The name Borsalino is synonymous with fabulous hats, and has been for over 150 years. All the best stores in the world – from Harrods in London to Saks on Fifth Avenue in New York stock the famous Italian hat.
To trace the beginnings of this prestigious Italian fashion house we have to go back to 1834, the year that Alessandro Giuseppe Borsalino was born in Alessandria, a little city in the north-west of Italy. In 1850 the young Italian designer went to Paris, the centre of fashion and hat production, to begin his career as an apprentice in the Berteil hat company. Soon he became a skilled hat maker and decided to return to his native town.
The Borsalino hat company was set up by Alessandro and his brother Lazzaro in 1857. By the end of the 19th century the Italian brand had already expanded its activity overseas, with 60% of its production being exported.
They created many different hat collections, but two models in particular came to be associated with the company – both hand-made and going through a long and complicated production process taking many weeks. The first is the Panama hat, made from South American vegetal fiber “toquilla” then processed using a particular technique called “the fuma” to give its unique ivory color.
The second model is the patented fedora hat known as “the Borsalino”. The fedora first appeared at the end of the 19th century and was initially used by sportsman, then it become popular and was exported worldwide under the patented name of “Borsalino”. It is made of felt, a mixture of different furs including rabbit fur, then treated until the soft fabric is obtained. The Borsalino’s unmistakable shape has reached iconic status over the years. Humphrey Bogart wore one, as did John Belushi in The Blues Brothers. Late pop star Michael Jackson often wore a fedora, often matched with a trench just like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.
The relationship between Borsalino and the cinema is so strong that it regularly features in exhibitions and shows. One example was the recent exhibition Cinema Wears a Hat held in the Triennale di Milano. This trip through the history of cinema and fashion highlighted how the Italian hat is deeply connected with international cinema: from Indiana Jones to the westerns, from Johnny Depp to Audrey Hepburn and Greta Garbo.
The Borsalino has also given its name to two box-office hits. The first, Borsalino, came out in 1970 and starred Jean Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon as two French gangsters. A sequel followed in 1974, Borsalino and Co. After quite a fallow period for hat wearing, te two films re-launched the Borsalino hat onto the international fashion scene.
In 1900, after the death of Alessandro Borsalino, the company was taken over by his son, Teresio Borsalino, who headed it for 39 years. Then his nephew Teresio Usuelli, the last heir of the Borsalino family took over and was chairman until 1979, when he left it in the hands of Vittorio Vaccarino. Now Roberto Gallo is CEO and president of the company and has expanded it to include Asia and the US (with Borsalino America). There are now more than 15 flagship stores in Italy, France and China.
Borsalino now has men’s, women’s and children’s ready-to-wear collections, as well as accessories from perfumes to helmets and eyewear. With an annual turnover of almost 30 million Euros, Borsalino is still the leader in the Italian hat manufacturing.
Over the years the Borsalino family has not only made an impact on the history of fashion with their famous hats, but they’ve also influenced the history of their town. They are renowned for the charitable work they have done since the company started. They have financed a lot of works for the city of Alessandria, from the aqueduct to the orphanage and the old sanatorium.
Borsalio even has its own museum: The Borsalino Hat Museum has over 2000 exhibits and is located in the old Palazzo Borsalino in Alessandria. It was set up at the beginning of the 20th century by Arnaldo Gardella. Now it hosts shows, exhibitions and cultural initiatives as well as having a section dedicated to showing how the Borsalino hat is made, still following the same traditional manufacturing process.
So – hats off to Borsalino!
Borsalino Giuseppe & fratello S.P.A.Via Bruno Buozzi, 98
00197, Roma, Italy
Tel: [+39] 06 3220011
Showroom:Via Lanza 4, angolo Foro Buonaparte,
20121 Milano, Italy
Tel: [+39] 02 878910
Fax: [+39] 02 72080341