MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Italo Cremona

One company, one town

Italo Cremona, born in Castiglione Olona in 1891, was initially employed at Mazzucchelli, a historical manufacturer of celluloid products in Castiglione Olona, ??where he learned the tricks of the trade and went on to meet his future wife, Angela Ghiringhelli. He founded a general partnership company in his own name in 1922, with a factory in Gazzada, and the following year saw it transformed into a limited partnership. The Cremona family lived in an apartment on the upper floor of the factory, which has now been outfitted as office space. It is here where Italo’s two sons were born: Bruno in 1926 and Fernando in 1930.

The company’s first products (combs, glasses and toiletries) were made from the celluloid produced at the plant and included the pearly material that was used for accordion casings. Italo Cremona offered certain internal department heads shares in the company profits, thus instilling the company with the air of a joint stock company well ahead of its time. The company grew quickly: it employed nearly 300 people, representing nearly the entire adult population of the small town of Gazzada.

In the 1930s, Italo Cremona was the first company in Italy to eliminate the use of highly flammable celluloid in favour of cellulose acetate, which it purchased from Rhodiatoce di Pallanza. Following the product’s transformation into granules, the company was also the first to apply the technology of injection moulding using special presses, which were designed and constructed by the company itself for the production of sunglasses.

The outbreak of World War II did not cause the company’s activities to cease altogether. In 1942, the company was transformed into a joint stock company and began employing its female workforce to manufacture satchels for the Italian soldiers. The same year, the company took over the plastic department of the company Sampa in Buguggiate. In addition to being a businessman, Italo Cremona also served as mayor and succeeded in uniting the municipalities of Gazzada and Schianno, which had hitherto been separate, under one township. In 1944, the company’s name was changed to “Poliplastica SpA” and, in early 1945, the machinery from the Sampa plant was transferred to the company’s own production facility.

Italo Cremona died prematurely in 1946 and was succeeded by his eldest son Bruno, who was joined two years later by his brother Fernando. In 1947, in memory of its founder, the company went back to its original name of Italo Cremona, a name that, in 1962, would also be bestowed upon the street where the factory stood. With the help of the Marshall Plan, which was launched in 1947, the company was able to renew its range of production machinery. Local engineering companies were gradually entrusted with the task of constructing the moulds for the company’s products.

The extraordinary development: glasses, dolls and toys

The young Cremona brothers soon found themselves managing a company of considerable size, with over 600 employees. Bruno took charge of the administrative and commercial aspects, while Fernando, who ceased his studies in chemical engineering in order to help with the company, as his brother had done before him, was placed in charge of the technical aspects.

The company’s sunglasses, which were manufactured in a variety of different shapes, became its most popular articles and represented its main business, but at the same time restricted the company’s development since production was limited to the summer months alone.

It was necessary to come up with something that would compensate for the decrease in sales during the winter months and would decrease the risk of the company losing its skilled labourers, or rather those who were employed in the internal machine shop for the design of the products and the various “finishing” operations (from the mounting of the lenses to the final polishing processes). The Cremona brothers soon came up with the perfect solution: plastic dolls and children’s toys. They began manufacturing them in the early fifties, initially in polystyrene and subsequently in softer polyvinyl chloride, and they were an immediate success on the market.

This was also the case with “Plastic City”, a box of interlocking building blocks that was patented in 1950, launched in 1960 and went on to be a hit with entire generations of children. Branches were opened in all of the major Italian cities, the network of wholesalers expanded and trade agreements were established with Standa, La Rinascente, Upim and various other fashion chains. Ultimately, the products even began to be exported to foreign countries and the company began investing in advertising campaigns.

By the late 1960s, Italo Cremona had more than 1000 employees, not counting the hundreds of individuals employed by the third parties who carried out various production processes on the company’s behalf. In the meantime, Bruno went on to become the company’s president, while Fernando was appointed chief executive. The brothers were flanked by their cousin Renzo Broggini, who was born in Varese in 1933 and would go on to become one of the main players in the company’s history. Two of the company’s most successful products at this time included the “Rossana” doll, which would walk and sing, and the “Pipito” doll, that would drink and wet itself.

Fashion and design

In 1972, Bruno Cremona was honoured with the title of Cavaliere del Lavoro (Knight of the Order of Merit for Labour). Throughout his life he held a number of positions for various organizations, amongst which he served as a council member for Confindustria and as president for the Italian and European Associations of Toy Manufacturers.

During the summer of 1974, a fire caused by a short circuit nearly destroyed the entire factory and all of the company’s warehouses. The subsequent rebuilding process was strongly focused upon the use of innovative processes and materials, which would lead to a gradual reduction of the workforce, as well as the production of high-quality products.

The creative departments and divisions (including the sculptors, designers, research laboratories, the marketing and market research divisions and photo centre) all came to play a key role. The company soon obtained licenses to produce both sunglasses and regular glasses for prestigious designer brands, such as Versace, Valentino and Krizia.

In 1978, Italo Cremona registered the company N.M. S.r.l. at the Varese Chamber of Commerce. This company had been purchased from Sordelli in Venegono Inferiore and manufactured Nihil Melius brand combs. By adopting the latest technologies, on a daily basis the company was able to produce between 15,000 and 20,000 pairs of glasses, whether under license or for its own brand name, a million dolls and 1,600,000 boxes of “Plastic City” building blocks which, with the use of electronics, had become a rather lively play item. The company eventually delved into field of automobile accessories by launching a new type of glasses, the “Rally Delta Design”, which had been designed entirely in-house.

When Bruno Cremona passed away in 1988, his brother Fernando took charge of the company. That same year, the group’s total sales reached nearly 20 billion Italian lire, with more than 40% coming from sales on foreign markets.

The just-in-time marketplace

By the early 1990s, the global competitive landscape had changed dramatically. Toy production had been increasingly moving to China and the Far East, where labour costs were much lower. Like all of the other Italian companies in the industry, the Italo Cremona Group stopped manufacturing dolls, as it was cheaper to import them directly from China. But even the eyewear industry was struggling to come to terms with globalization.

In 1993, after having spent some time studying and working in the United States, Fernando’s son, Lorenzo Cremona, who was born in Milan in 1967, finally joined the company. Driven by this dynamic young director, who was particularly aware of financial and marketing issues, the company implemented a multi-year plan aimed at reorganizing and converting its production lines to focus upon the business of luxury eyewear. In 1996 the company’s eyewear division was legally unbundled and reorganized in IC Optics SpA to form a joint venture with Gianni Versace. This endeavour was abandoned, however, following Versace’s death in 1997. In 2002, the branch was sold to Luxottica, which initially transferred the company to the nearby town of Brunello and later absorbed it into the larger scheme of its business activities.

In 2007, Italo Cremona SpA became a Limited Company and would henceforth only perform real estate functions. N.M. S.r.l., on the other hand, carried on with the company’s production and marketing activities, though production had been entirely outsourced by this time. Production in the Far East and distribution worldwide: in order to remain competitive, Italo Cremona would proceed down the same path that had already been undertaken by countless other Italian companies.

In recent years, the company, which currently employs a total of about seventy individuals (mostly women), has expanded its product range to include fashion jewellery and has enhanced its line of fashion accessories. It develops projects for large retail outlets and has an external network of 35 stores throughout Italy, mainly located in shopping centres and large retail stores, for the sale of its own Isi brand. The factory in Gazzada Schianno continues to play a strategic role as the company’s centre for market research, production coordination and trade promotion, as well as for the development of new ideas capable of satisfying the needs of today’s changing lifestyles.