MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Antonluigi Castiglioni

The jacquard business, from the shop to the textile studio

In 1863, Giovanni Castiglioni founded a machine shop in Busto Arsizio, with an annexed foundry, specialised in the production of jacquard machines, dobbies and weaving accessories. The company enjoyed a major moment of international visibility at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1889. In 1893, the industrial business passed to the hands of two of the founder's five children, Giuseppe and Carlo, while sisters Teresa and Delfina and the other brother, Antonio, pursued other paths. In this phase, the business chose to produce its own designs for jacquard looms, purchasing machines for reading the design from the graphic representation of its weave thread and perforating the corresponding cardboard matrixes. The machines produced by the Castiglioni shop were highly versatile: of one or two doffers, applicable to hand and mechanical looms, in wood or cast iron, they could reach the notable speed of more than 200 strikes per minute.

Their products were sold to textile manufacturers who produced patterned fabrics like handkerchiefs, tablecloths, napkins and checked cloth. The main customers were local businesses but the company's products were also known in far-off markets, including Latin America.

In 1897, Carlo passed the running of the business to his brother Giuseppe, who thus took charge of what had become a large company, with two factories located on an area of 5000 square metres and more than 100 workmen, which could produce many different kinds of machines and accessories for the textile industry. The older son of Giuseppe and Martina Crespi, Giovanni, dedicated himself, together with his wife Nena De Silvestri, to an unlucky entrepreneurial business, a lace factory in Tradate.

Their younger son, Antonluigi (1899-1986), after having fought while very young in World War I, sharpened his skill at manual drawing working in the family business and specifically in the department of fabric design.

At the time, this department was of secondary importance, behind the productive activity of the shop. It supplied consultancy and made appraisals to meet the requests of the most demanding clientele. The choice of owner Giuseppe Castiglioni to settle the debts of his son Giovanni was at the root of the company's financial problems. Giovanni's business failed and he found work as a municipal employee; Giuseppe Castiglioni's company instead closed around the mid-1920s.

Antonluigi's approach: from production to technical/artistic consultancy

Antonluigi decided to continue the work he had done previously and in January 1927 he opened a sole proprietor business, "G. Castiglioni di Antonluigi Castiglioni. Studio tecnico d'arte tessile", with the scope of producing graphic representations of weave thread and creating fabric designs. The premises remained in Busto Arsizio, in a workshop at Via San Michele 11. The studio could not have been opened without the economic assistance of the family of his wife, Giuseppina Galli, an elementary school teacher, whose sister was a silk trader in Nova Milanese. In 1927, the couple's first child was born, Eugenio. In 1935 Antonluigi joined the production of harnesses for jacquard machines to the creation of graphic motifs and designs for jacquard fabric.

In 1930 he moved the business premises and family residence to Via Poerio 3, in a less cramped building than the previous one, and in 1935 the family expanded with the birth of the couple's second child, Giancarlo.

The production of jacquard fabrics endured a dry spell during World War II. At first, demand fell for the most sophisticated fabrics, decorated with elegant designs, directing itself toward more ordinary designs, until the government expressly forbid production. And so the Studio di Antonluigi had to temporarily suspend activity. Once again the Galli family was able to help: During the war, Antonluigi worked for the foulard printworks of his sister-in-law Rosa. While there, for example, he decorated pillows to be sent to Africa using the pokerwork technique. The design office's historic activity in the industry of supplying jacquard factories picked up again after World War II. Eugenio earned an accountancy diploma and began working with his father.

In July 1954 a limited partnership was established for buying and selling and property management with the company name "Galpi di Antonluigi Castiglioni & C.".

This name comprised the initials of Antonluigi's wife, Galli Pina. Flanking the owner as limited partners in the business were in fact Giuseppina and their older son Eugenio. "Galpi" and "Antonluigi Castiglioni" officially ceased in December 1957. Taking their place was a new company, "Accomandita semplice Antonluigi Castiglioni & C.". This time, Giancarlo, by that point having come of age, was also among the limited partners, having trained to continue the family business pursuing technical studies in the textile industry. At the end of the 1950s, the company employed fifteen workmen and three office workers. In 1956, Eugenio married Luisa Colombo.

In order to expand the productive potential of the company and to make it possible for the children to have an apartment next to the shop, Antonluigi decided to move to Via Federico Confalonieri 10, where, starting in January 1958, a new and larger warehouse was being prepared and where the company shop and offices are still found today.

Giancarlo moved there as well, in 1961, the year in which he married Laura Wagner. The historic building on Via Poerio, where Antonluigi and his wife lived, was not abandoned, and in January 1965 opened a shop there for fabric for third parties which remained operational until 1969: this was a department that handled the weaving of towelling items.

The company strengthens under the leadership of Eugenio and Giancarlo

The Castiglioni enterprise served its clientele thanks to a network of representatives and agents in certain European countries and the Near East. The division of work in the company was however flexible: Antonluigi oversaw the creation of new designs to be included in the samples, Giuseppina for the most part handled accounts, Eugenio the mechanical part of the productive process and Giancarlo the creation of designs, also handling customer relations. Next to the company's traditional activity, namely the manufacture and sale of graphic representations of weave thread, drawings and harnesses for textile machines and accessories, in 1962 the company expanded to include commercial intermediation of machines and accessories. In fact, in order to provide a more complete service to customers, the company decided to begin acquiring machines for them. If the customer preferred them to be new and technologically advanced, Castiglioni supplied the French ones from the company Wittendal, of which it had become a representative.

