I was first introduced to Cedes Milano through Kirby Allison’s The Hanger Project several years ago. Since then, I’ve been consistently amazed at the unique products which they create and the craftsmanship involved in the production. Because of this, Cedes was a priority of mine to visit when I was in Milan recently.
“Create” is the correct word when discussing Cedes, as their products are unique creations, dreamt up between the walls of their workshop on via Morimondo. And for these creations we can thank, in large part, Mauro Lorenzi.
Mauro is the embodiment of an older (but not old) Italian gentleman. The expertise in this niche craft was more or less in Mauro’s blood, having grown up at G. Lorenzi, a Milanese institution for fine craftsmanship in men’s accessories. G.Lorenzi was founded by Mauro’s grandfather, Giovanni Lorenzi, in 1929. Giovanni’s sons ran the company until they closed a few years ago. Mauro was in charge of the production of the branded products during the last 35 years.
With the closing of G. Lorenzi, Mauro felt it was time to start something new and with his daughter Serena and one artisan they opened Cedes Milano in 2009. The word “artisan” is a legitimate term in this instance, compared to other “luxury” businesses who throw the word around like a tennis ball, while their staff have only basic skills and churn out work on a production line. This requires reliance on branding and hype, over production. The Cedes approach, however, follows the path of authentic craftsmanship, relying on the quality of their products to speak for themselves, allowing the business to grow.
The new energy which Mauro has created with Cedes has seen it grow significantly in a short space of time (they have just bought the building next door and are about to double the size of their premises) and it’s made even more impressive by the fact that they have no direct points of sale, choosing to entrust a handful of specialty businesses around the world to sell their products.
The headcount related to significant growth, in this instance, is still very small, due to the expertise required to make any of the Cedes products. They are now up to 11 staff including 2 specialists dedicated solely to working with leathers. The team is headed by Oreste (lovingly referred to, in-house, as their Maestro) who worked for G. Lorenzi for 10 years and now passes down his knowledge to the younger members of the team. Mauro’s other daughter, Linda, is now an important part of the core team and is with me in the images scattered throughout this article.
Cedes are perhaps best known for their shaving and grooming accessories, created in incredible detail and featuring horn handles, inset into electroplated stainless steel and attached to branded razor heads. One of my concerns about making an attachment for a branded blade was the fickleness of the razor blade industry. If Gillette were to change to a new mechanism and a customers razor was now unable to be used, where would that leave the customer who has invested their money for a product which should, arguably, last a lifetime? I put this question to Linda and her response was that from Cedes perspective this isn’t an issue as they’d gladly take back a customers razor, replace the mechanism to suit a new model and send it back. A clear sign of the dedication and concern they have for the longevity of their products and their attitude toward their customers. It’s a sign of true craftsmanship; making items which last for their customers, which can be repaired rather than replaced (which would be much more profitable for the businesses).
Other well known products include shoe horns and smoking accessories, made with unique and natural materials. The range is easily expansive enough to allow customers to furnish the key rooms of their homes.
With a concern for the natural environment, they use products which cause no harm to animals in obtaining them, hence the use of so much antler, which is shed naturally once a year by deer. Any other animal products are taken from animals which have died naturally, via contractors who collect the products for Cedes, such as Warthogs (tusks) or Buffalo and Springbok (horns) from Africa. I can’t comment on their use of Mammoth tusk in a very small selection of products as it’s hard to know how the specific Mammoth died 10,000 years ago, but it’s unlikely to have been down to Cedes doing.
Exotic timbers also make a frequent appearance, the likes of which will be found in items like the men’s valet (such as Mahogany, Iroko or Ebony) where customers can choose their preferred timber for Cedes to make the product to order. The timbers are then complimented with additional natural materials, like mother of pearl and various leathers.
Going back to the earlier reference to Mauro’s creativity; a new product will often be introduced simply because an idea popped into his head and he becomes interested to see if and how they can make it. This will range from wine cases, a shoe polishing box, cutlery, a mammoth tusk cigar set (retailing for approximately $20,000 euro) or the barbecue tool set which was being made when I visited, comprised of antler and chrome. Additionally, if a customer has the money and the interest, Cedes can create just about anything which you could ask for.
The small workshop downstairs is intimate and only has space for a few people at any one time (hence the purchase of the building next door and plans for expansion) but during the visit it was buzzing with Oreste and the team all working collaboratively on the single barbecue set. Once you see the man-hours required for each product, you understand that a large reason for the high prices of Cedes products are simply a necessity to recover the cost involved in production.
What Mauro, Linda, Serena and their small team have created with Cedes is effectively the re-birth of a Milanese institution, but with a new energy and creativity, which is a tribute to Milan and Italian craftsmanship as a whole. They are a company without peer and as long as there are those of us who are capable of appreciating and are prepared to support the craftsmanship which can only come from a lifelong dedication to excellence, then Cedes will be here for a long time to come.