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Celine stakes success more than ever on leather goods growth

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Nicola Mira
Published
today Oct 20, 2019
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Celine has boosted its production capacity in Italy by opening a new factory for leather goods, a category that is strategic for the French luxury label owned by the LVMH group, accounting for over half of its sales. Celine has built a state-of-the-art factory in Radda in Chianti, about 40 km south of Florence, adding to the facilities it already operates in the region. It is a significant milestone for luxury goods giant LVMH, which now has 30 factories in Italy.
 

Celine’s new leather goods factory in Radda in Chianti, Italy - ph Thomas Dell'Agnello


On Thursday, Toni Belloni, group managing director of LVMH, Sidney Toledano, the CEO of LVMH Fashion Group, together with the local authorities and Séverine Merle, CEO of Celine, and her staff, travelled to Radda in Chianti for the grand inauguration of “La Manufacture” (the Factory), as the facility is  known, an imposing building overlooking Radda’s hill, set in a 9,000 m2 tract of land. Among the guests, Laudomia Pucci, vice-president of Florentine label Pucci.
 
The small town of Radda in Chianti lies within a rural landscape of vineyards, vales and forested hills stretching as far as the eye can see. Celine’s factory has been built on an old industrial site, that of former kitchen furniture manufacturer Laca, which lay abandoned for 20 years and was razed to the ground. The newly constructed building, elevated off the ground and featuring a wooden roof, iron superstructure and glass blocks, extends over 5,200 m2, with an additional 4,000 m2 of parking space at ground level.

The glass blocks provide natural lighting and optimise the thermal performance of a roof equipped with solar panels and a rainwater-collection system. The environmentally friendly, eco-sustainable building was designed by architect Fabio Barluzzi.

All the stages in the manufacturing process of Celine's handbags are mustered in one single central platform within the building, a huge open-plan area encircled by windows overlooking the yellow-green Chianti hillside vineyards.
 
Inside this bright, open space work 129 people, of which 117 are leather goods specialists, all wearing grey smocks and sneakers, all focused on their workbenches and machines as they cut and punch the leather, assemble the sections and craft the products with scissors and needles. The staff is expected to double in numbers by 2021. “La Manufacture” has been operational since June, and feels like a quiet beehive, where everything is matter of manual dexterity and precision. Some 15 lines of handbags and small leather goods are produced here, including the ‘Trio’ and ‘Triomphe’ models, and the ‘16’ pouch.
 

Celine’s most iconic bags, like the ‘16’ pouch pictured here, are produced in Radda - ph Dominique Muret


“It was a major investment,” said one of Celine’s managers, without giving further details. According to FashionNetwork.com sources, the figure was in excess of €20 million, half of it for the building of the factory alone. The project was initiated in 2015, three years before the arrival of Hedi Slimane, who took charge of creativity for the Parisian label in 2018.

As Séverine Merle underlined, “the strength and uniqueness of Celine is that it is capable of standing brilliantly on its own two feet, with the vision of Hedi Slimane on one side, and its own expertise on the other. The label strikes the right balance between fashion and leather goods. It is unlike any others in this respect.” Celine’s other peculiarity is that it has always produced its leather goods in Tuscany.
 
Celine operates another workshop in the region, located in Strada in Chianti, 20 km from Radda, half-way between the new factory and Florence, which is specialised in leather goods prototyping, production and repairs. “Since the 1960s, founder Céline Vipiana used to come to Tuscany looking for this special craftsman’s touch and especially this unparalleled way of working leather, as well as the degree of organisational flexibility, enabling a central production plant to rely on a network of local partners,” said Sidney Toledano.
 
“Production started in the Strada factory in 1979, a factory which the label bought in 1994. There are 300 people working there now, and the site also hosts our training centre,” said Jean-Marie Tizon, industrial director of Celine in Italy.

At the new Radda plant, artisans who have been with the label for over 40 years work alongside new recruits, mostly local factory workers who have retrained in leather goods manufacturing at Celine’s internal academy and at the temporary workshop that was set up in Strada, to prepare for the new site’s launch. A system that enables Celine to ensure the ideal hand-over of its leather goods know-how.
 

Celine’s new factory in Radda in Chianti, Italy, overhanging a hill - ph Thomas Dell'Agnello


“Within the two plants, Celine will control the entire production cycle: from the research and development of raw materials (leather, fabrics and metallic components) to product development (prototyping, pattern creation and collection design), including raw material purchases, to quality control and finished-product manufacturing,” said Celine in a press release.

LVMH currently employs approximately 11,000 people in Italy, a number that has doubled in the last five to six years. Including “La Manufacture”, the group now operates 30 production sites in Italy. LVMH has a strong presence in Tuscany, notably another leather goods factory in Incisa in Val d'Arno, which produces handbags for Louis Vuitton.

There is also a factory for Bulgari accessories, active since 2005, and next year Fendi is expected to open a new, 13,000 m2 factory on the old Fornace Brunelleschi industrial site in Bagno a Ripoli, also located near Florence, where the label has been based for many years with 250 employees. Also Christian Dior, Givenchy and Loro Piana have workshops in the region.
 

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