VALSTAR – sporty and elegant at the same time
If you say jacket, an expert would add “Valstar”. It is an odd garment to be hung near the doorway for grabbing it quickly. It is not the smartest garment you can find in a wardrobe. However, it is one of the items which remained the same since the beginning and one of the most loved garments by both the classy and sporty man. A jacket in suede lambskin leather, “full-grain” leather as it is said, cut at waist, with belt, knit neck and wristbands, in order to stick to the body when it is windy, and two pockets (sometimes the pockets double on the inside with the zipper). The first jacket was sold in 1935. But the company, which created this garment, was founded more than twenty years ago.
Back to the beginning of the 20th century, to the gentlemen with their tailored overcoats, all made with natural fibres, which, if it rained, made the coat and the suit below very wet. Unless gentlemen carried a providential but uncomfortable and cumbersome umbrella.
The search for a waterproof natural fabric (the natural fibres were not discovered yet) took a long time.
Obviously, the British companies were the first ones to search for this kind of fabric, considering the weather characteristics and their great taste in male fashion style.
In the end, several companies could manufacture a waterproof cotton gabardine.
Originality AND FINE FABRICS
The raincoat was invented and companies were distributing it in Europe and America. In Italy an English brand – The English Fashion Waterproof, branch of the Mandleberg company in Manchester – established the first raincoat factory in Milan in 1911. Sai Vita, born in China but Milanese of origin, was called to run it. The definition might seem inadequate, but it introduces an incredible man. Actually, Vita was born in Shanghai, but his surname came from a Jewish family from Milan. In the late 19th century, Sai’s father fell in love with a dancer: repudiated by his family, he left for the Far East with his lover and there they had eleven children. They travelled the country with a kind of wagon and organised performances in Chinese cities. However, Sai came back to Italy for study reasons. He was a citizen of the world, he travelled a lot and could speak different languages. In the raincoat factory he imposed a specific philosophy: they had to prefer original processing techniques and the use of the finest fabrics.
Now the elegant sketches of that time are collected in Valstar’s archive: small sketches describing a gentleman with his trench coat walking in the crowd of the downtown. He was taking his dog out for a walk and maybe he was heading to the office, since he was carrying a briefcase under his arm or he was having fun with his wealthy friends, judging from the fabulous convertibles on the background.
Even before the year 1920, the British company decided to leave Italy and Vita took over the company. He was very attentive to the advertisement. The first adv campaigns were published in the early 1920s and commissioned to Lana, a great illustrator. During the war Gino Boccasile was the designer of the adv campaigns and created an adv where a lady was getting off an airplane of Lai, Alitalia’s predecessor. Another poster of the same artist, maybe published before the last one, was even more austere: a gentleman and a lady seemed to be very worn out after the war. In the Postwar Paolo Federico Garretto was commissioned to draw Valstar’s adv and he created incredible situations in order to highlight the product excellence. The raincoat was empty and surrounded by little men hurrying to stretch it as if it were a kind of Gulliver. “Valstar’s raincoats are checked carefully before they leave the factory”, as the slogan said. Or the same garment as a shell without the body was in front of a Court: “Strict judges will examine every Valstar’s raincoat (Supergabardine 1409) before the sale” and then as tagline “…they ascertain the perfection of measures and fabric quality and the waterproofness and resistance of the dye”. This idea of a living raincoat was successful and it was used for other sketches: with Math teachers who certified the excellence through complex equations, with customs officers who examined carefully every suitability. Also with the most influential people, such as Roosevelt, Churchill. Stalin, De Gaulle, Mao Tse Tung and De Gasperi, around a table where the raincoat was at the centre of attention: “We do agree on one detail only…A Valstar is worth more than its price”.
ALWAYS MADE IN ITALY.
Valstar created its most iconic item. The factory was based in Via Plinio 38 (when it was at the top with over 300 workers, Valstar moved to Via Ampère and then Via Amadeo and now the production is in Mantua).
The source of inspiration might come from the world of motors. The jackets in Nappa leather for pilots, drivers and bikers. No doubt it was an Italian creation: it was successful also abroad but the manufacturers were always Italian (Salfra, that no longer exists, was a famous jacket brand).
The model launched in 1935 was the same you now find in shops. In 1972, when Max, Sai’s son, took over the company, they had to face difficult situations, such as the opening, maybe too early, of flagship stores, as the one in Via Manzoni in Milan. This store was a very important place for the Milanese middle class. As Stefano Massa (Valstar’s President from 2001) explained: “Maybe, the model launched in 1935 had sleeves wider than the today’s jacket. Over the years there was only a few shape adjustments for adapting to the transformations of man’s body and some adjustments for using other materials (wool, cashmere, linen and microfibre also washed and treated), but we are still faithful to what it was considered an absolute novelty: the suede lambskin leather, “full-grain” and the model with knit neck and wristbands, the stitching on the front and the buttons. But be careful! The term suede refers to the processing technique and not to the origin of the leather”. Furthermore, also in the adv campaigns Valstar preferred long term startegies and slow persuasion compared to quick slogans and clamorous effects.
So did they with the logo used in 1978 when the company was sponsoring the National football team for the World Cup in Argentina: a stick man (which was also used for the Valstarino line) appeared on the front page, near the headline, of the most important national newspapers for a long time. There was an exception, few years before, but only thanks to Vita’s good friendships with Hollywood celebs, when Jane Fonda wore the unmistakably recognisable Valstar jacket in “They shoot horses, Don’t they?”.