Ferrari’s pioneering Tailor-made project allows clients to personalise their car, bringing together the best of Italian expertise in design, leather and textile, including fine wool, velvet and even cashmere for the interiors and the flooring. We discover the secrets of one of the oldest Italian companies, Vitale Barberis Canonico, which collaborates with Ferrari on the project
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Some 10 years have passed since Maranello decided to allow Ferrari customers the chance to personalise their cars. The resulting project took its name from that celebrated tailor of car bodies, Sergio Scaglietti (whose memory we salute with great affection elsewhere in this issue). That initial idea enjoyed such success that nearly all Ferrari models created today feature at least one detail that has been specifically created for its buyer. The scope and range of this service is being constantly updated and extended. Another dimension was added in 2008, one for customers looking or something truly unique, for a “one-off” design created under their own supervision, like the wonderful SP12 EC, which has just been collected by proud owner Eric Clapton.
There was still a space to be filled, however, a demand to be met: to provide a bespoke Ferrari without having to alter the bodywork or mechanicals (a ruling which has always held good; changes never involve performance, which, of course, is at the highest level from the very beginning). Thus the Tailor-made concept came into being, offering customers the possibility to personalise fully their Ferrari to their individual (and sometimes rather unexpected) tastes. These cars are overseen by Ferrari Design and produced along the lines of models that previously appeared in competition, or are some of the most elegant GTs of the past, filtered through the desires and styles of the customers. Lapo Elkann, who along with Flavio Manzoni, the Director of Ferrari Design, brought an energy and creativity to the Tailor-made project, actually upholstered his personal California in blue denim cloth, with startling results. And then there was the FF with seats in a soft pinstripe, combined with a soft, supple leather and teak-lined luggage space, that was presented to the media at Maranello. Obviously, there’s more to a Tailor-made Ferrari than the upholstery. Various processes are involved, according to the concept of the car in question. The one constant is the excellence of the raw materials. Or, to be more specific, the Italian raw materials. Ferrari insists on using the best of its native country’s fabrics. The Tailor-made FF that was shown off to the world’s press boasted the very same pinstripe material that is worn by both Prince Charles and the Duke of Kent. The fabric is created by Vitale Barberis Canonico, the traditional Piedmont firm that has dressed a discerning international clientele for 400 years. Ferrari’s near-obsessive attention to detail when it comes to selecting suppliers for Tailor-made also holds good for the velvets of Ermenegildo Zegna and Apollo, the carpeting and interiors created with Loro Piana and Blot cashmere and the denim of Indigoscape. Maranello conducts scrupulous wear and resistance trials on all these various components, in addition to safety tests.
To give a clearer example of just what we mean by Italian excellence, I visited the Biella region, lying 80km northeast of Turin and renowned for its production of fine cloths and cashmere, all thanks to the waters that flow straight from the Alps. It’s extremely hard, a fundamental requirement for dyeing and finishing materials. Francesco Barberis Canonico, who, along with his cousin Alessandro, is the latest link in the long chain made up of previous generations of weavers, leads the way up the hairpin bends from the Piedmont plains up to Pratrivero.
From behind the wheel of his silver 360 Modena, he explains: ‘ We have been here for 400 years. Or rather, for much longer, given that this valley has been famed for its fabrics since the Romans. The first document that proves our tradition as wool producers dates from 1663, when we sold pieces of twill to the Duke of Savoy, the predecessor of what was to become the Italian royal house.’ Pratrivero sits on the slopes of the Sessera valley, with the Vitale Barberis Canonico mill built over several levels, heading down the mountainside until it almost touches that precious water that, together with the wool and cutting-edge technologies that have been installed over the years, make up the company’s secret of success. ‘Our family is particularly lucky because we complement each other: my father Luciano, like me, has a special vocation for commercial and communication [Francesco has now taken on responsibility for marketing and design], and my uncle Alberto and his son Alessandro [now CEO] are very keen on technology and manufacturing.’ When you tour the factory, you are immediately struck by the blend of craftsmanship and high technology that is such a recognisable feature of Ferrari. Staff work by hand on fabrics here, in much the same way as their counterparts at Maranello handle Frau leathers.
