MILAN — Ruffo, the Italian leather goods manufacturer, is said to be set to shut down its production plant outside Pisa and lay off its 80 employees.

Ruffo’s owner, Giacomo Corsi, declined to comment Wednesday beyond saying that he is “currently restructuring” the firm and that he is in talks with the unions.

Vincenzo Parrella, general secretary of Filtea Cgil, the Italian association that covers workers in the textile and clothing industries, said he is investigating the reasons behind Corsi’s decision. “We don’t understand how such a structure that catered to the high end of the market, in an ever-expanding, global market, needs to be shut down,” said Parrella. “We are trying to save the know-how of 80 skilled artisans who might be able to work directly with fashion houses, for example. We can’t lose these manual skills.”

Parrella said Corsi blamed the closure on “ever-increasing competition, and to whittling orders by Italian designers.”

Ruffo, located in Calcinaia, outside Pisa, supplies leatherwear to designers such as Prada, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli. The Ruffo brand store in Florence is being closed, following the shutting down of its Milan boutique and showroom. The next meeting between Corsi and the unions is scheduled for next Tuesday.

One source close to the company said Ruffo was hit hard by the designers’ choice to either produce in-house or outsource their leatherwear. “The state-of-the-art structure of the plant had reached costs that were no longer sustainable, in a market where low-cost workers from China are perfectly integrated,” said another source.

One analyst said he did not believe this was “an issue of bad management or of a lesser quality” and said Corsi “may be more focused on other family and real estate businesses. Ruffo may no longer be pivotal for him.”

Joy Yaffe, who launched the firm’s experimental line Ruffo Research with Corsi and headhunted designers for it, said, “The quality of the leather was amazing, and Corsi is a man of integrity; the tanneries always provided him with only the best hides.

“Also, I’ve never seen such a beautiful factory — and it all worked like clockwork,” said Yaffe, who joined the company in 1997 and left in 2003. Ruffo Research was introduced in 1998 and suspended in 2003 because of difficult market conditions. The collections were created by different designers every year. The last was Haider Ackermann, who followed Alexander Mathieu, Sophia Kokosalaki, Veronique Branquinho and Raf Simons. In spring 2004, Corsi said he was relaunching Ruffo Research with Riccardo Tisci, but the project fell through two months into the relationship when Corsi suspended the collection.

This story first appeared in the March 23, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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