MILAN — Valextra’s trip “back to the future” is in the hands of Massimo Suppancig, the newly appointed chief executive of the Italian luxury leather goods house.

Suppancig, a fashion veteran whose résumé includes top jobs at Escada and Hugo Boss, has taken a stake in Valextra and plans to restore the Milan-based company to its former glory. In the Sixties and Seventies, Valextra was a favorite of such style icons as Jacqueline Kennedy, Grace Kelly and Gianni Agnelli, and renowned for its luxurious, made-to-order travel cases and handbags.

“We are looking at the company’s historical tradition and quality craftsmanship, while adding modern and practical touches,” said Suppancig in an exclusive interview. He noted that in postwar Italy, Valextra trademarked such items as briefcases, the first men’s handbag, the first retractable handle on a rigid suitcase with wheels, a coin wallet that snaps open with hand pressure, and a combination-lock closure.

Now controlled by Emanuele Carminati Molina through his holding company Carfin, which has investments in finance, building and real estate, Valextra has been through various management changes since the death in the Eighties of Giovanni Fontana, who founded the firm in 1937. Three years ago, then-ceo Pierluigi Mancinelli tapped British designer John Richmond to launch a fashion-oriented women’s division.

Suppancig’s strategy is to have Valextra focus on timeless items rather than trendier products, designed by an in-house team. “This company has built its reputation on handcrafted, nonseasonal leather accessories in classic style and is renowned for sleek shapes, functionality and impeccable, long-lasting quality — this is what we want Valextra to be about. Real luxury is timeless,” said Suppancig.

Accordingly, Suppancig is going back to the company’s roots and restructuring its in-house production.

“We are hiring back old artisans that used to work for Valextra and we’re teaching younger workers how to create handmade products,” he said. He’s setting up an in-house style and research team. In fall 2004, Valextra’s headquarters will move to a new building on Milan’s Via Manzoni, off the fashionable Via Montenapoleone. The palazzo will house a Valextra boutique, showrooms and offices.

The Valextra collections will be presented to buyers in September and be available in stores in February, retailing between $1,170 and $1,755 (converted from euros at current exchange).Suppancig is closing three Italian stores, which he deems “not a priority” at the moment, while maintaining the historical boutique here at Piazza San Babila, off the city’s Duomo, and two airport boutiques here and in Rome.While Italy is the brand’s main market today, Suppancig said he wants to expand to Asia and in the U.S. in 2005. “By then, we want to be carried by 60 exclusive multibrand stores at the most,” he said. The line is currently available at Connelly in London and at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, with a few men’s products.

Suppancig also plans to add such product categories as men’s and women’s shoes and silk items. Ready-to-wear, however, is not planned for the near future.

Among Valextra’s classic looks are Havana calf skin accented by green stitching. New items include a Havana briefcase with a handplaced green rib running around the rims. “This procedure allows the rims to be replaced if damaged, giving the case a new look even after years of use,” said Suppancig. Another “classic new” product is a feather-light handbag, a remake of its classic “Punch” bag, with a unique closure that doesn’t use metallic details or zips.

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