Northwest Italy pipemaker with a unique history
marks 50 years with a special celebration
by Dayton H. Matlick
(Originally published in the Fall 1997 issue of P&T Magazine)
Brebbia is located near the small village in northwest Italy from which
it draws its name. Situated between two lakes in one of the most
beautiful areas of Italy, the village is within sight of the
awe-inspiring Swiss Alps.
| It is
decided that Achille Savinelli will live in Milan, where the most
important Savinelli tobacconist shop is located, and be in charge of
sales and distribution for the new company, while Enea Buzzi will run
the pipemaking operation in Brebbia. |
All pipes made will carry the name of Savinelli and be sold through the Savinelli tobacconist shops. From its 1947 beginning, the new company decides to go against existing trends. Just a few miles away in Barasso, the enormous Rossi pipe company reputedly turns out a rail car full of pipes every day. However, their 900 employees produce pipes so cheaply they must stamp "made from real briar" on each pipe in an effort to convince the skeptics.
Post World War II Italy is far from the Italy of 1997. The reputation for craftsmanship has yet to be developed. The approach throughout Italy is to make a profit by producing low-quality products as cheaply as possible, making profits based on volume. This is before the heydays of Ferrari, Gucci, Georgio Armani and other Italian companies whose high quality products would come to be known throughout the world.
Equal owners of the new company, the cousins are in the forefront of this new direction. In contrast to Rossi, they decide to produce high-quality pipes and to follow their uncle's advice about developing export outlets.
However, both principals are strong, opinionated, talented individuals. Friction develops until, by 1953, it is decided that Savinelli will be able to buy some of his pipes elsewhere and Buzzi will sell some of his pipes to retailers other than Savinelli. By 1956, Savinelli builds his own factory only a quarter of a mile from the Rossi factory in Barasso and all pipes produced by Buzzi go out under the name Pipe Brebbia.
Pictured above, Constantino(right) adjusts a pipemaking machine that will be operated by Ousmane Camara(left)
A second trend the young company soon is fighting is not one of their choosing. At the time the new pipe company starts, pipes are the cheapest and most popular way of smoking in Italy; cigarettes are relatively expensive. However, the popularity of American cigarettes is established by the American occupational troops. Major progress in the automation of cigarette-making soon results in huge reductions in cigarette prices. The economic advantage of pipes is gone! Combined with the decision to produce high-quality pipes, the fledgling company has more than enough challenges.
"To succeed, Brebbia had to innovate." says Luciano Buzzi, son of Enea, and head of Pipe Brebbia today. "In the early days, my father created a cap for pipes that would keep out the rain, but let needed air in through strategically placed holes. We were also one of the first to move to acrylic mouthpieces---mouthpieces that always look good. We also developed a smoke dispersing device-a small insert for the mouthpiece. It breaks up the stream of smoke and spreads it more evenly throughout the mouth. Especially if you are a beginning pipesmoker, it can reduce tongue burn. The insert pops out for cleaning your pipe.
secret of Brebbia's successes is that we are a mix of classical,
freehand and personal designs-selling a balance of finish, quality and
form to fit individual tastes. In every pipe you can see the origin of
the shape. As a result, all of our pipes look familiar, even if the
shape is basically new. |
"To foster this, we make all of our mouthpieces by hand, giving each a particular look. We also like to give our shanks a cylindrical shape; and we pay special attention to the point where the shank and bowl come together. We want to give the impression that the bowl grows organically out of the stem. People who are 'Brebbia fellows' can tell this look at any distance."
While Luciano talks about these innovations, his pen is seldom still. Soon drawings fill page after page-simple, direct, informative. The mini-mystery of the drawings is solved when he talks about joining the company 20 years ago.
It turns out that Luciano, a tall, soft-spoken, but typically emotional Italian, is a graduate architect. At one time, his goal in life was to design houses. He progressed to the point where he had designed some home interiors. Then, when he was 23, his father asked that he come to the factory and help with its reorganization. He started in shipping and warehousing and never turned back. "I fell in love with the creativity of producing beautiful pipes from briar. Now, the pipe is my life!" says Luciano.
His home is evidence that the architectural training is still with him. He designed a structure with an off-center roof where beams soar upward in an interesting interplay of shapes. Glass barriers between the beams reveal this wooden beauty, while keeping air movement, including heating and cooling, under control.
In a nearby garage rest three other projects-his "girls"-two Harley-Davidson motorcycles he has modified himself, and an immaculate 1946 MG-TC-one of the original molded wood frame models-that he has restored himself. All rest under protective covering until they have their turn again in the sun.
When Luciano joined Pipe Brebbia 20 years ago, there were 35 employees, down from 90 during the company's hey day. In the earlier days, with the far greater numbers, workers were specialized. Today, with 14 people making pipes, supported by three others, including Luciano, the workshop turns out 14,000 pipes a year from primarily Ligurian Italian briar. For the last 10 years, all pipes produced have been based on Luciano's architecturally-aided designs.
In the meantime, Enea Buzzi has been pioneering new directions on his own. They can all be traced back to his project to compete with Falcon pipes, beginning in 1964. To do this he had to learn to mold metal, especially aluminum. Then he mastered the really difficult technology of applying chrome to cast aluminum.