If the customer instead was limited to used equipment, they could purchase those overhauled by Castiglioni. Eugenio was in fact also able to make mechanical modifications. The businesses' innovations were due above all to Eugenio's dynamism. To take an example, in 1965, Eugenio, together with his brother Giancarlo, prepared to open a modern department for the production of jacquard cable. It is to Eugenio that the local area owes the introduction of the new reading system, which replaced the matrixes, the lisage or reading machine, forerunner of the electronic matrix machines widespread in the mid-1980s. In 1973, the company decided to increase its share capital, which was adjusted for inflation and passed from 2.4 to 24 million liras. The next year, Giuseppina Galli died and the company shares were re-divided between Antonluigi, his sons and two daughters-in-law, Luigia Colombo and Laura Wagner. Neither of the two new partners worked directly or continuously in the running business, although in the past Luigia had helped her mother-in-law with the accounts.

Giuseppina Galli and her sister had inherited a textile finishing company with premises in Nova Milanese. After her death, the Castiglioni decided to make use of this inheritance and created a new company, an acronym of the names of the children of Eugenio, Silvia, Antonella, Roberta, and the children of Giancarlo, Giorgio and Antonio. In January 1974, Sarga srl was thus registered, with its corporate domicile in Busto at via Confalonieri 10. In November 1976, a factory was opened in Gerenzano. The company also dealt with the commerce of fabric items and the buying, selling and management of property.

In order to bring the company to new markets, Antonluigi participated in the quadrennial trade fair, International Textile Machinery, held in various European cities. Personal contact with customers often led to new orders and made it possible for participants to learn about the most important new technological innovations and new market trends.

The newest generation. From the computer revolution to the global market

In January 1986, Antonluigi died and his two sons succeeded him at the helm of the company, changing the name to "Antonluigi Castiglioni sas di Eugenio e Giancarlo Castiglioni e C.". As per family tradition, the brothers tried to involve the new generation in turn. Giancarlo had already slowly brought his two sons, Giorgio and Antonio, on board, who began working at the company immediately after earning their diplomas: both are textile specialists, raised professionally by their father and more experienced experts. Eugenio's three daughters graduated in fields that could be useful toward continuing the family business (foreign languages, architecture, economics and commerce) but, on marrying, decided not to work in the company, in order to dedicate themselves to caring for their families. In the 1980s, the business strengthened its production of harnesses and accessories, but the real turn came from the challenge presented by the computer revolution.

Giorgio and Antonio believed that through a major computer changeover the company could remain competitive on the global market and, at the same time, curb staffing costs. Faced with this perspective, which in any case would require considerable investment at a time when the exchange between the lira and the dollar was unfavourable, Giancarlo and his sons decided to run the risk of growth, while Eugenio preferred to withdraw from the company, acquiring with his wife the management of Sarga. To Gerenzano factory would close in June 1996 and the structure would be rented to a customer, who would later fail. Currently the company still exists as a property company, but it conducts neither commercial nor productive activity. Having begun the businesses' new path, Giorgio and Antonio became limited partners and could proceed with a computerisation plan through the purchase of costly American software that made it possible to re-launch activity. Moreover, in 1995, the design department of Cesare Borsa srl was purchased – an historic business active in Busto Arsizio since the end of the nineteenth century – along with its relative customer base.

In 2005, Giancarlo left the post of administrator to his sons. Conferred the honour of knight of the Republic in 1990, he is now dedicated to work in various volunteer associations, included the Lions Club. The company now counts ten employees who, as in the past, are trained in the field to perform the most complex operations and bases its production on designs for fabrics, fabric and printed labels and cables and harnesses for jacquard machines. From the beginning, Antonio and Giorgio have divided the work: the former handles the realisation of designs, while the latter deals with the braiding and production of harnesses and accessories. Giorgio's son Matteo and Antonio's children Luca and Angelica are still too young to be thinking about future entry into the family business; the problem is what educational path to pursue to maintain excellence in the entrepreneurial business. Customers are accompanied in all of the production phases: from the definition of the design to the realisation of the sketch, from the graphic representation of weave thread to the formulation through the simulation of and options for the fabric up to the supply of the support on file.

The company has customers in all of the Italian regions and commercial relationships with a number of European countries, the Mediterranean area (Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt), the Middle and Far East, Brazil and Australia. Currently, it belongs to the Consorzio export altomilanese, created in 1997 by around twenty local businesses, none business rivals, interested in increasing the export potential of the products of the textile chain. The crisis in fact pushed toward the creation of networks of businesses, in the awareness that the vitality of the local market is a collective good.

In 2011, the company was enrolled in the Register of historic enterprises, which was created by Unioncamere as a way to honour the various centuries-old companies present throughout the Italian territory.