A Woman’s Touch

Started almost by accident, Antonio Lorenzini founded the premium shirting company upon being told by his doctor to move from Milan to the Northern Italian.

MILAN — More than 25 components, 50 steps and an hour of work go into the creation of each Lorenzini shirt. The craftsmanship is trademark, spanning four generations. But the inspiration is the personal touch behind the label, and the women of Lorenzini who have been paramount to its success.

Started almost by accident in 1920, Antonio Lorenzini founded the premium shirting company upon being instructed by his doctor to move from Milan to the Northern Italian countryside for health reasons. Looking to make a living in Merate, a small town near Lake Maggiore, he relied upon his wife, Giovanina, who loved to sew. Together they struck up a business and percolated a passion that has trickled through the Lorenzini matriarchy.

Shirt cutting and sewing were the prescribed roles of Lorenzini women until Antonia Lorenzini came into power in the 1960s. The multilinguist saw the family business as a global force and wanted to push it beyond Italy’s borders. Single-handedly, she jump-started the Lorenzini export division with a visit to Germany 43 years ago.

“Antonia and her best friend packed up the car with luggage and shirt samples, and took off on an adventure to Germany. She was really excited,” recalls Mirta Lorenzini, daughter of Antonia. With her best salesmanship, Antonia secured a wholesaler in the German market, doing something very uncommon for an Italian woman at that time.

It’s from Antonia that Mirta, current president of Lorenzini, draws her passion for shirting. Up until two months ago, Antonia still worked at the firm. Antonia’s husband, Giancarlo, Lorenzini’s former creative force, continues to visit the factory floor. “The company was and is their lives. My father comes by every day. He uses the excuse that he has to feed the seven cats who live here,” says Mirta and laughs.

Like her mother, Mirta cut her teeth early at the family firm. Her start was in the sample room as a teenager. Now a mother of four teenagers of her own, Mirta runs Lorenzini with her husband, Callegari, the company’s commercial director.

Stakes have gotten higher since the early days of Giovanina and Antonia, and business, more cutthroat. Though the company is mum on revenue, Callegari says that Lorenzini is expecting an uptick in sales for 2008, exchange rate permitting.

Of the 100,000 shirts Lorenzini produces annually, half are manufactured for private, high-end labels, and the remainder sold under the Lorenzini brand. The shirts are cut in Merate then delivered to Lorenzini’s assembly factory in Bergamo where they are sewn and pressed, then sent back to their Merate origin for consignment.

Fabrics for Lorenzini’s shirts are sourced from Italian shirting mills like Canclini, S.I.C. Tess, Tessitura Monti and Albini, as well as the small Swiss mill Alumo. Each collection boasts 100 models and 1,000 swatches of fabric—25 percent of which is developed specially for Lorenzini. Shirts under the Lorenzini brand are distributed in 100 sales points globally, where its strongest markets are Europe and the U.S., though the firm is making inroads in Russia and India.

While the classic shirt remains Lorenzini’s lifeblood, in-house creative director Massimo Giussani isn’t afraid to dabble in trends. As early as 20 years ago, the company gave traditional styles a twist by adding stretch, experimenting in finishes and working with vivid colors.

Lorenzini added two new vibrant style categories last year. Inspired by the company’s archives, the Lorenzini 1920 collection includes four variations based on the styles of the roaring ’20s. For spring 2009, the back tail of each shirt is elongated and also features a trouser tab to secure it in place. “The collection was an easy one to create because of the richness of the archive. We really looked at how men used their shirts back then. They took off the collar and cuffs and used the shirt as a nightshirt,” says commercial director Callegari.

For the edgier, younger crowd, Lorenzini has Ville. Favoring slim fits, small collars and wacky fabrics, Ville, in one of its looks for fall, features black stretch denim with a shimmering, metallic bib-front. Callegari is also working with Italian silk mill Ratti to produce striped silk fabrics in rich hues of dark blue, burgundy, pink and prune for the line.

Original shirt design categories TNT, a line of shirts to be worn with or without a tie, and Dress, Lorenzini’s classic shirt collection, are also growing. TNT features tartan shirts with poplin collars and twills combined with paisleys and jacquards. Meanwhile, Dress has fine stripes in gray, blue and brown. For fall, perhaps some small checks will creep in, too.

Sul Misura, the brand’s tailor-made shirt service, which makes up 10 percent of company sales, is predicted to grow rapidly in new and emerging markets like Russia. Partnering with each retailer, Lorenzini sends sample books of 400 fabrics, revised twice annually, that customers can choose from. Clients are measured for a perfect fit and details are sent to Lorenzini’s headquarters where each shirt is manufactured in two to three weeks.

In a world where cheap chic is fashionable, Lorenzini’s Old World story and charm still sell a $500, tailor-made shirt. What’s the secret? “Lorenzini has a story to tell and it’s really relevant in luxury, quality shirts,” says Callegari. And there is lots of love in each one.