Silver service

When silversmiths turn tables

Kirsten Hills
January 16, 2014

Florentine firm Pampaloni is famous for its original and beautiful silverware. Behind the brand is a dynamic company headed by two brothers who continue the business that their grandfather started more than 100 years ago. Kirsten Hills went to check out the brothers’ latest innovations.

 

If you walk past Pampaloni’s shop on via Porta Rossa, most likely someone will be standing outside, smiling at the window display. The shop has a reputation locally for poking fun at politics, religion and even commercialism itself. One of its most famous campaigns was for Valentine’s Day: a real pig heart, pendant, pierced by a silver arrow. Behind it were the words ‘Il cuore é una pompa’ (The heart is a pump).

 

Originality is at the centre of Pampaloni. Its silverware is stunning: simple, beautiful and elegant. Yet it is also unconventional, as evidenced by the company’s most recent innovation—transforming the company’s workshop into a restaurant.

 

Just outside the city centre, at Poggio Imperiale, we meet one of the brothers, Gianfranco Pampaloni, at the company’s studio. Inside, the artisans heat, hammer and shape silver, busily making egg cups, vases and other items.

 

Pampaloni has been producing silverware since 1902, and Gianfranco Pampaloni represents the third generation to run it. In the 1930s, the company was forced to close because Ermindo Pampaloni had a Jewish partner, but it reopened soon after World War II ended.

 

I ask Gianfranco whether everything is handmade here in Florence. He replies that he uses as many moulds as possible as he detests the sadomasochistic rapport between customer and the worker as victim, but he then questions the concept of ‘handmade’: ‘As an idea it can be a racist one. If something is handmade in Italy or Denmark it is deemed more valuable and desirable than if handmade in China or India.’

 

Photos around the workshop show fun times shared by the staff. Turnover is low, an indication of job satisfaction.Gianfranco speaks of the artisans with the love of a caring relative.

 

He designs all of the items and often collaborates with brands like Alessi as well as artists and architects. ‘I try to make silverware for people who don’t like silverware, to make items interesting because of their shape, their story or the piece itself.’

 

 

At 4pm, the company’s canteen and the staff are transformed: the artisans swap their overalls for suits and white gloves to serve as waiters; the Italian Empire-style candelabra illuminate the room, silver cutlery lines the tables, and a hammer-and-sickle symbol shines overhead. The decor is stylish and unique. The head chef, who is Japanese, produces equally original dishes. The restaurant is all about the contrasting ideas of simplicity and luxury, and it challenges the idea that eating out is exclusively for the wealthy, with menus starting at 30 euro.

 

Gianfranco Pampaloni is a quietly spoken man. He studied philosophy, and in the short time we are at the restaurant, he makes reference to Socrates, Thomas More and George Orwell. He is a well-read, thinking businessman who questions some of the fundamental ideas behind commerce. ‘Silver is only precious because of its rarity,’ he explains. ‘We therefore have to explore other ways of exciting interest in it and arousing the desire to possess it.’

 

With nine shops around the world, Pampaloni is a thriving business. It remains a highly original company not only for its silverware design but also for its creative diversification: where else can one dine on the factory floor?

 

For more information, see www.pampaloni.com

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