, retail store and residence all at the same premises.
The company started to grow in postwar Milan. Lully Pieracci, Guido’s oldest daughter, met and married the young Carlo Massa, who was already a successful, international salesman for the historic Olivetti typewriters. He owed his brilliant career in international sales due to his desire to travel, meet new people, and learn about different countries and customs. Seeing this drive in his son-in-law, Pieracci brought him into the family firm with the task of expanding the company overseas. Within a few short years the Fontana brand became known throughout the world for its high quality and design.
The firm launched its first collection of Fontana bags in 1954, which became the core of its production operations. With the shrewd farsightedness of Pieracci and the adventurous spirit of Massa, the firm successfully entered the Japanese market in 1961 and quickly gained a large share of the luxury market in the Far East.
The next year, Massa took on more and more of the corporate duties leaving Pieracci free to devote himself to his industrial relations work. Together with the heads of seven other leather goods firms, Pieracci founded AIMPEC (Associazione Nazionale Industriali Manifatturieri Pelle e Cuoio - National Association of Leather Manufacturers) which later became AIMPES (Associazione Italiana Manifatturieri Pelli-Cuoio e Succedanei – Italian Association of Real and Synthetic Leather Manufacturers).
Pieracci’s constant commitment to promoting the leather goods industry culminated in the founding of MIPEL (Mercato Internazionale della Pelletteria – International Leather Goods Show). He served as president between 1972-1973 and later also successfully presided over CEDIM (Comité Européen des Industries de la Maroquinerie – European Committee for Leather Goods Industries). Within this context, Fontana gained its international reputation for the fine craftsmanship that was so highly prized by the most important international design firms which continue their close manufacturing ties with the company still to this day.
By 1970 Fontana was already an internationally well-known company and its founder decided to hand over the reins to his son-in-law, Carlo Massa, who became president. Pieracci still continued his international industrial relations work for many years, flying the Made in Italy flag high.
1970 also marked a turning point when the ever-expanding company decided to relocate to its current headquarters on via Trebbia near the Porta Romana due to the need for more space and a more efficient operational organisation. The 4,500 square meter premises now accommodate larger workshops, raw materials storerooms, design and development offices and of course internal production.
At this point Fontana could count over half a century of experience in the leather goods industry, combining an artisan culture with industrial-scale production to create a very high profile product.
Continuing its trajectory of growth, Carlo Massa injected new energy into the company in 1979 by bringing in his young sons, Michele and Paolo Massa. They started working alongside the master craftsmen from whom they quickly learned the secrets of the trade and the intrinsic complexity of artisan production on an industrial scale, two terms that are polar opposite but which represent the success achieved by the company in combining the needs of industrial production with those of a handcrafted finished product.
Approximately 10 years after entering the family business, Michele and Paolo Massa assumed control of the company upon the premature death of their father. They continued to run the firm still keeping the traditional family values but combining them with innovation. In order to maintain the high level of craftsmanship, they decided to open a new manufacturing division in Florence, the original birthplace of the company and cradle of the leather goods industry, integrating the increasing needs of an industrial concern with the artisanship of master craftsmen. Today, the company employs over 300 direct workers and can count itself as one of the few manufacturing firms remaining in the city.
Nowadays Michele and Paolo are ready to diffuse their style, their sign of craftsmanship worldwide. Fontana Milano 1915 is representing their generation signature and their authentic made in Italy proposal.