The Italian genius for innovation and creativity has been evident for millennia, from ancient Rome’s aqueducts to today’s most envied sportscars. Italian creations that represent the pride of Italianness have been a source of inspiration for international start-ups and new generations of creators. Some have made history with cult objects that Kevin Roberts, the former CEO of New York-based advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, called “love marks'': products people fall in love with and that draw fierce loyalty to their brands. Here are the interesting stories behind some famous Italian brands.
Italian jeans are synonymous with Diesel, the world-famous brand founded by chairman Renzo Rosso when he was only 23 years old. His foray into fashion had begun years earlier when he stitched up his own style of bell-bottom jeans on his mother’s sewing machine. Today, the entrepreneur and designer from Padova boast assets of $3.5 billion, which Forbes reports as among the most impressive in Italy. He is president of the holding company OTB—Only the Brave, which controls various fashion brands including Jill Sanders, Viktor & Rolf, and Marni, and chairman of the OTB Foundation. Rosso is also president of Red Circle Investments (rosso means “red” in Italian), which has a stake in many types of businesses, including Europe’s largest vertical farm (located outside Milan) and luxury hotels such as The Pelican in Miami, The Chiltern Firehouse in London and The Ancora Hotel in posh Cortina d'Ampezzo, northern Italy. Rosso’s love of wine shows up in his investment in fine vineyards in Piedmont, Veneto, and Tuscany.
Italian design meets top-level tech machinery in Nerio Alessandri’s internationally renowned Technogym workout equipment. Born in Romagna, Alessandri forged a career path that parallels Bill Gates’—at age 22 he and two friends built the prototype of a workout device in his garage, little knowing that their products would one day make them the official supplier to the Olympic Games. Alessandri and his friends took their first orders using a public telephone booth as their office. In 2023, 40 years after the foundation of Technogym, the company was one of the biggest in the sector with 55,000 installations worldwide. You won’t find a gym anywhere that doesn’t contain at least one Technogym product. In 2003 Alessandri founded the non-profit Wellness Foundation to support scientific research, health education, and the promotion of wellness.
Innovation, the right mindset, and an intense love for its Piedmont homeland spell the magic formula that has made the Ferrero family the wealthiest in Italy. The family brand encompasses many popular goodies, but one—a jar of creamy goodness—stands out among them all. Michele, the founder of the multinational company, said, “This is what it means to do something different from everyone else. Everyone made solid chocolate and I made it creamy: and Nutella was born.” Nutella, the most famous of Ferrero's sweet products, has given us sixty years of shameless pleasure.
In 1946, when cocoa was a rare commodity, pastry chef Pietro Ferrero created a paste from hazelnuts, sugar, and a small amount of precious cocoa. This unique, spreadable “paste” named Pasta Giandujot was made creamier and tastier throughout the years until the ultimate product, Nutella, hit the shelves. Michele came up with the catchy name by combining the English noun “nut” combined with the Italian suffix “ella” to label what soon became the best-selling spreadable cream in the world. Ferrero produces 365,000 tons of Nutella each year, helping make Giovanni Ferrero, son of Michele and grandson of Pietro, the richest man in Italy.
The story of Leonardo Del Vecchio, owner of Luxottica, the iconic eyewear brand, is truly a rags-to-riches tale. At his death in 2022, he left about 80,000 employees, over 9,000 stores worldwide, and a $30 billion fortune. He had come a long way from his beginnings, losing his father at age four, becoming an apprentice at 14, and soon after a laborer. His long, hard road advanced him to the role of industrial designer and then brilliant entrepreneur with the intelligence and resourcefulness to innovate a revered brand. To expand from his eyewear workshop in Milan he opened a factory in the mountains in Veneto, where he was offered free land in return for creating local jobs. In 1981 he landed in the United States and in 1990 entered the New York Stock Exchange with Luxottica. In 2019 Luxottica merged with the giant French lens maker Essilor and in 2021 Essilor-Luxottica and Mark Zuckerberg's Meta joined forces to produce the new Ray-Ban Smart Glasses: phone, music player, and camera in one.
United Colors of Benetton
In 1965 the brothers Luciano, Giuliana, Gilberto, and Carlo Benetton founded one of the largest textile groups in the world at Ponzano Veneto, near Venice. Today, their enterprise is found in 120 countries. The idea was simple and brilliant at the same time: producing good quality but low-price sweaters with the philosophy that its many color options—at least 15 for each sweater model—represented “all the colors of the world,” creating the United Colors of Benetton.
The family’s humble origins are reflected in the Benetton-style apprenticeship that requires the children and grandchildren to fold sweaters in the family’s shops. In 1998 the company took the name of B. Group S.p.A., which today is present on the global market with the United Colors of Benetton and Sisley (clothing and accessories) and Playlife and Killer Loop (sportswear and footwear) brands.
Barbara Benzoni was born in Milan and lives between Rome and Tuscany. She is devoted to USA, the land of courage and innovation. She’s Peter's super-lucky mum and Ale's wife. Cinema, art, good food and only beautiful things are the themes of her existence. With a degree in Italian literature and a Masters in Sports Management she can both enjoys books and basketball matches. In 25 years she has been organizing sport events all over the world and she’s been lucky enough to meet the greatest champs ever. Curiosity in everyday life and people are her drivers. Her personal icon is Mohammed Ali : "It's not bragging if you can back it up".