updated 4 Jul 2013, 17:02
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Mon, Jul 01, 2013
ST Urban
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Furla for all
by Rohaizatul Azhar

Growing up in the Italian city of Bologna, Ms Giovanna Furlanetto never lacked quality handbags.

After all, she is the only daughter of Aldo and Margherita Furlanetto, who founded popular Italian bag and accessories brand, Furla, in 1927.

"I appreciate good designs but I never saw the need to carry bags from other brands when my family has its own good quality leather bags in every style and colour," says Ms Furlanetto, who is in her 60s, in a telephone interview.

But the mother of two, who lives in Bologna, concedes to an admiration for French luxury fashion house Hermes. The 176-year-old company is known for its leather goods, including the iconic Kelly and Birkin bags.

She says: "In my opinion, Hermes is the epitome of top quality leather goods. The workmanship is beautiful and I love the construction of each leather item. It is a family-run business too. I would love to grow Furla to the success level of Hermes while still maintaining our key characteristic, that is, affordable prices for as many women as possible."

Furla leather bags start from $450 for a nappa leather bag.

"It is important to keep our prices at an attainable level," she notes. "We want to provide our customers with the experience of luxury shopping but we also want to be a brand that is approachable."

This is why she does not think of Furla as a luxury brand but a premium one that is "just below all the top brands".

She adds: "That is the one thing my father wanted my brothers and I to remember when we took over the company. We have to always be cost-conscious."

Together with her two older brothers, Carlo and Paolo, the three Furlanetto siblings took over the business from their father in 1970.

Today, Ms Furlanetto, who is president of the company, is the only sibling running the business.

Her parents died in the late 1980s, while her two brothers died of old age - Paolo in 1989 and Carlo in the mid-1990s.

She has continued to expand the business beyond the Italian market. In the past 30 years, Furla has expanded to 63 countries, including Britain, China, Japan, Singapore and the United States. It has 320 stand-alone stores worldwide and about 1,300 points of sales in department stores and multi-label boutiques.

Ms Furlanetto oversees the company's design team and created the brand's signature Candy bags in 2011.

The range of PVC bags in assorted colours, with prices starting from $490, is arguably the label's most popular. "I wanted something trendy and youthful but not loud or vulgar," she says.

"We are all about subtlety at Furla. So, instead of logos, we play with vivid colours. We have many celebrities carrying this bag because it is versatile enough to be a casual bag and can also be matched with something dressier."

The Candy bags, which are hand-stitched in Italy, count American It girls Olivia Palermo and Chloe Sevigny, as well as top Russian model Natalia Vodianova, as fans.

Indeed, these bags are considered the brand's It bags. "It bags are what the market wants now. So, we create something that is recognisable and easily linked to us," Ms Furlanetto explains.

While celebrity fans are important in boosting the brand's profile, she says she gets more satisfaction seeing ordinary women carrying her bags.

"My father's dream was for Furla to be one of the most recognised brands in the world and, to me, that meant having our bags carried by all women, not just celebrities and people in the news."

Last year, the company reported an annual sales turnover of 212 million euros (S$356 million), up 18 per cent from the previous year.

Ms Furlanetto is not letting the success go to her head. The one thing her father has imbued in the Furlanetto siblings is social responsibility.

She says: "We were taught to keep a low profile and to always be humble because success can be taken from you in an instant. This is something that I will always remember and pass to my children."

She plans to keep the company in the family.

Her 39-year-old son is on the company's board of directors. However, her daughter, 37, has chosen to be a psychologist in Italy instead.

"While we want our children to take over the business from us, ultimately, it is their decision. I always tell them it is important to work hard and excel in whatever it is they have set out to do."

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