From the moment you clap eyes on Serapian’s exquisitely crafted bags, it’s difficult not to be overcome with extraordinary feelings of covetousness. Your gaze lingers greedily on the no-nonsense geometry of the designs, the elegant hardware and the penny logo, the brand’s signature detail on its zip pulls formed of founder Stefano Serapian’s initials. And then there’s the label’s finely crafted leathers – they take your breath away.
No one does leather quite like the Italians, and one would wager that no one uses the material quite as well as Serapian. It has had more than 70 years to perfect its approach, its honed artistry and craftsmanship evident immediately in the nuances of the leathers it has created – the bold weave of the Mosaico, the subtlety of the Stepan with its interlinking S design, and the unbridled elegance of the Evolution calfskin. That all three still form the cornerstone of Serapian’s current collections despite having been created more than half a century ago is a credit to the vision of founders Stefano and his wife Gina.
That their love story began in a country indelibly linked with romance is rather fitting. Having emigrated to Italy with his brother from Armenia in the 1920s, Stepan, as he was known then, was taken in by an order of Benedictine monks, given the Italianate name of Stefano and sent to work alongside two artisans who were producing shoe uppers in Milan. It was here that Stefano Serapian’s first great love affair began. He was enchanted not just by the craftsmen’s artistry but also by the leather they used, so much so that he couldn’t resist the urge to take the leftover offcuts and fashion them into small leather accessories. His first creations delighted the Milanese market and it was while on a selling trip to Montecatini, a few hours south of the city, that Stefano and Gina’s paths crossed.
Finding a mutual appreciation not just for business but also each other, the pair forged an alliance that would underpin the very ethics by which Serapian operates today. This is a business with passion at its heart and with Stefano and Gina’s son Ardavast now at the helm, the unwavering dedication to quality, to detail and to handcrafted techniques is preserved. As Ardavast notes, he was captivated by the business from an early age. “As a child, I remember running in between the craftsmen’s workbenches; to me they looked tall and huge, and I used to stare at them with the utmost curiosity,” reveals Ardavast. “I was fascinated to see what they were able to construct with their hands and strange tools.” What they did create were bags that stand in the lexicon of fashion history as a status symbol in the era of Hollywood glamour, renowned for an understated elegance that is now being rediscovered and appreciated by a new generation.
It is fascinating to look back through the archives and see that Frank Sinatra commissioned his own bespoke creation or learn that Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart were all avid fans. Most famously, perhaps, Serapian had its own moment as the star of the show when one of its bags was featured on the arm of Audrey Hepburn in the 1966 film How to Steal a Million. Today, as Ardavast points out, “Our brand is mostly known and appreciated within a niche group of people whose primary concerns are quality and functionality… it is something that goes far beyond mere fashion.” He adds, “Our customers are very affectionate; once they choose us they stick with us forever.”
With the weight of such heritage to uphold, one wonders whether it is difficult for Ardavast and his team of maestri to innovate and move forward. “This is a very delicate issue indeed,” Ardavast admits, “not least because our loyal customers expect those traditional styles they have known a lifetime. However, in recent years, I think we have been able to achieve a correct balance between our traditions and innovation. Of course, we’ll never introduce revolutionary designs, but I think we have chosen items that appeal to the younger generations, too.” Serapian’s spring/summer 2016 collection, with its energetic pops of colour, is proof that the brand is far from stuck in its ways. Plus, with a new generation of discerning consumer around, one that appreciates fine craftsmanship and the luxury of having something created just for them (Serapian’s bespoke service is quite something), it comes as no surprise to see that Serapian is in the spotlight once again.
Collections available at:
Harrods, 87-135 Brompton Road, SW1X 7XL.
020 7730 1234.