And the same applies to technology, as Barberis Canonico points out: ‘Many of the machines weuse are the result of designs we have produced ourselves to allow us to always be at the forefront. For example, dyeing operates around the clock without the need for any human intervention, and it’s all programmed digitally.’ The raw yarn goes in and then comes out, classified on the basis of a complex colour scale, to then be sent on to weaving in accordance with a strict plan that follows changing tastes in fashion. The looms are carefully housed to lessen their acoustic impact: ‘They run at 800-850 picks a minute, compared with an average of 400-500 elsewhere in the industry.’ The factory offers a fascinating insight, starting with the greasy wool freshly imported from Australia, then on to the washing and combing processes and finally the finished fabric, kept in a completely automated warehouse, where it is stored at controlled temperature and humidity. If the final result is perfect, so much so that it attracts a global customer base (including the British royal family, by appointment to the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales), the raw materials must be perfect too. ‘Our wool comes from Australian sheep, as well as South African goats for mohair and Mongolian goats for cashmere,’ says Alberto, who, although retired, remains an invaluable presence at the company. He’s looking through a filing cabinet for a publication he wants to show me. It’s entitled A Guide To The Classification And Preparation Of Wool Clips 18.5u And Finer, written for Australian breeders to help them set standards for the wool intended to be sold at auction. ‘Various types of wool are put up for auction, and classification is fundamentally important to ensure we are only buying excellence. We receive information of the batches for sale in real time and only bid for the segment that corresponds to the quality we are seeking on the basis of our data.’ He shows me a print-out of an auction that had taken place just a few hours previously, during which the company had bought just a small amount of wool, aiming for quality rather than quantity. ‘We have experience on two levels,’ says Francesco. ‘We are not simply wool buyers, but also wool sellers, because we manufacture in two mills that we own in New England in Australia: Green Hill and Clavering. This puts us in a position to gain the necessary experience to gauge all market issues and quality trends.’
If it rains more or less in one particular season, grazing and yield will then be different, which entails a need to blend carefully, so that the yarn remains homogenous. Among other things, seasonal differences can bring about contradictory results: while a rainy year nourishes the sheep very well, they can also collect a greater amount of impurities from brambles and dry grass athering on their fleece, which then calls for a laborious process of cleaning and inspection.’
Nearing the end of the factory tour, you approach a complex system of tanks that collect the precious water used for manufacturing and purification. Downstream from the factory is a small lake, complete with a boat moored on one of its banks. Carp and goldfish splash around in the water. ‘My uncle drinks the water, to show it’s just as pure as it was before the manufacturing process,’ Francesco says, smiling. We head back upstairs to the entrance floor where, among other offices, is the design department, always working on new fabrics for a market that seeks to balance a classic tradition with a more contemporary outlook. Alessandro, on his way out of the production department, with its manically whirling looms, is a man of few words (classic Piedmontese).
His one constant concern is the progress of the manufacturing process, the invention and introduction of new machinery and the preparation of fabrics suitable for all seasons and all corners of the globe. These fabrics are also ideal for the truly unique interiors of those owners who want to enjoy free rein to give their Ferraris a personal elegance, right down to the last detail. Speaking at the Tailor-made presentation, Lapo Elkann declared: ‘The best thing about the idea is that, on request, if our customer asks for it, we can change the fabric from one season to the next.’ Cars that follow fashion, in other words. Unthinkable, until now. On the other hand, at Pratrivero, they have the widest possible range of solutions: in a spectacular archive next to the company’s design department, are hundreds of folders containing samples of woollen fabrics from the 1800s up until the present day. An inexhaustible source of inspiration that goes from the Belle Epoque to Art Nouveau and Art Deco and on to the post-war period and the works of contemporary stylists.
‘Our point of reference has always been the tailor. From the Caraceni to the Panico in Italy, to the tailors of London’s Savile Row and then all over the world; these are the people we are always thinking about when we create our cloth. If the tailors like them, the top-end, ready-to-wear labels will like them too,’ explains Francesco, as he walks with us along the narrow mountain road that passes by the entrance. Those top-end labels he mentioned, though he refrained from referring to them by name, include the likes of Hermès, Armani, Brioni, Kiton and Zegna. There’s a chill in the air, though the sun is shining up in the mountains. The snow has already made an appearance and in the little trattoria nearby you can tuck into a hearty meal of polenta and mushrooms from the local woods in exactly the same way as you could 50 years ago. Good enough to warrant a longer stay…
I happen to meet the village tailor. His name is Giovanni Barberis Organista. Is he related? ‘No. Or perhaps yes. Here in Pratrivero we’re all called Barberis. And so, to tell us apart, we added a family characteristic to our surnames. One of my ancestors was an organist, some of them joined the clergy… How different the world was.’ Really? Surely not in Pratrivero where, even if the machinery is now ultra-modern, everything reminds you of a modest, hard-working world that maybe no longer exists. And one which we are increasingly nostalgic for.
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine 16 issue March 2012