Damiano Biella’s worked with designers like Valentino Garavani and Tom Ford. the Italian’s latest role: To transform the classic German leather goods label into a fashion-forward accessories house.
He Has Serious Cred
“I cut my teeth as Tom Ford’s assistant (in the early ’90s) and later became Valentino Garavani’s right-hand man. (He was also menswear designer at Celine, and creative director at Escada and Carolina Herrera.) Ford taught me how important vision is for a designer, while Valentino influenced me with the drama and poetry of fashion. (It was during my last role…) as creative director at Italian leather goods label Gherardini that I was introduced to the co-owners of Lianbee-Jeco (the Asia-Pacific distributor of Braun Buffel that also runs its design team)… and I was attracted to their straightforward proposition: Take Braun Buffel global and make it fashion-forward. I get bored easily and always want to push myself creatively, so I moved to Singapore last year to take it on. To me, Braun Buffel is like the sleeping beauty of luxury brands and that excites me. It’s a 127-year-old house whose full potential has yet to be realised.”
He’s Taking a Fashion Approach
“Our strength is in making leather goods. Consumers know that our quality is consistent and the workmanship top-notch, even though we might lack a fashion-forward look. We’re simply injecting the brand with a fashion edge using trendier shapes and colours… We’re not suddenly making bags with three handles or doing strange shapes or only nylon bags; we’re improving a design concept. This way, we’re able to capture the customers we don’t have yet. One of the first things I also did when I started was to house our team in the right environment. We redesigned the studio and set up a showroom (a first) for presentations. If you breathe fashion, it’s easier to talk, design and sell fashion. I’ve also tapped on Spanish lensman Nico Bustos for our campaign for Fall because I love his fresh eye. He’s shot for Vogue Spain, and models like Naomi Campbell and Elizabeth Jagger.”
He’s Introduced a Premium Line…
“We’ve launched a limited edition collection called Made In Florence for men and women, because there is a demand for an exclusive product from our customers. The bags are made by an atelier that also produces for luxury labels, and are all about handcrafted workmanship, from the cutting of the leathers to the casting of the moulds. The women’s is split into two collections: the Pagoda, which features a top-handle bag in smooth calfskin that has a curved top inspired by Yves Saint Laurent’s signature Pagoda shoulders from the ’70s; and Precious, which boasts a more casual tote and satchel made from full-grain embossed leather. There will be new additions to Made In Florence every season.”
…Plus A New Monogram
“I believe every established fashion house needs a monogram – all the houses I’ve worked for has one. We’ve based it on our bull logo. It’s a pattern made up of four bulls to create a modern, graphic look. The emblem ticks all the qualities of what a good and lasting monogram should be in my books: It looks chic, has a strong design element, comes in classic, subtle colour combinations like taupe and olive, and – most importantly – lets people identify the brand at a glance. Bonus: All our monogram bags come with a detachable pouch.”
“Our bags ride high on function. There are pockets and compartments for your cables and iPad, for instance. This is something that has not changed and that I don’t intend to change. We also ensure that our bags are light, thanks to our leather expertise. Prices are practical too: below $2,000, even though 90 per cent of leathers come from Italy (the rest come from South Korea). They’re from the same tanneries that produce for big boys like Hermes and Chanel. Affordable luxury is the key word as we move forward. Another thing that has not changed: We create bags for all occasions, from casual to more dressy designs.”
He Produces in China – and is Proud of it
“The issue is not where your bags are made, but how they are made. Just because a bag is ‘Made in Italy’ does not mean it is good. You can do amazing bags in Poland, Romania and, in our case, China. Being a leather goods house from the 19th century means quality is king for us. Our bags are not simple to make; they’re not just about straight lines or two easy seams. There are tricky constructions involved. I challenge our factory staff with hand-stitching details and more time-consuming techniques all the time. We can achieve all that due to the amount of attention being put in. This foundation was already in place before I came, and I’m just continuing what’s already laid out for me.”
This article was originally published in Female October 2014.