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Wardrobe: Perfect Scale

William Kissel

Italy’s Tardini family has a long-held passion for cold-blooded creatures—or, at least, for the hides of one in particular: Alligator mississippiensis. Yet Giuseppe Tardini’s pursuit of perfect skins used to lead him only to frustration. The specimens of alligator that he had been obtaining from American traders were coarse and frequently blemished—hardly suitable materials from which to craft his exotic-skin belts for men. Irritated at the bite these inferior samples were taking out of his business, he decided to bite back by purchasing a minority stake in a Louisiana farm in 1984 that enabled him to breed his own gators. These carefully reared reptiles have contributed their glossy scales to an expanded collection of accessories that will debut this fall at Tardini’s first in-store shop at Bergdorf Goodman in New York.

Tardini’s strategy has had the dual benefit of improving both the quality and the quantity of his leather. With the consent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, each summer the farm collects alligator eggs from the wild and raises them in a controlled environment to ensure that the skins remain supple and undamaged by conditions they might encounter in the wild. The skins harvested from smaller animals on the farm, along with larger skins that Tardini secures legally in the wild, have enabled him to expand his collection to include luggage, briefcases, footwear, small leather goods, and even decorative home accessories.

Tardini’s co-ownership of the farm has had the unexpected consequence of making him a participant in the effort to protect and preserve the alligator species. His agreement with the government requires him to return 16 percent of the farm-raised alligators to the exact place in the wild where the eggs were retrieved. (Only approximately 10 percent of the alligators that are born in the wild survive there; the majority of the other 90 percent are killed by predators.)

The business has grown, yet it remains a family concern—just as it was in 1958, when Tardini’s father, Luigi (a belt maker), created the brand. The harvested reptile skins are sent to the company’s factory in Modena, Italy, where Giuseppe works with his wife, Ombretta, and his two sons, Andrea and Stefano. Giuseppe oversees the elaborate sizing, tanning, and dyeing processes, as well as the precision tooling that transforms the hides into finished accessories. The company uses fewer than 25 percent of the 60,000 alligator skins processed every year by the farm to fashion its leather goods; the remaining skins are sold to other brands to help fund the breeding operation at the Louisiana property.

Though Tardini’s new exotic-skin footwear, pens, and cuff links exhibit the same methodical attention to detail that has characterized the brand since Luigi’s day, the items introduce a few new techniques and concepts. For instance, while most shoemakers use plain calf leather on the soles of their alligator shoes, Tardini’s footwear combines alligator uppers with calfskin soles that are embossed to resemble the exotic skins. Another unique feature that appears on many of the company’s shoes is an old-world, hand-applied finishing technique that leaves a waxy gloss at the heel and a matte toe, for an elegant, vintage look.

Other accessories also are in the works. But despite this greater diversity of items in the collection, one unifying theme runs throughout the brand’s offerings: "Always," Tardini says, "there is some connection to the alligator."

Tardini, +39.02.6208.6004, www.tardini-accessories.it

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