In a quiet and unassuming building on the outskirts of Milan, sits an Aladdin's cave like no other. Yet there are no magic lamps or carpets. Instead, it is a treasure trove of one of the most impressive button collections we have come across. It is owned by Stefano Cannara the owner of Passion for Buttons, a family run business which specialises in end of roll fabrics and buttons. In October 2019, we paid Stefano a visit.
As soon as we arrived at Stefano's warehouse, we were made to feel welcome.
As we entered through the warehouse door it felt as if we had stepped back in time. The entrance was a collection of old clocks, sewing machines, vintage tailoring and sewing tools that added a lovely charm and warmness to Stefano's warehouse - very much like the man himself.
As we stepped deeper into the warehouse we were immediately struck by the eclectic and fascinating collection of vintage clothes and furniture all of which were peppered among the rolls of fabrics and cabinets of buttons. We spotted vintage ties, dresses and coats, vintage couches and cabinets, all of which give Stefano's warehouse personality. As we delved into Stefano's end of roll fabric collection, it was clear this was no ordinary selection in from of us. We noticed fabrics which went as far back as the 60's, 80's and 90's. Some fabric rolls still had the original handwritten description tags attached to them.
Alongside them sat more recent luxury fabrics from ex-designer houses and cloth mills including fine wools, silk and cashmere blends, silk velvets and plush corduroys to mention just a few. We knew many of these would be the perfect addition to our fabric collection at Bozena Jankowska. Many of the end of roll fabrics that we selected were selected not only because they were different to what we have seen with other mainstream cloth merchants, but also because they are no longer being manufactured and are therefore only available in limited lengths. Our ethos is to produce in small quantities, focusing on quality and in the main limited edition fabrics that our clients can select from when they create their one of a kind blazers.
It was difficult to know were to start with Stefano's extensive button collection. We were looking at an entire section of the warehouse solely dedicated to buttons. Boxes upon boxes of buttons on shelves and cabinets in different colours, shapes and sizes. One could have mistaken it all for being a sweet shop.
There is no doubt of Stefano's passion for buttons. But that is unsurprising given that Stefano comes from a line of button manufacturers. It all started with his grandfather who with his wife, opened a button factory in Italy in 1931 manufacturing corozo (nut), casein (milk protein), polyester, urea and mother of pearl buttons. Approximately 80% of the factory's production was for the domestic market with buttons being used for wedding dresses, baby clothes and men's and women's fashions. It was one of three biggest button manufacturers in Italy.
By the 1950's and 60's, the factory was employing 280 people. At the beginning many of the buttons were hand made until automation was introduced in the 60's with the factory having to re skill. Stefano's father took over the business in 1958 at a time when the manufacturing landscape looked very different to today's. The factory had close and strong relationships with their workers whilst nurturing skills and craftsmanship in the process. At its peak, in the early 1980's the factory was manufacturing just under half a million buttons a day. However, over time, globalisation and cheaper manufacturers in China changed the landscape of and in turn Italian based button manufacturing.
Stefano has many fond memories of his grandfather's and father's button factory. Whilst growing up in the house next to the factory, he recalls that often as a child he spent hours sorting through buttons according to colour, model, material and size - something he loved to do. At a young age he steadfastly told his father that when he grew up, he would work in the button factory too. At the age of 19 he did just that.
Stefano's passion for buttons is evident in his extensive collection. He has been buying and selling buttons for over 30 years, taking a particular interest in buttons from the early 1900's, metal buttons and those made from natural materials. He says he wants to give life back to forgotten buttons. His knowledge is deep and its difficult not to be infected with his passion. His collection still houses some of the mother of pearl buttons that his grandfather manufactured. Some of the rarer buttons he has go back as far as the 1920's and 30's and include hand painted and enameled ones whereas others are molded out metal and bakelike (a material no longer used to make buttons). In all, Stefano estimates his entire collection makes up somewhere between 8,000 to 9,000 buttons.
Its a privilege to know and to have a supplier like Stefano who is one of the people that contributes to our own appreciation and support of craftsmanship, quality and slow fashion. We share his passion for beautiful, rare and usual buttons which have history and a story behind them, which is why a number of Stefano's buttons are now sitting in our own collection ready to be picked by our clients for that one of a kind blazer.